The career services field has revolutionized, emphasizing face-to-face connections, mentoring, and coaching as well as integrating new technologies that connect job seekers with employers. WSB’s new Career Engagement Studio, a state-of-the-art renovated space in Grainger Hall that opened September 1, embodies this shift, acting as a central hub for career education, professional development, and network-based learning for undergraduate business students.
“We envisioned a structured way for employers, alumni, industry partners, and peers to both formally and informally help coach and mentor our students to career success,” says Jamie Macias, director of career services for the Wisconsin BBA Program at the Wisconsin School of Business.
The excitement and energy, not to mention the foot traffic—over 300 students used drop-in services during the first few weeks of September alone—generated by the new approach has been considerable.
“The space has been buzzing with students, but also with employers,” Macias says. “We have identified new, informal ways for our employers to engage with students, helping them develop their career readiness skills and also building connections leading to internships and full-time positions.
A welcoming space for all
The Studio is a major departure from what Macias jokingly describes as the “dentist’s office” feel of the previous environment. Designed to be inclusive, engaging, and informal, the space is welcoming to all—students, recruiters, employers, alumni, and faculty.
“We wanted to get students away from coming in to be told what to do and instead, have them be owners and curators of their own futures,” she explains. “We went with ‘Career Engagement Studio’ as the name because we want this to be an iterative learning process throughout their time here.”
The physical space is aesthetically appealing: bright colors, photographs of campus scenes, tables that can be arranged for group work, and stylish footstools and high-backed chairs in Badger red that swivel to allow for one-on-one conversations. A welcome kiosk greets students, along with a snack station, career corner which contains employer swag and information about exciting opportunities, and a 21-room interview center suite.
Meeting on the practice field
A core philosophy of Macias and her team is to get students in early for help, and to let them know that it’s okay to be themselves.
“This is the practice field,” she explains. “You be yourself, no one is judging you. The Career Engagement Team challenges and supports our students to reach their full potential. Then once you’re ready to share your story and what makes you unique with others, it’s game day.”
The Studio hosts daily drop-in hours, where students get assistance on everything from negotiating job offers to practicing interview techniques. Technological resources are also available, including the tools taught in Personal and Professional Foundations in Business, a requirement for all WSB direct admit undergraduate students. Several new initiatives are in the works, such as “Major Mondays,” a pilot program where a different WSB academic department comes in each week to meet with students and a new student ambassador program. Another program, career treks, offers students the chance to visit corporations in Wisconsin and beyond to find out how they operate and what opportunities are available.
Macias’ team of 10, which includes career coaches, meets students at their level, guiding them through both the highs and the lows. “People will come in, elated that they have their dream job offer, or sometimes in tears because they didn’t. We have more of a feeling of community, support, and connection because we now have a space that is conducive to that,” she explains. “We also do quite a bit of repeat appointments with students who have felt comfortable opening up to their coach. It often has to do with career relevancy, but sometimes it’s because they’ve found a trusted person who can also help with life coaching.”
And there are no trivial questions, Macias believes. “I’ve had students put on the entire interview outfit for feedback.”
Melissa Smith (BS ’13), corporate team lead for early talent at Kohl’s, understands. With six years’ experience at Kohl’s, which is one of WSB’s lead corporate partners, she provides perspective for undergraduate students who can feel a little nervous and overwhelmed.
“Sometimes they get in their own way. They rehearse their elevator pitch so many times.” Smith encourages them to pause and think about what they want to say. “I remind them that they’re not going to ruin their entire careers with one misstatement.”
Macias says she and her team are excited to work on creating career pathways for every student. ‘How do we make sure that all of our business students, not just those that come from traditionally privileged backgrounds, have access to career information and the tools to start building those networks? That’s a huge goal for us right now.”
Building competency, building relationships
Providing a space for students to connect with alumni leaders and corporate partners to develop their skills is one of the key functions of the Studio.
Macias’ team recently held an employer networking event, one of three major launches since the Studio’s official opening, where students could meet with corporate partners such as Kohl’s, Uline, Kohler, BP, and many others.
Kohler’s Amy Fox, a manager in the company’s accounting, financial training and development division, was impressed by the new space.
“WSB’s new Career Engagement Studio is amazing. We held a ‘Kohler Take Over’” event in the space and were able to connect with students, display Kohler products, stream our latest videos, and help students with their elevator pitch and resume review,” Fox says. “The space is open so you can have many conversations going on without interrupting others. We will definitely use the space again.”
Marketing student Joe Losinski (BBA ’19) also found the event helpful in his own career planning.
“The networking event provided a great opportunity to hear an inside perspective on what it’s like to work for some reputable companies. It was also a great chance to meet some fellow business students and share our own experiences.”
BBA Ambassador Mikol Tsopnang (BBA ’22) agreed. “Because of this event, I was able to gain insight about, not only the opportunities available at each company, but what unique skills recruiters look for in applicants.”
Employer feedback helps inform where to prioritize efforts and programming in order to better serve the WSB undergraduate population. As industries change and new skills emerge, students need to adapt and grow—and so will the Studio and its staff, says Macias.
“The intention with the Studio was to keep it agile, to be able to pivot quickly with the times. If you ask me in a year, I have a feeling we will be doing several different things with this space, which is great. That was the whole point.”