CSU Career Matchmakers

Enterprising programs, people and plans to develop workforce-ready alumni

By Candace Morrow
Photos by Suhyoon Cho

A simple business card exchange led to a rather unexpected mentorship opportunity for current CSU student Dominique Olagbegi. The business finance major meandered through a crowd of professional network participants at one of CSU’s alumni events and bumped into alumna Sommer Bundy, who also serves as president of the CSU Alumni Association and is a learning business partner with banking company Synovus in Columbus.

“I got Sommer’s business card and learned she was in my field — banking,” said Olagbegi, 29. “I followed up with her via email for breakfast, and the next thing I knew, I’m meeting influential people in the community and working on projects and productions for organizations I would have never have the opportunity to do if Sommer wouldn’t have trusted me to take on the challenge.”

Understanding Olagbegi’s experiences as an undergraduate trying to break into her desired career choice, Bundy’s brief encounter with Olagbegi impressed her so much that she wanted to teach Olagbegi the ins and outs of their industry.

“Dominique showed up to our first meeting with a lot of good questions, a notebook and a pen,” said Bundy, a 2005 business administration graduate. “That told me she was prepared. I quickly learned she was also extremely organized, creative and had great communication skills.”

The mentorship that formed a year ago between the two has strengthened Olagbegi’s “soft skills” — oral/written communication, conflict resolution, critical thinking, professionalism and team building — major traits employers are looking for in today’s pool of potential candidates.

“For me mentoring is an investment,” said Bundy, “and because of Dominique’s willingness to put herself out there to learn and grow in our industry, I’m now her sponsor. I will advocate for her in this competitive job market because she’s dedicated the time and energy to get the job done and get the job done well no matter what community event or project I’ve thrown at her.”

That bond is exactly the kind of result CSU leaders are creating across campus to prepare future graduates.

Developing CSU’s Mentoring Roadmap

During 2016, CSU initiated a major campus-wide push to connect more graduates and current students with the right employers and community groups of today’s competitive job market.

To figure out how to prepare students for the workforce and pinpoint exactly what employers wanted in effective candidates, the university’s Leadership Institute surveyed 17 local organizations — from Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, education and legal to recreation, utilities and business services — to gain in-depth insight to employers’ perspectives about CSU graduates.

“Once the results were determined, they were shared with our president, provost and Executive Leadership Team,” said Ed Helton, assistant vice president for leadership development. “The constant theme in the results was the need for ‘soft skills.’ CSU has reacted promptly with several initiatives to address this issue by incorporating soft skills training for students, faculty and staff.”

The surveyed business leaders and representatives offered recommendations to strengthen CSU students’ soft skills in the following ways as well:

  • Greatly expand opportunities for students to get exposure to real life before graduating. For example, create more direct and project-based partnerships with employers; and
  • Integrate core competencies into curricula across disciplines. For instance, highlight project-based group work in courses, students practice professional communication across various channels and continue to tap into critical thinking.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Helton said. “The connection between the civic and business community and the academy is critical. External and internal focus groups are vital for the exchange of information. The more CSU combines academic excellence and community needs, the more vibrant the university becomes.”

Restructuring CSU’s Career Resources

An area on campus working diligently to match the ideal student candidate with industry needs is CSU’s Center for Career Development (CCD). CCD partners across offices, departments and initiatives to match current students and graduate job seekers with fitting employers.

“Employers are seeking candidates with exceptional skills, especially soft skills,” said Lyn Riggsby-Gonzalez, director of CCD. “CCD recently integrated an online assessment product called ‘Am I Job Ready’ to assist students in understanding their personal skill levels as well as develop skills through online and in-person training.”

Students participating in this newly launched Career Ready program (see pages 20 and 21) will also have the opportunity to become part of a priority employer referral database, which designates eligible students for employment based on skill set — among other criteria — that employers are seeking.

Last year alone, CCD assisted 2,227 students and alumni with strengthening their professionalism, communication, leadership and career management skill, and helped open career doors through experiential education: job shadowing, externships, internships and co-ops.

CCD has tailored its services in other ways as well. It is collaborating with Alumni Engagement to provide new technology, CampusTap (see page 24), to connect students with alumni mentors and teaming with CSU’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) to tackle a significant skill that resonates with employers: problem-solving.

Cultivating A Problem-Solution Culture

Students of various fields of study — art, physical education, communication, leadership and computer science — have spent the last year addressing problems and finding data-driven solutions at local businesses and within the educational system through QEP.

As part of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges’ accreditation process, QEP is a specifically designed course of action developed by universities to address topics that can enhance student learning and issues students may face as they enter the workforce.

“Right now our campus is focused on creative, real-world problem-solving that beautifully aligns with the needs of our community,” said Mariko Izumi, director of QEP at CSU. “CSU is a university grounded in the community and one of the most racially integrated public universities in the state. It’s important that we use this opportunity for empowerment and to help our students become agents of change to build our community.”

CSU’s QEP theme: “We Solve It!”

“During the next five years, CSU faculty will develop coursework and projects that strengthen students’ problem-solving skills on a local, national, and global levels,” said Tina Butcher, associate provost for undergraduate education at CSU. “After looking at campus data, we learned problem-solving is one of those areas in which our students need to improve. Many of us are accustomed to ‘Googling’ for answers, but that’s not solving the problem.”

Employers need individuals who can work with their colleagues to address large-scale issues like developing new equipment or technology, or smaller issues such as refining a procedure to provide better customer service, said Butcher.

“Our students will be able to help develop meaningful solutions to these issues,” she said. Susan Hrach, director of CSU’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning, serves as chair of the QEP Leadership Team on campus and led the effort to choose problem-solving as the university’s QEP topic to tackle.

“When you start to conceive teaching and learning as opportunities to solve different kinds of problems creatively and with an eye toward real-world applications, it offers new meaning for the whole enterprise of university education,” Hrach said. “We’re not just jumping through hoops here; we’re doing work that means something to ourselves, to our disciplinary communities and to the world we all inhabit.”

Work that continues to connect students’ skills in creative problem-solving with the local community’s needs just like what Olagbegi experienced after she met Bundy during that chance mentorship meeting.

“Sommer challenges me,” said Olagbegi. “I’m grateful she has helped me step up. After I graduate from CSU in 2018, I feel I’m going to leave here more equipped for international corporate finance because of people like her.”

THE COUGAR NATION CONNECTION

Talk about finding your career match: Mentor Sommer Bundy and her mentee Dominique Olagbegi discovered they had a lot more in common than attending CSU. Bundy previously worked as a branch manager for Columbus Bank & Trust, a division of her current employer, Synovus, while Olagbegi now works at Columbus Bank & Trust as a senior teller. As a former Miss CSU, Bundy served as pageant executive director to the Miss CSU Scholarship Pageant Board, preparing winners to compete for Miss Georgia. And as a former professional contemporary/jazz/hip hop dancer, Olagbegi has worked as a performer, choreographer, creative director and model from Broadway to TV’s “The Queen Latifah Show.”