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 we will explore Western Michigan University Career and Student Employment Services and their Assistant Director for Employer Engagement– Buffy Nespodzany. Western Michigan University (www.wmich.edu) is a public research university in Kalamazoo, Michigan, established in 1903. Buffy has been there for 7 years.
Joe Bamberger - Walk me through your career path that brought you here.
Buffy Nespodzany - My first position out of college was working for a shopping center mall developer. I was first trained to be a shopping center mall developer manager, but it was not a fit for my skill set. I pursued a role in leasing instead and absolutely loved it. After ten years in this role, I transitioned to stay home with my family for six years. When I decided to return to work, I had a passion for academia and begin to apply to colleges and universities located in my area. I was hired at WMU by the U.S. Small Business Administration to work for the Small Business Development Center at the WMU Haworth College of Business. My role was to lead small business training courses and guide clients to write start up business plans. After four years, I moved into my current role with WMU Career and Student Employment Services as Assistant Director for Employer Engagement.
JB - For those that might not be aware, walk us through what your job is now. How do you spend your time?
BN - Employer engagement is part of the WMU Career and Student Employment Services team and is responsible for connecting employers with student majors they seek to hire for eight academic colleges. We host recruiting job fairs and networking events to foster engagement. Our mission is to help WMU students find their fit and be hired into full-time, part-time, and internship opportunities, and assist employers to fill open positions in their organizations. Each year, employer engagement has over 1,000 employers visit campus, and we service 7,000 students. I enjoy employer engagement because the position has a great deal of variety, and no day is ever the same based on employer requests.
JB - Well, I hope you like variety.
BN - I do! My job is awesome, and I love it! I get up every day and I'm thankful that I get to do something that is so rewarding. Seeing Broncos being hired into employer positions is amazing.
JB - Perfect segue, what would you say is your favorite part of your job?
BN - My favorite part is job fair day. When you plan an event for several months and then get to see it all come together, it is pretty special. From greeting employers and speaking with them, to witnessing students circulating in the ballroom in their professional clothes interacting with employers and watching the staff and volunteer interactions taking place to host the event, leaves my speechless. What you witness is truly priceless. Seeing the culmination of all that coming together in a day is the biggest highlight. I am exhausted at the end of a job fair, but when I go home after the event, I'm so elated and have a glow around me. It is the best.
JB - So, if I'm an employer that doesn't currently recruit out of Western, what's your sales pitch? Why should I consider hiring a Bronco?
BN - WMU is a nationally ranked top 100 university with over 250 academic majors and top programs across nine academic colleges including Integrated Supply Management, Cybersecurity, Data Science, Product Innovation and Design, Blind and Low Vision Studies, and Food and Consumer Packaged Goods. Depending on what the employer is seeking, Employer Engagement connects them with the appropriate college or department so they can learn directly from faculty or staff about the major or area they are inquiring about. WMU is known for real-world, hands-on experience and is a leader in academia that supports experiential student learning experiences in the form of internships, part-time jobs, study abroad, service learning courses, volunteerism, and participating in registered student organizations.
JB - Do you have a favorite event on campus?
BN - That is a hard question to answer, but I would have to say Engineering Expo. The event is held at the WMU College of Engineering and Applied Sciences which is a stunning, beautiful building. There is a special feeling at this fair because it is held in the corridors of the college. The energy at the fair and witnessing all the hustling and bustling is really something to see. The event is also special because the Dean and Board of Directors at the college support to not hold classes during the job fair, so every student has the opportunity to attend. That is an amazing gesture and shows the commitment they have for their students. The students feel valued and supported because of this and most attend the event.
JB - Looking at the current demographic and generation of students that are currently attending Western Michigan, do you think there's anything in the career search, career readiness or job hunting, skill sets that they struggle with the most?
BN - Based on survey results and comments made by employers, some students have a challenging time articulating their academic or experiential experiences when speaking with employers at job fairs. For students who visit Career and Student Employment Services prior to a job fair, the department provides tools and resources to help students prepare. We find that students are good at delivering their 30-second personal commercial, but then struggle to carry a conversation with an employer and explain their experience, competencies, and why they are a fit for the employer’s position. Based on this feedback, our career center developed an aid for students on how to start a conversation, what types of questions to ask, and how to close a discussion. The other area noted on employer surveys is that students do not take the time to research the employer prior to speaking with them. It is appreciated by employers when a student knows about their company and what they specialize in. Career and Student Employment Services strongly encourages students to take the time to research employers they plan to meet with prior to attending a recruiting event.
JB - Is there anything you like least about your job?
BN - I would say the pre-job fair administrative work. It is important, but tedious. I’m always happy when it is done.
JB - Is there a major on-campus that you struggle to find connections for? Like someone walks in and they're x major, and you're like, oh, I don't know what I’m going to do with you.
BN - WMU has over 250 majors and I feel the most unique one is Medieval Studies. That major can be a bit challenging to connect students with employer opportunities since few mainstream employers attend recruiting events for these students. Geosciences is another more unique major, but Employer Engagement had success last year connecting students with oil/gas drilling and mining companies who sought to fill jobs with Geosciences majors.
JB - Like that one. I didn't know that was a major, that's good. I'm assuming they become teachers?
BN - Yes, students in Medieval Studies become teachers, or are employed at museums, libraries, government agencies, textile companies, and in so many more areas. What is interesting in Employer Engagement is that you learn about different career paths and jobs that are out there. The saying “you can be anything you want to be” is a true statement!
JB - Let's shift gears a little bit. How long have you been involved with MCEEA?
BN - I joined MCEEA when I started at Career and Student Employment Services which was seven years ago.
JB - What keeps you coming back? What do you like about MCEEA?
BN - MCEEA is wonderful! The career and employer members in Michigan are the most knowledgeable, supportive, and amazing colleagues I have ever been around. The information and connections I receive at every meeting or event has been 100% worth my time. I always learn new best practices or take away nuggets that I can incorporate into my position or share with others in my department. MCEEA is an empowering organization, and I am very thankful that I am a member. I cannot say enough about MCEEA and the people.
JB - I hope so. I guess perfect segue, unlimited time and money, what are some things that you would like to see MCEEA, add or change or adjust in programming?
BN - Now that we’ve all experienced the virtual world, if MCEEA would consider hosting sessions and events in a hybrid fashion, more members might be able to attend programming without the cost of travel. I feel it would also be great if MCEEA had more employer members and could offer additional support or resources for them. How could MCEEA better connect employers with students? Maybe host a quarterly employer industry crawl for a half day in each region so employers are highlighted, and the career centers could invite students to attend the crawl. I’d like to see more programming to help employers and support their return-on-investment needs.
JB - Agreed. Anything else we haven't talked about yet that you want to leave the readers with or final thoughts?
BN - I think I've covered everything. I really value MCEEA on both the Career Services and the employer side. It's a very empowering organization to be part of.
JB - Well, hopefully, you continue to be a part.
BN - Absolutely! WMU Career and Student Employment Services just signed our renewal. Six staff on our career team are members and we value the organization so very much! Our team has held various roles within MCEEA such as VP of Higher Education, Regional Representative, Conference Chair, and conference committee support roles.
JB - All right. Well, I appreciate you taking the time.
BN - Thank you.
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 Buffy on LinkedIn