In Spring 2017, the Engagement and Employability Research Initiative (EERI) was formed to study how campus engagement and employment outcomes are interconnected. Under the leadership of Shaun Holtgrieve, the Executive Director of Student Affairs, and Dr. Frim Ampaw, associate professor of educational leadership, a small team of administrators and researchers approached the question of “Do incoming students understand the relationship between campus engagement and their future career?” Additionally, the team looked to understand how family members understood the relationship between campus engagement and jobs as well as how family members influence student choices.
Stage 1: Research (Spring 2017-Spring 2019)
In Fall 2017 and Spring 2018, the team conducted a series of surveys, interviews, and focus groups with the incoming freshman class, their family members, and employers that recruit at CMU. The findings reflect a gap between student valuation of on-campus activities and employers. While employers greatly value the skills and experience that are gained from being involved outside the classroom, students are less likely to see the association. Other results are detailed below:
- Employers actively look for high impact campus involvement (student organizations, part-time jobs, volunteerism) to be used to articulate skills on resumes and during interviews. Students do not consistently value campus involvements as experiences that demonstrate those skills, even though employers do.
- Internships were the desired involvement for employers but they emphasized that any involvement is valuable if appropriately articulated.
- Students undervalue co-curricular activities that are not presented as formal leadership or in-field experience.
- Employers showed a strong preference for depth over breadth when reviewing resumes. Many students believe that a large quantity of involvements "pads" their resume, whereas employers prefer to hear about one or two involvements that resulted in tangible skill development and experience.
- 88% of students reported talking to family members about campus involvements with 65% indicating if their family did not support organizational choice they would not continue involvement. This presents family members as vital influencers of how students choose involvements and make meaning of those experiences.
- Students reported GPA as the most important factor for employability. Employers see skills learned from involvements as the most important part.
Stage 2: Building the Program (Summer 2018-Summer 2019)
After the findings were reported to the CMU Board of Trustees in May 2018, the Engagement and Employability Research Initiative team was tasked with creating a program to increase student involvement in co-curricular activities and further develop employer relevant skills. After consideration of a variety of models used as different colleges and universities, the EERI committee decided on creating a co-curricular curriculum which is a guided pathway of experiences which build upon and complement the learning that occurs inside the classroom. Additionally, this program was designed to include reflective elements to assist students in translating their experiences into employer-desired skills.
In Fall of 2018 and Spring of 2019, the EERI team piloted a version of the program with incoming first-year students as well as a new communication plan with their family members. The results of this study helped inform which co-curricular experiences would be included in the final version of the program. Additionally, the EERI committee was expanded to include a greater variety of voices from campus, including student representatives.
Stage 3: Roll Out to Students (Fall 2019)
After two years of research, the final program was titled CMU Gold and is set to be released to students in Fall of 2019. This rollout is accompanied by a new co-curricular website called Engage Central which will allow students to automatically track their involvements as well as build an official co-curricular resume, providing a formal record and certification of their out of classroom experiences. Additionally, the final version of the CMU Gold program will have a series of educational videos that will assist students in using their co-curricular learning to acquire a job.
Learning and Competencies
The CMU Gold program is centered around inspiring student learning related to five employer relevant competency areas including leadership development, career readiness, social justice and civic engagement, diversity and inclusion, and health and wellbeing. All students that participate in the program will engage in programs that connect to these critical areas, having the chance to explore a new prospective and apply concepts learned in the classroom.
Additionally, the CMU Gold program is centered around encouraging the development of the top 10 skills desired by employer as designated by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Examples of these skills include teamwork, problem-solving, and work ethic. Previous research has identified on-campus involvement in co-curricular activities as a critical part of how these skills are developed. The CMU Gold program has used these attributes as the basis for understanding how students perceive the value of co-curricular involvement. Additionally, these attributes are highlighted in the learning programs created for this initiative.