Connecting with Untapped Human Capital
The Career Service Office and Academic Advising Center at The University of Texas at Brownsville is proactively tackling a two-part challenge that many small to mid-size public universities struggle with. As the University competes against bigger-name schools with more resources and on-campus recruiting opportunities, two major objectives come to light:
- How to get its pool of students and graduates front and center with recruiters.
- How to help its students land jobs and internships in an increasingly competitive landscape.
We sat down with two of UTB’s career service and academic advising leaders—Juan Andres Rodrigues-Nieto and Dr. Selma Yznaga—who have tackled this challenge head-on and are excited about what is on the horizon for their students. Juan Andres Rodriguez-Nieto is the Program Director for Career Services at the University of Texas at Brownsville, and Selma Yznaga, Ph.D., is the newly-appointed Director of the Academic Advising Center at the University.
As we found out, they are sitting on an untapped goldmine of human capital and are harnessing every possible opportunity to unleash it.
MyEdu: What are some of your biggest challenges in career services?
Juan Andres Rodriguez-Nieto: We have historically used an online system for job postings to our students, but the problem was that it’s a system that takes place mostly within career services. If you want to get student to participate, most of the responsibility fell on the career service office. We need something they can and will use outside the career service office.
And on the flip side, an employer or recruiter would require a different log-in for every system at every university he or she wanted to target. That right there would generally limit the number of schools they might look at—often leaving UTB off the list because it’s either geographically out of their area, or they just don’t know about us.
In your experience, what are some of the qualities of UTB students that make them great hires?
Selma Yznaga: We’ve got untapped human capital here and we want corporations both in the Rio Grande Valley and across the country to be aware of these stellar future employees. One of the great things about UT Brownsville is our bi-literate and bi-cultural population.
JAR: For example, UTB offers an increasing population of Hispanic students with STEM majors. We are also known for our education majors—students who are bilingual and bicultural who are a commodity in the workplace outside “the Valley” in Texas.
SY: A large portion of our students are first generation—they are hungry, eager and have a work ethic that different geographical locations may not have.
These kids are driven and passionate about changing the generational circumstances of their families. With the right access and awareness they can get noticed and branch out of the area. They are valued in the workplace as family-oriented, bilingual and bicultural kids. Those values translate into loyal, hardworking employees and we hear from employers all the time that they love our students and graduates. We want more employers to be aware of and engaged with our student population.
So how do these students get themselves noticed by recruiters?
JAR: If Recruiters go to MyEdu and search for talent from the main campus at University of Texas at Austin, for example, they have the option to see the same caliber of student from other smaller UT schools.
Students can also look at all the employers who are actively recruiting from those schools. It will be up to the student and their profile to determine whether they rise to the top of the recruiter’s pools or not! MyEdu can help us close the gap between students and employers. Employers that are not able to come all the way to south Texas to recruit will now have a channel for wooing our students and learning more about what they have to offer.
SY: Plus, our students are on the MyEdu platform from the beginning of freshman year, so they can begin to learn about the many career options and corporations out there through the MyEdu careers section very early on.
Why did UT Brownsville decide to implement MyEdu for all students starting their freshman year? Why is it such an important tool?
SY: Students at UT Brownsville, and other similar schools, might as well be in Siberia to recruiters—yet we have a pool of students with so much real-world experience, so much talent and drive.
JAR: MyEdu focuses on the whole character development of a student versus simple job placement. There is value found in MyEdu in every single stage of education. Students are engaged in their educational planning process from day one by configuring their schedules, taking classes of their choice, and selecting professors based on other student’s reviews. They are more invested in their learning experience and feel control and empowerment related to their education. As the students get work experience, they are able to fill out the tiles about their qualifications and accomplishments and later use it to find job opportunities or be targeted by recruiters. MyEdu provides something at every level.
How is UT Brownsville preparing kids for life after college?
SY: We have a nice balance of general education, which teaches students how to learn, and professional development. The speed at which technology is moving is going to require thinking skills. College must include not only teaching kids how to get along and how to start a career after college, but also how to learn. We are preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist yet, and teaching them how to learn will determine whether they succeed in these jobs. UTB is preparing kids for their chosen profession, but students will work in areas they have no training in and will be prepared.
What advice do you have for other career service officers?
SY: For career services, first, how can we increase retention? Offer them tools like MyEdu. For example, we had a student demonstration at our last staff meeting. The student told the advisors that he had been using an app that he had to pay for that would help him configure his course schedule. It was a lot of work, entering everything on his own…so when he started using MyEdu, the scheduling tool got him hooked. Then it was the GPA calculator. He liked being able to see the grade distributions for the professors teaching the classes he needed. He liked the ability to plan his courses and his schedule very deliberately; he became so much more confident about his scheduling and the way he was presenting himself online.
For recruiters, Brownsville, Texas—like so many other small towns with great colleges across the country—is hardly on the map. Now recruiters have a way to market to our kids and they can see what we’ve got to offer. I think they’re going to be thrilled with the kind of graduates we are putting out. Our kids are ready to grab any opportunities they can. They haven’t settled into that sense of entitlement of having a college degree and they have so many in-demand soft and hard skills that they’re ready to put into action.