How Binghamton's Fleishman Center Works with Alumni to Bolster Career Services

Dr. Kelli Smith, Director of the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development at Binghamton University.

Dr. Kelli Smith, Director of the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development at Binghamton University.

At Switchboard, we believe that alumni are career services' biggest allies, and we're not alone. Thousands of career services offices collaborate with their colleagues in alumni relations and connect students with alumni to further their careers.

Binghamton University has made that interdisciplinary approach one of its specialties. Binghamton's Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development works with the Office of Alumni Engagement to hold dozens of events with alumni speakers every year. Their Cool Alumni, Hot Connections speaker series provides career advice and connections for hundreds of students.

We asked Dr. Kelli Smith, Director of the Fleishman Center, to tell us about the event series.

The Binghamton University Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development and Office of Alumni EngAGEMENT work together on the "Cool/Hot" series. Could you explain the series and how it is successful?

One area for which the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development collaborates with the Office of Alumni Engagement is to deliver the Cool Alumni, Hot Connections speaker series. Started in 2011 by the Office of Alumni Engagement, alumni from a variety of fields and industries are recruited to present, whether in person or virtually, to students about their careers. For the first part of the Cool/Hot program alumni speakers take 10 to 15 minutes and provide a narrative about their valued Binghamton experiences, explain what steps they took to get to their current role, and speak to what has contributed to their success. The remainder of the hour-long program is open to students asking questions and alumni sharing insight and helpful advice.

Part of why I like to share about this program is that it is a great example of how campus collaboration results in better student programming. Before our office partnered with Alumni Engagement, only four programs were held in 2013-14. Since that time we have been able to help significantly grow the number of programs, the number of students participating, and insight into what industries and careers our students would like to see represented.

The partnership between the Fleishman Center and Office of Alumni Engagement has helped both offices advance their missions by engaging students, alumni and employers. The Office of Alumni Engagement takes the lead in identifying alumni speakers who are passionate about giving back to the University and are eager to share the story of their career and offer insight. The Fleishman Center takes the lead in the marketing efforts and identifies interested students who can benefit from a particular alumni speaker. The ultimate winners of the Cool/Hot programs are the students who gain better insight in to the world of work and the alumni speakers who are viewed in high-regard and strengthen their affinity to the University.

In the 2015-16 academic year the two offices facilitated 30 Cool/Hot programs attended by 935 and a median program attendance of 28.5. Speakers ranged from Wall Street financial managers, software engineers, educators, health professionals, and sales and marketing professionals to screen writers, talent agents, and television personalities, among others. According to student feedback about these programs, 99% of students said they obtained a better understanding of the industry and profession of the alumni and 99% thought the alumni speaker provided valuable career advice. The Cool/Hot program earned a +56.6 net promoter score, which is the highest among other measured signature career center programs. 

The Fleishman Center also does some alumni outreach itself via employer relations. How do your employer relations fill a dual role in this respect? How do your relationships with alumni employers, or alumni working for employers, strengthen your office? 

Our department is keenly aware that one of Binghamton University’s most valuable resources for increasing the pipeline of employers for students is our alumni network. Whether it is a first time connection or a sustaining relationship, alumni are eager to give back to their alma mater by participating in career development programs, guiding students towards their chosen career path, and recruiting students for internships or full time employment. It is much easier to make a connection with employers through partnerships developed with alumni versus employers who have no prior connection with the university. 

The Fleishman Center strategically targets firms we want to partner with for the purpose of strengthening the career development of our students, while broadening the scope of employers to satisfy the needs of a diverse undergraduate and graduate student population. To do this, we use our internal alumni database and other tools such as LinkedIn to find alumni within these desired fields. Alumni understand the caliber of student that graduates from Binghamton University because they too have attended this institution. This alone gives alumni a greater appreciation, and an overall devotion to turn to Binghamton to satisfy their recruiting demands. 

After an initial connection is made with an alumna/alumnus, she or he will typically provide a conduit to their Human Resources department, and from this point forward a strong recruiting relationship is built with the team. An active employer soon realizes the quality and drive of our students, which entices them to continue their recruiting needs at our premier institution. This is a model that has proven success, and one we plan to utilize to increase employer outreach at the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development at Binghamton University. We secured four new positions this year, and one of those new lines is specifically dedicated to connecting with new alumni and employers to recruit and educate our students.

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There’s been a shift in focus in higher ed toward quantifiable outcomes. How can measuring outcomes help you and your team’s career services work? What limitations do these data have?

We know the demand for evidence of student success after graduation has never been higher. Prospective students and families are asking, “What can I do with this major?” “Wow soon will I have a job after graduation?” “What kind of graduate schools will I get into?” and “What difference will my Binghamton University degree make?” Due to this, we have significantly stepped up our involvement with our Admissions office, which hosts more than 47,000 prospective students and family members on campus each year. We are open during the major visit weekends and are the first stop for the tour guides throughout the entire year.

At the same time, accreditors are requiring graduation outcomes data as a measure of academic program and institutional quality. Federal and state governments demand more information about the value of a college education, linking that evidence to calls for “students’ right to know” and a College Scorecard that can be used to help students make college comparisons, and potentially even be tied to funding of higher education institutions. I also served on the NACE committee that develops the standards for first-destination surveys, and we have stepped up our efforts on campus to be transparent and capture as much information on our graduates’ destinations as possible.

The stakes are high for universities to know where their students go after graduation. There are undoubtedly limitations to the focus on first-destination data, such as how liberal arts graduates may tend to fare better with long-term data, and it may not measure how "the liberal arts and sciences play a major role in sustaining the social and economic fabric of our society," but that is context we use when working with students, too, and does not negate the importance of first-destination data.  

Separate from societal expectations, one of the biggest motivators for me to ensure we as a campus are collecting rich data on our graduates' first destinations is that it helps us in our daily work with students. When I’m working with a student who is considering English as a major but who, in the same breath, says they do not want to make that choice because they would not like being an editor, having data on the variety of options that their peers have taken (whether it is with internships, post-graduate employment, or graduate school) is a powerful tool. Students can see how other graduates have leveraged their academic journey and been successful. We also use graduate salary data for those students that hold that as a value when choosing careers or negotiating job offers. 

Lastly—and simply—I believe it is our obligation in institutions of higher education to care about where our students go next and see that they are successful in their next phase of life. As a liberal arts graduate myself, I am a believer in the lofty ideals of education for its own sake and learning that empowers our students to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. But while education for its own sake is a worthy idea and one we must continue to support, I am a firm believer that it is not the same thing as education without purpose, and that and preparation is not undesirable or mutually exclusive. In addition to being lifelong learners and engaged citizens, preparing our students to be career-ready should also be part of what we as institutions do.

Follow Dr. Kelli Smith on Twitter.