Ushering in a new era for career development at FDU

By Kenna Caprio

What do you want to be when you grow up?

That’s the pivotal question that Donna Jackson-Robertson, FDU’s new University director of career development, and her career advisors are determined to help students answer.

Through collaboration and outreach — working side-by-side with faculty, counseling services, veteran student services and alumni relations at the Metropolitan, Florham and Vancouver campuses — Jackson-Robertson is establishing a strong foundation of resources for students and rebranding the Career Development Centers.

“We’re more than just the résumé writers and we’re more than just the interview people,” says Jackson-Robertson. “Our role is to help inform students about what’s out there and how they can take the skills and things that they’re good at already, and parlay those into a career they maybe didn’t even know existed.”

With a nod to her previous work experience at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., and before that, at INROADS, a diversity-oriented nonprofit out of St. Louis, Mo., Jackson-Robertson has prioritized creating cross-campus teams to bring a consultative approach to the office.

“I want Career Development to be seen as one operation that has multiple locations,” says Jackson-Robertson.

Donna Jackson-Robertson

Donna Jackson-Robertson joins FDU this semester as the new University director for career development.
(Photo by Dan Landau)

So, she’s assigning her staff to specific academic and specialty areas so that teams can brainstorm, troubleshoot and work together.

For instance, Jackson-Robertson paired Tori Resnick, a career counselor at the Florham Campus, with Theresa O'Neill, a career counselor on the Metropolitan Campus, because both have been working with assessment tools and helping students choose their majors or career directions.

“There’s a lot of really good experience and expertise on this collective team and we haven’t shared that or leveraged it enough in the past,” she says.

“It’s a multi-faceted approach to developing a student,” says Jackson-Robertson, repeating the old adage, “It takes a village.” She notes how accessible faculty, serious academics and engaging student activities, plus career and counseling support all play a part in creating capable, independent and successful graduates. “And so why wouldn’t we be multi-faceted and collaborative in how we approach career development?”

That means she has plans to increase the department’s outreach, too.

On campus, she wants the department to get more involved with student organizations; new, transfer and international student orientations; and classroom and faculty visits.

Increased visibility will raise awareness about the services offered by the Career Development Centers — including résumé guidance, interview prep, career assessments, networking opportunities, internship and job connections and much more.

But ultimately, the onus to take action remains on students.

“Integrating career development into your student life — we can show you how that works — but you have to have the wherewithal to say, ‘Show me.’” Take the initiative early on, recommends Jackson-Robertson, to reap more benefits. A visit to career development during freshman year can help students understand industry hiring timelines and internship and volunteer options, putting them on a path to success. Jackson-Robertson also cautions that career development is not “transactional” and doesn’t guarantee a job, post-graduation. “This is not buying something at Target; this is an investment,” she says.

Which is why she’s thrilled that “Preparing for Professional Life,” a class for second-semester freshmen, part of the interdisciplinary University Core curriculum, emphasizes career readiness as a process.

“There are so many universities that don’t have anything like that,” she says. “To have that embedded in the Core for all majors is very exciting.”

Collaboration with faculty will extend beyond the classroom, too.

Just recently, Jackson-Robertson took a field trip to a potential employer with faculty members and academic support staff. Visits like those, she says, “are a way of representing all the resources and expertise of FDU as a whole to the employer.” If an employer wants to discuss formalizing an internship program, Jackson-Robertson can offer suggestions. If the employer asks about the curriculum or student skill sets, a faculty member can answer with authority.

“If you want to build a relationship and you want strong talent, then FDU is where you come,” says Jackson-Robertson. “That’s really the message I want to get out to employers: we can handle all sizes of employers. We want to make sure that we understand your needs and that we can meet your needs.”

Jackson-Robertson also wants to develop niche career events, co-hosted by faculty with industry connections, instead of holding large-scale career fairs.

Though the larger career fairs have value, she says, Jackson-Robertson is concerned that they can overwhelm students looking for a first time, entry-level job. And, she wonders, “Are the right students meeting the right employers?” At a smaller, niche event, career advisors can work closely with faculty and employers and invite students who have a specific interest in a specific field to attend.

These niche events, classroom visits and employer meetings will also increase and enrich the data the department keeps on student and alumni job, internship and graduate school placements — which, in turn, better prepares career development for the next batch of job-seeking students.

 “When we talk about this career development process not being transactional, it is replicable,” says Jackson-Robertson. “You’re always going to be able to come back to this. You assess, gather information, make a decision, execute, review and then assess again. It’s a circle, a continuous process. And if we can teach that, then no matter where students are in life, they can come back to it and be successful.”