Despite many changes in their classroom experiences, day-to-day lives, and summer plans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Catholic University students are still working to achieve their academic and career goals. Since the University’s switch to virtual learning earlier this semester, staff members from the Center of Career and Academic Success (CACS) have adapted their operations to help students do just that.
In recent months, CACS has moved all of its offerings, including academic and career advising, academic coaching, and employee networking, to the virtual space, says Colin Pears, director of Academic Support and Advising. The office has also stepped up its outreach to students, contacting them earlier and more often to find out about academic challenges or roadblocks they might be facing.
For academic support, CACS began offering virtual tutoring and supplemental instruction, and helped connect students to the University’s Math and Writing Centers. A key to the office’s success in recent weeks, says Pears, has been the academic and career advisors assigned to work with students and build connections on a one-on-one basis. The advisors were invaluable to students who had questions about transitioning to online courses, coming home from study abroad programs, or switching to a pass/fail option.
“The advisors all have that student advocacy mentality and they want to make sure students are well taken care of,” says Pears. “A lot of students have been confronting anxiety and transitional issues, and because the advisors know them well, they can have these difficult and sensitive conversations. That couldn’t be done without the personal relationships our staff has with students.”
In the weeks after spring break, career and academic advisors contacted juniors and seniors directly to meet with them and assess their career goals. In addition to virtual career coaching workshops and online job fairs, the office has worked to be more proactive about sending out job opportunities to students in a variety of fields. The office has also boosted its networking with alumni and local business owners, having recently launched a Hire a Cardinal program to connect those working in the field with potential employees.
“Our employer relations team has been highlighting jobs and internships that are still active and hiring and we’ve had special events and online job fairs,” says Anthony Chiapetta, director of Career Services, who estimates that the office held more than 70 job-related events in March and April. “We want to show students that there are jobs and internships out there.”
Pears says his team is also offering students information about fellowships, graduate programs, and “parallel career paths.”
“Often, students are on a particular path and they don’t recognize what other doors are open to them until they’re presented with a challenge,” he says. “We want to continue to buoy their interest and optimism, but we also want them to be aware of other options available.”
Junior politics major Julia Tyrie has certainly appreciated the extra assistance she’s received from CACS. Though she previously had an internship lined up for this upcoming summer, the company she was planning on working with cancelled their internship program because of the pandemic.
“It was crushing for me to discover this, since I was looking forward to having an internship before my senior year,” Tyrie said.
Advisors from CACS helped Tyrie by strategizing career goals with her over Google Meet, providing suggestions for her resume and interview skills, and helping her find possible internships in her home state of New Jersey. Thanks to their help, she has been able to set up interviews for three different internships.
“CACS is extremely important for students because it is a network to finding internships and helps transition students into the real world,” Tyrie said. “CACS also gives students a sense of security, since they assist in the job search, making it seem less intimidating, which is nice in this time of uncertainty.”
Though there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the economic climate because of fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Pears and Chiapetta are encouraging students to remain calm and confident.
“There are a lot of people making assumptions and projections about what is coming up economically, and a lot of those predictions are not helpful,” Pears says. “I’m trying to encourage students to be poised, patient, and cautious, but not to lose their sense of optimism. The value of the education they have received is still exactly what it was when they began this journey and their experience is strong enough to weather this situation. We're here to assist them as they do so.”
“The big thing is to ask questions,” Chiapetta says. “Our office is a great place to say, ‘This is what I’m worried about,’ or, ‘This is the question I have.’ Once you ask the question, we can start to frame a response and break it down into manageable action items. That can help a goal become much more achievable.”
— Katie Bahr, Assistant Director of Media Relations and Communications. Bahr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.