Welcome to MCEEA’s Faces on Campus campaign!
Over the next year – we will be highlighting the career educators and employers who make up our great organization. Each week we will pay tribute to the individuals who devote their lives to helping students take that key first step into their professional career and the employers who welcome and develop them into the professionals they will become.
We hope you enjoy the insights, stories, and laughs of the people of MCEEA.
This week brings us to Wayne State University (https://wayne.edu/) in Detroit. Wayne State is a public research university in Detroit, Michigan. It is Michigan's third-largest university and consists of 13 schools and colleges offering approximately 350 programs to more than 26,000 graduate and undergraduate students.
Our interviewee is Cedric Brooks – Assistant Director of the Engineering Career Resource Center at Wayne State in the College of Engineering. Cedric began this role three years ago.
Joe Bamberger - For those that might not be aware, what's your day-to-day?
Cedric Brooks - I always describe my role as a two-fold role. Right. On one side, I'm meeting with students providing resume help, interview prep, job search strategies. Then on the other side is working with employers; reaching out, networking with employers that want to recruit Wayne State students, and brainstorming about out-of-the-box ways that they can connect with them.
JB - What are some of the out-of-the-box ways that you've seen that have been successful?
CB - Before this virtual world, we were doing careers and coffee time, so informal casual spaces for students to connect with employers. What we found is that a lot of the time employers want to go for that rockstar, extrovert student. There are more people than just extroverts out there, so we started to think of other spaces that more of an introvert can thrive in. We've also done opportunities for those students to be mentored by certain people at different companies in different spaces. I think the virtual component kind of helps when it comes to more introverted students as well. We've been doing a bunch of virtual stuff, virtual information sessions, virtual tours, different things like that.
JB - What's your favorite part of your job?
CB - I would say that I never want to get to a point where I'm not meeting with students, the students really are my favorite part of working in higher education. It comes in a wide range, especially at Wayne State, some of the students are not as traditional, we might get some non-traditional students, we have a large international population, tons of diversity there. I just like meeting with different students from different spaces and helping them to realize what it's going to take for them to fulfill their dreams. Sometimes that comes really quick and sometimes not so much and then you end up building a rapport with students.
JB - If I'm an employer that doesn't have a relationship with Wayne State, why should I consider Wayne State students?
CB - Wayne State is the most diverse university in Michigan. That's always my big pulling tagline. I always say that we're right in the heart of Detroit, so tons of diversity, lots of the Detroit heritage and Detroit history there. If you want to recruit a diverse group of students, and that's not just black and white, that's international, that's LGBT, we have all of that. It's a really good space to start.
JB - When we look at all the events, virtual and face-to-face pre-COVID, do you have a favorite event on campus that you feel resonates the most with students?
CB - Probably career fairs. In career services, the career fair is the big event every semester, everything you do leads up to the career fair because that's the space with most employers. That's probably my favorite. We have the most students there. We get to talk to those students that are rock stars, prep those students that are a little bit timid before they go in, meet all the employers that we've been talking to via email and via phone. It's just a really awesome day. Usually a stressful day, but very awesome.
JB - Talking about prepping students, as you look at your population of students, is there something in the job search or career readiness that you feel they struggle with most?
CB - Students feel like certain things look a particular way. They're saying, "I can't go for that job because I don't have this" or "I don't have this many years of experience", or "I didn't get an internship before I graduated." They feel like things look a certain way and I feel like that's because pop culture and the media tell them that it has to look this particular way. Or even that you have to be a particular type of student. Even just talking to students of color, "my hair has to be this way", or "I need to dress like this to go into this interview," and that's not the case. This new light bulb moment just recently came over the last few years because it did use to be the case where you had to have these particular things, that you had to dress this way for an interview, or certain hairstyles were not acceptable in certain spaces, but I think that we're creating a more inclusive environment all over. I find that students kind of struggle with debunking that myth that things have to look a certain way, I have to be a certain way to end up in this space. That's not the case anymore.
JB - Do you think that employers share those feelings? Or do you think that some employers are still caught in the past as it comes to those types of issues?
CB - A little bit of both. We do have some employers that are a little bit more progressive, they kind of jumped on that diversity, equity, and inclusion bandwagon very early, started to create new positions, change their recruiting models, and came to us for best practices and how to do that. Those are the employers that are there right now. Now, we do have some employers that are a little bit behind the curve and need to work on their recruiting practices, build some equity into how they do those types of things. Unfortunately, sometimes those employers can be a lot of the larger ones. What I will say, is that more times than not, we have employers thinking outside of the box on how they can do new things in a new way, including new people, ask "why do we not have this demographic in our recruiting pool? What's their barrier? Can you help me to figure that out?" More people are kind of shifting to that mindset than before.
JB - If a company is looking to specifically recruit towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, what's a good piece of advice you would give them?
CB - I would say look at your recruits. Who are your candidates? Do they all look the same? If they are coming from the same backgrounds, then start to identify particular barriers or what could be a particular barrier. Why isn't this certain demographic making it past this point, and then reach out to experts for best practices. There's a lot of brand-new research on recruiting models and how they should change and how some of them are biased to certain demographics. I'm just starting to dive into that stuff and it's mind-blowing because it is the small things that I've never thought of before. I would say start with your recruiting model. First of all, if it's probably over 10 years old, you definitely need to change that. Take a look at some of the research out there. Reach out to your local colleges and universities and their career services spaces. Most colleges and universities have a DEI space as well and they can definitely give you some research supported by some best practices as well.
JB - Going back to engineering, do you find that there is a particular engineering career pathway that is the hardest to connect with employers?
CB - In my space, it would be biomedical. Michigan isn't prone to have a ton of biomedical opportunities is what we're finding, but that's also a pretty large field. What we're finding is that a lot of biomedical positions are being taken by electrical engineers or mechanical engineers, when really that's an opportunity for biomedical. This is another way that we kind of teach students to think outside of the box in terms of their job search, because there may not be a ton of biomedical positions out here, but let's see if there really are a lot, they're just disguised and may be hidden. So, how can you look for those different things?
JB - Do you have a least favorite part of your job?
CB - I think sometimes a college campus can be different. Some spaces are kind of siloed, other spaces are more welcoming, so sometimes working with different areas that are a little siloed can be a little difficult, especially when it's multi-generational, everybody works differently.
JB - When you talk about a multi-generational campus, in a campus that is a combination residential and commuter? Do you find it difficult to speak to different populations within the university as a whole?
CB - No, I wouldn't say it difficult to speak to them, I would say that you'd almost have to think outside the box, and how to cater to them and their needs. One of the things I am happy about due to COVID is that we now have virtually everything. That didn't really exist before and I'm hoping that a lot of stuff sticks around. These virtual spaces are really convenient. You can jump on a virtual information session in your car and talk to this employer while you're stuck in traffic on I-94. That might be great for a commuter student, as well as having something on campus for a student that's maybe living in the dorm. It's just about thinking about different barriers, and ways of convenience for different demographics too. To also kind of bring that DEI component in here, too, it's also having employers and recruiters that look like those students, that come from backgrounds of those students as well. That may not always be race, sometimes it may be LGBT, sometimes it may be first-generation college students. Just kind of thinking about that as a whole, using the diversity wheel a little bit, and pulling on different strings in that wheel to cater to different populations so everybody has an event that they can come to.
JB - If someone is considering a career in career services and wants to do what you do, what sort of pieces of advice would you give them?
CB - I would say be creative. Be creative about how you want to get here. I have a background in workforce development. I worked for the state of Michigan for Washtenaw County for several years. I thought strategically about how can I end up in higher education? Sometimes, if you don't have college or university on your resume, it can be a little difficult to end up in these types of spaces. What I did was network a little bit and I thought about transferable skills, the same thing that I teach students. What are some things that I can do in the space that I'm in now, that would transfer to another space, and then I continue to build my resume in those particular realms. That's the best advice that I can give. Again, in this new virtual world, it's a better place to network, lean really hard on your social media platforms. Be really active on social media, in particular, LinkedIn, connect with people that maybe you don't know, that are doing things that you want to do, see what they're doing, and start to do those things.
JB - What's the most common question you get asked by students?
CB - Maybe "can I do this?" A lot of the time, there will be a student who wants to do some type of opportunity, but they don't know what they do. We'll find a lot of students that end up in electrical, mechanical, chemical engineering, but they don't know what they do. They don't know what type of spaces they work in. We do get a lot of "Can I do this? Would this be appropriate for me? Do I qualify for this?" That kind of goes back to what I was mentioning before that, unfortunately, there are still some employers that are saying they want two to three years experience for an entry-level position. How do you have two to three years of experience when you just graduated with your degree? We'll get a lot of, "can I do this? Does this qualify? I didn't get an internship or Co-Op. How can I end up in this space? How can I best prepare for this role?" I get a lot of that.
JB - Are engineering students at Wayne State required to have a co-op or internship to graduate?
CB - No, and that's unique because most of the time in those engineering spaces, you will have some type of credit component built into the curriculum that will push them toward graduation. We don't have that at Wayne State, but I can say that most of our students do participate in some type of internship or co-op. They just do it because they want the practical world experience, most of them do it in the summertime, but it's not required to graduate.
JB - How long have you been involved with MCEEA?
CB - Two or three years. I know I did a presentation at a MCEEA conference, I think a few years ago, so maybe around three years. I think I presented on international populations and best practices in working with international groups. I mentioned we have a large international population in the College of Engineering and we find that they have particular barriers that are not always necessarily met. It looks different at every school, so we did a presentation just to kind of rally up different career services, personnel and see what they do and we built some best practices, and we kind of use those from that point out.
JB - When you look at the international population on campus, I'm sure they see struggles when it comes to finding internships, co-ops, full-time employment just due to visa issues and things like that. How do you engage employers to connect with that population of students?
CB - Provide resources and a lot of it is debunking myths. We provide resources on what the OPT or CPT process looks like. A lot of the time, though, what we're finding is that there's a lot of misconceptions. You think that you'll have to pay to get this process started or there'll be some type of incentive for the student and it doesn't look that way. Unfortunately, the previous administration, maybe a little bit this current administration added a lot of layers into that too, to where it was just a lot of misinformation out there. We provide resources on what that actually looks like. We give examples of what that process looks like. I also feel like we think outside of the box in terms of ways to connect our international populations with viable employment opportunities. We may stretch outside of Michigan, we also may look into staffing agencies that will have tons of really good opportunities. That's just another piece of just making sure that they have some opportunities for them as well.
JB - I'm going to ask you to stereotype something, which probably shouldn't, but when you look at your international student population, do you feel that most of them come to Wayne State to be educated in the United States and then go back home wherever that might be? Or do most of them study at Wayne State intending to find an opportunity to work here in the United States?
CB - I want to say a little bit of both, I can't give you a yes or no, it's a little bit of both. We do have some students that come here specifically because they always wanted to come to the US, other students that are saying, this is just one of the best engineering programs I want to take this knowledge and go back home. It's a little bit of both and I also think that depends on the administration at the time too, the climates change in this country. I hope that the process gets a little easier because it changes so much, I want something consistent and easy.
JB - Let's say MCEEA had unlimited time and money, what sort of programming or added benefits, would get you excited about an organization like MCEEA?
CB - What gets me excited about an organization like MCEEA is the diversity. Tons of different backgrounds, different types of professionals, different industries, right there in one space. As well as different career services, personnel, every college campus is different, the culture is different, even just talking to Career Services staff at maybe a university on the west end of the state, the culture of the campus is completely different. We get to hear how things work there. Maybe some of the things will work for us, some of those things won't. Also, those different types of employers that all want to engage with students all have different types of opportunities and they're all kind of galvanized to just get out of there and just get on campus and start to network a little bit. I like organizations that put us all in one pot, just all in the same place. You can start to network and use those resources at your own will.
JB - Would you like to see MCEEA add any programming that we currently don't offer?
CB - I would like to see more DEI components. I also would like to see DEI defined more broadly to what it is because sometimes I think that people will just think that means black and white again, and it doesn't. I want to pull some opportunities for maybe students with disabilities, opportunities for women. Think outside of the box, because I really feel like that's where the world is going, more inclusive.
Faces on Campus is a weekly interview series highlighting members of MCEEA conducted by Joe Bamberger of Emerge Consulting. Be sure to follow MCEEA on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and MCEEA.org
Connect with Cedric on LinkedIn