The University of California, Irvine (UCI) is dedicated to fostering student success both academically and beyond. UCI’s Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (OVPTL) takes this to heart—in their vision statement, the OVPTL vows to “provide opportunities for undergraduates to take risks strategically and achieve their potential as members of their communities.”
To honor this commitment, the OVPTL oversees a variety of programs and resources designed to support students academically and professionally. One of the newest programs is the OVPTL Student Professional Development Program (SPDP). Organized and overseen by Michelle Foley, OVPTL Corporate Relations Liaison, the SPDP offers student workers the opportunity to participate in professional development workshops where they will learn to identify their transferable skills and frame them in the context of their future goals.
The ten-week program will cover important topics such as job search strategies, resume writing, interview tips, networking, elevator pitch development and career readiness. Michelle also invites students to have one-on-one career advising sessions with her and introduces students to other important career resources such as UCI’s Division of Career Pathways.
Michelle points out that the main goal of professional development for students is encouraging them to think about themselves in different ways. She explains that many students lack the insight to see how their campus jobs actually prepare them for their future careers.
They tend to compartmentalize and think, ‘Well, this is what I’m doing now, but it’s not necessarily related to the engineering profession that I want to go into or to the finance position I want to get after graduation.’ However, there is a lot that they are learning in student employment positions that helps them transition into the workplace.
While the SPDP is new to the OVPTL, the program is actually an evolution of what was formerly known as the Division of Undergraduate Education Professional Internship Program. “It started as an internal internship program,” she explains. “Departments were asked to create internships, and as part of those internships, students would go through a strategic series of professional development workshops. After doing that for one quarter, I realized we could do so much more if we opened this up for more of our students.”
Now available to all students employed by the OVPTL, the SPDP has expanded its cohort to a maximum of 30 students per quarter. This is more than double the number of students Michelle hosted in Spring Quarter 2020. Additionally, now that the program accepts all student employees, the SPDP is excited to welcome students from every academic year and major.
Promoting academic diversity is incredibly important to Michelle. She points out that students often get pigeonholed according to their major, not realizing that there are plenty of opportunities outside their chosen field of study. For instance, a student studying marketing might focus exclusively on working for retail and fashion brands or dedicated marketing firms. However, they may fail to consider that companies in the tech, medical and other industries often hire their own marketing and communications teams. Through SPDP, students will get the chance to interact with peers in different majors and expand their understanding of their professional opportunities. “By having exposure to new perspectives, students reimagine what is possible for themselves,” Michelle says.
In addition to increasing access to the SPDP, another major program change is an increased focus on highlighting technological skills and best practices for presenting oneself online. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many companies to adopt remote hiring practices, Michelle is adapting SPDP workshops to cover this shift.
“Because there is essentially no opportunity to be face to face with people, how you present yourself digitally is imperative,” she notes. “The interview process is challenging and intimidating on its own. But when you add the digital aspect to it, it can often be compounded for students.” By going through professional development training, students can learn the importance of monitoring their online presence, gain strategies for remote interviews and develop a sense of camaraderie with other students who are facing the same set of challenges. “All of this helps students build confidence,” Michelle explains. “Because they can now walk into the professional world knowing what to expect.”
This idea of building confidence and understanding one’s professional worth is one that Michelle returns to time and time again. In her opinion, it is the most valuable lesson that students learn through the process of professional development:
I’ve been in career services for over 17 years, and what I see from students who go through a program like this is that they gain a lot of confidence. Most students don’t realize all they have to offer a company right now. But, by going through this, they come to that realization, and they’re more willing to put themselves out there, go for what interests them and take those risks.”
The confidence that students gain from participating in the SPDP isn’t just beneficial to them—it also offers returns for the OVPTL. Michelle explains that when supervisors nominate student workers to participate in the program, they’re helping their students grow and become better employees. She emphasizes, “Students will be more confident in the skills that they have because they’re really recognizing and focusing on them. They move from an unconscious ‘This is what I was told to do’ to a conscious ‘How can I do this better?’ And this becomes a greater benefit to the department.”
The program benefits Irvine’s larger business community as well. For instance, Michelle says that UCI corporate partners and employers in general can expect a better-equipped workforce coming out of the program. “These are their future employees,” Michelle states. “If they invest in them now, it creates a more rounded experience for the student, which in turn will make a better employee for that company.”
According to Matthew Princetta, Director of Development, the SPDP coincides with the OVPTL’s efforts to reach out to local companies and alumni business owners to find out which skills are most sought after:
Our connections with the local business community help us understand what employers are looking for. This knowledge informs student programs like the SPDP, and the development training we offer helps bridge the gap between what students think they need and what the market actually demands.
Ultimately, Michelle sees her work with the SPDP as an opportunity for discovery. Whether it’s a student looking for professional opportunities or a corporate partner seeing what UCI has to offer, Michelle believes that working with the SPDP is an excellent start. “Let’s explore and let’s see how we can work together and find a common ground. That applies whether you’re a student or company—let’s explore.”