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Announcing the New Center for Career Services and Education

Published on 05 June 2020

As St. Louis College of Pharmacy prepared to undergo a strategic plan update and expanded its academic offerings, the need for individualized career support became evident. Over the last several years, support for the idea began to grow, and in September 2019, the development of a Center for Career Services and Education formally took off.

"Career centers are a relatively new concept among schools and colleges of pharmacy, but as the breadth of career options and specialty areas widens, we are seeing a growing need," said John A. Pieper, Pharm.D., FCCP, FAPhA, president of the College. "The creation of our career center is the next step in growing our academic footprint and bringing to life our commitment to help our students – current, past and future – find success and fulfillment in the profession of pharmacy and other health professions careers."

The career center will be led by Isaac Butler, Pharm.D., MBA, CDFT, vice president for career services and education and chief diversity officer, and Kilinyaa Cothran, B.S. '01, M.Ed., Ph.D., assistant vice president for career services and education.

"Ultimately, what the College hopes to accomplish is to help people find jobs that they truly enjoy and that fit within their life purpose," Butler said. "As a center, we want to provide resources, programming, services, relationships and partnerships with employers, and we also want to help people develop specific skills to be ready to capitalize on opportunities that present themselves."

The College has been providing career services for years, but there has never been a centralized location to streamline access for students and alumni. Building on the strengths of established services, the College is excited to expand in a dedicated space supported by a dedicated team.

"Having a physical space where people can go to receive career guidance and support is an essential component in growing the presence of career services in the campus community," Cothran said. "We will continue to provide services like resume and curriculum vitae review, interview prep and coaching, but with additional support in the center, we hope to expand our services and create more programming for our students and alumni."

Capitalizing on the College’s premier location within the Washington University Medical Campus will be imperative in deepening relationships with local and regional employers.

"We are thinking strategically about how to expand services," Butler said. "Growing and strengthening our relationships locally and regionally will supplement the services and programming we will offer, as well as connect our alumni and current students to new job opportunities, internships, mentoring and more."

A Place to Reinvent Yourself

Growing the College's relationships with employers is just one part of the equation when it comes to career support.

The center is also focused on helping members of the College community respond to the influence of technology on the job search and hiring process, which has grown significantly over the past 20 years. Tracking systems such as Monster.com and Indeed.com require applicants to be more competitive and attuned to the role technology plays when applying for jobs.

"One of the reasons I became a pharmacist myself was the ability to reinvent yourself every few years if you wanted to," Cothran said. "In order to do that, you need to have the resources and support to retool. Sometimes, that means relearning how to even search for a job. Automatic tracking systems have definitely changed the application and hiring process. Most applications are screened by a computer before they even make it to the human resources department. Helping alumni and students understand what they need to do to enter the field is really important."

In addition, the College will leverage existing opportunities, offered by the Office of Postgraduate Education, to support alumni considering a career transition.

"For alumni who want to make a change, say from community pharmacy to hospital or nuclear pharmacy, it's about understanding what those different specialty areas require and the skills needed to make that transition," Cothran said. "Sometimes it's as simple as helping someone recognize and communicate transferrable skills they already possess. When skills need to be strengthened or developed, the center will connect alumni to the Office of Postgraduate Education for continuing education or certificate program opportunities that will help them develop those skills to be a competitive candidate."

Know, Demonstrate, Communicate

Even with the influence of technology on the job hiring process, one aspect of landing a soughtafter job remains unchanged — the ability to "know, demonstrate and communicate" to an employer one's strengths and fit for the job to which they are applying.

"When it comes to career readiness, it all begins with self-exploration," Butler said. "We look at it in three steps: know what you want, demonstrate your abilities, and know how to communicate that in a way that 'who I am' and 'what I want' fits within what the organization's needs and wants. Our goal is to help people develop that plan."

Career centers and services have expanded well beyond their history as offices focused on simply placing candidates upon graduation. At colleges and universities across the country, these centers are now robust hubs of services and programming that provide support throughout an individual's career. It is this vision that the College hopes to bring to the community by making the center a place where alumni and students can come together to strengthen skills, expand their knowledge, explore possibilities and make lasting connections.

"I think a lot of people have this vision that a career center is a placement service, and that’s not what it's about at all," Cothran explained. "Career centers create the opportunity to develop students and alumni to meet their fullest potential. So when opportunities present themselves, they have the agility to pursue whatever pathway calls to them. It's our job to help students and alumni know themselves so they can ask the right questions when they interview and look at a potential employer. They'll be able to gauge whether or not this job fits within what they've envisioned for themselves."

A Community Effort

Butler and Cothran have spent the last few months developing a timeline and framework, visiting local institutions' career centers and reviewing best practices from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) to get a feel for how colleges and universities, big and small, are approaching career readiness in their communities.

"The developmental process is really about trying to understand the needs of our community and the marketplace, now and in the future," Butler said. "We have started to look at data collected by NACE through surveys of all of their member institutions to see what small and large schools are doing to create a model that works best for the College."

In addition, the College hopes to solicit input from key stakeholders. One of the opportunities for engagement includes the development of a cross-functional team that will include alumni, students, faculty, staff and career coaches to provide insight throughout the strategic planning process.

"We don't want to build the center in a vacuum," Butler explained. "We want to build something that is meaningful, useful and beneficial for all of our students, alumni and employers. Ongoing input and participation is very important in order for us to continue to provide meaningful programming and services into the future."

Perhaps the most valuable stakeholder in the development and success of the Center for Career Services and Education is the College's alumni. Strong participation from alumni benefits the center, not just through their input, but through mentoring and job shadowing opportunities for students.

"Students are sometimes more receptive to guidance and advice from our alumni because they have a connection that is rooted in a shared experience," Cothran said. "Mentorship and job shadowing opportunities allow students to get a glimpse of what it's really like to work in a field or profession. These valuable experiences can change a student's entire career trajectory."

Forging the Connection Between the Classroom and Careers

Butler and Cothran are also thinking of ways to integrate career education into the curriculum to build career competencies and reinforce the connections between what students learn inside and outside the classroom and the impact it can have on their careers.

Threading career services and support throughout the curriculum will help students become familiar with the services available to them. Making early connections between students and the career center will help forge strong, personal connections with members of the career center team.

"Students can expect a warm, open and inviting place where it's safe to not know all the answers," Butler said. "We want to communicate to our current and prospective students that the center is here to help them become skilled communicators and self-advocates to attain a career they really enjoy."

Prospective Perspective

The establishment of the center also communicates to prospective students and their parents that the College understands the gravity of their investment in higher education and is working to be a responsive and supportive environment when it comes to that next step after graduation.

"When choosing between schools, students and parents are considering the outcomes from the significant financial investment they will make in an educational institution," Pieper said. "We want our prospective students to know that we are responsive and attune to this fact. We have a group of professionals who are going to be devoted to helping them maximize their skill sets so they can go in whichever direction they want to go and be successful."

With summer just around the corner, Butler and Cothran are working diligently to achieve a fall 2020 launch, and with the participation of alumni, students, faculty and staff, the Center for Career Services and Education will be a robust and community-driven center that will help alumni and students achieve their fullest potential.


This story originally appeared in the spring 2020 issue of Script.

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