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From College to Career

January 4, 2018
man talking to student across desk
ACES (Advising, Career, Exploratory Studies Center) Academic Advisor Ben Herdt works with student Cassandra Mittlieder as they discuss her future class schedule options.

Alumni connections, improved career services and tailored degree options help UW meet student and workforce needs.

By Micaela Myers

As a law student at the University of Wyoming, Alex Obrecht connected with UW alumnus and U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Gregory A. Phillips. That connection led to a clerkship with Judge Phillips right after graduation in 2013.

“It was a fantastic opportunity, and you just don’t get those types of opportunities and personal contact when you’re leaving larger law schools and larger states,” Obrecht says.

UW’s five-year strategic plan includes the goal, by 2022, of seeing 85 percent of students in jobs or advanced degree programs within a year after graduation. The university will meet this goal by preparing graduates for the workforce and by offering career services that include connections with successful alumni.

Alumni Connections and More

A native of Cheyenne, Obrecht received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and worked on Wall Street before attending UW. After his clerkship with Judge Phillips, he landed a job at Denver’s Baker & Hostetler LLP as an energy and regulatory attorney, and he wanted to give back to the next generation of UW students and promote natural resource and energy education. He, along with other alumni and supporters, endowed the Salt Creek Energy Excellence Scholarship. Those law students who are awarded the scholarship become members of the Salt Creek Energy Network.

“It’s not just about the financial support,” Obrecht says. “It’s really about helping these phenomenal students reach out to people who can provide mentoring and jobs after graduation.”

A lifetime member of the UW Alumni Association and a board member, Obrecht also regularly meets with other UW students to answer career questions: “That’s one of the ways I can help these folks see that UW is there for you when you’re getting your education, and they’re there for you when you’re looking for your first job, and they’re there for you when you’re going to switch jobs.”

Fellow UWAA board member and alumna Shelly Gams has been mentoring students for a decade. She graduated with her degree in business administration in 1993 and, for the past 16 years, has run her own financial planning business, Retirement Solutions, in Billings, Mont.

“I remember being that age and being uncertain,” she says of starting one’s own business. “I don’t want people to learn the hard way like I had to.”

Gams enjoys encouraging the next generation and letting them learn from her mistakes.

UW’s Advising, Career, Exploratory Studies Center (ACES) is working with the UW Alumni Association to make it easier for UW students and recent graduates to connect with successful alumni via a new software platform called Handshake. Alumni association staff members have been working to add hundreds of alumni from a variety of fields to the database.

“The Handshake portal is allowing us to substantially grow the Cowboy 2 Cowboy mentoring program, whereby we pair a UW alumnus with a current student for a brief informational interview,” says Keener Fry, alumni association executive director. “It’s an opportunity for the student to learn about a career in a specific industry and to begin to network in that field.”

three men and a woman talking beside fireplace
At an MBA alumni mixer during Homecoming, successful alumni met with current UW students. L-R: Travis Dooley, Sean Valentine, Kolleen Aicklen and Tim Wilson.

Another new software platform called Epic offers online career preparation in subjects from choosing a major and internships, to resumes and cover letters, to interviewing and networking. Once students complete Epic, they can use Handshake to connect with alumni mentors in areas of interest. Students and alumni can also use Handshake to look for available internships and jobs that local and national companies post.

With student permission, employers can also search student resumes in Handshake.

In addition to the new software platforms, ACES continues to offer in-person career preparation and annual job fairs, which are seeing record attendance. ACES is also building more career preparation into its advising services.

“Our goal is to move to a first-year advising experience that infuses career,” says ACES Director Jo Chytka. “Instead of being undeclared, students can take exploratory studies tracks, and ACES will help them think about where they want to go, what they want to do and their strengths so that they can make informed decisions on the best majors as well as build up their resumes.”

As part of the university’s strategic plan, ACES will also track where students are working in the years following graduation (previous surveys were completed upon graduation and after three months). “We are looking at ways to get better data three years out or five years out to help us see who are the employers in the state, what skills are they hiring, what degrees are they hiring and then to help shape the diversification efforts,” Chytka says.

Meeting Workforce Needs

UW continues to meet workforce needs by developing new classes and degrees. By 2022, the strategic plan calls for eight new academic programs. UW at a Distance also gives students throughout the state and those already working full time options to continue their education.

At its home campus in Laramie, UW is developing a natural resource recreation and tourism degree (click here for more information). Meanwhile, a number of current offerings—including the Bachelor of Applied Science in organizational leadership and the Bachelor of Science in medical laboratory science through UW at a Distance—are helping those already in the workforce to advance.  

Rosalind Grenfell, interim director of the Bachelor of Applied Science in organizational leadership, says: “The purpose of this degree is to really help students who have earned an associate degree but are needing a bachelor’s degree in order to move forward in their career. There are a variety of Associate of Applied Science degrees offered through community colleges, but then there was never a degree to help them move on to their bachelor’s until 2007.”

The degree is not specific to a particular sector, and students can choose coursework tracks that meet their career goals. “I have students from police departments, fire departments, hospitals and the oil and gas fields,” Grenfell says. “Because this degree is online, you never have to set foot in a building. It’s particularly attractive to nontraditional students.”

One such nontraditional student is Casper firefighter and Battalion Chief Jerod Levin, who finished his organizational leadership degree this past summer. “Really for anyone in a chief role in the fire service, a bachelor’s degree is starting to be required,” he says. “This option was flexible to fit my schedule. I had the ability to do the online courses, whether it was early in the morning or late at night or during the middle of the day.”

Fellow Casper resident Alina Sanchez was among the first graduates of UW at a Distance’s medical laboratory science program. Graduating this past May, she previously had an associate degree but chose to complete the bachelor’s degree to further her career as a laboratory technician at Wyoming Medical Center. “I’ve worked in a laboratory now for four years, but before I wasn’t able to do certain things,” Sanchez says. “It’s one thing to be able to work in a laboratory and push a button, but it’s a completely different thing to understand the background and the fundamentals of the science. It’s opened up a lot of opportunities.”

The degree is offered as a distance hybrid, meaning that there are online classes as well as monthly laboratory sessions at the University of Wyoming at Casper campus.

“Employment of medical laboratory scientists is projected to grow 16 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations,” says Program Director Jed Doxtater. “An increase in the aging population is expected to lead to a greater need to diagnose medical conditions, such as cancer or type 2 diabetes, through laboratory procedures.”

Finding innovative ways to meet workforce needs improves UW’s service to the state and its students. From new offerings to improved career services, the university will continue to evolve as it meets the goals set out in “Breaking Through 2017–2022: A Strategic Plan for the University of Wyoming.”

College Programs

In addition to university-wide programs such as the Advising, Career, Exploratory Studies Center (ACES), some individual colleges also offer career services, mentoring and job and internship listings. For example, the College of Business is home to the Peter M. and Paula Green Johnson Career Center, which provides a variety of services, including peer-guided career preparation led by career peers. Career peers are trained undergraduate peer advisers who make career services more approachable.

The College of Engineering and Applied Science also offers several programs, including the Female Mentor Program that pairs accomplished UW alumnae with sophomore, junior and senior undergraduate mentees. In addition, the Department of Computer Science’s Industrial Affiliates Program links industrial and business partners with potential employees and develops a channel of communication between affiliate partners. Funding from the program is also used for undergraduates and graduates to travel to conferences to expand their knowledge base and gain valuable networking skills.

These are just a few examples of the many programs and opportunities at UW aimed at helping students succeed as they transition into careers.

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