On the Job: Ten programs that are preparing students for the working world
In today’s job market, stellar grades alone aren’t sufficient for success. A college degree may be enough to land an interview, but to stand out in a big pool of candidates, newly minted college graduates must have a repertoire of skills that can only be learned through on-the-job experience.
In homage to the 10-year anniversary of the DDCE, we’ve rounded up 10 programs that are helping students gain the skills they need to hit the ground running in their careers.
Longhorn Center for Community Engagement
Last spring Anna Phan took the lead on one of the largest student-run community service projects in Texas. Aptly named “The Project,” the daylong event puts hundreds of students in an underserved community, where they work in groups on a number of neighborhood beautification jobs.
As a team lead, Phan helped organize and implement the many neighborhood beautification jobs at various sites around the Rundberg neighborhood, from construction work to painting to landscaping and gardening. She not only developed a green thumb, but also learned how to manage a large team of workers and collaborate with community members on a large-scale project.
“These community leaders were kind enough to let us and work hand-in-hand with the locals to help beautify the neighborhood,” says Phan, an economics junior. “They taught me more about the surrounding communities of UT and could be potential employers.”
Though the long hours of work—before and during Project Day—were tough, Phan says she is already reaping the rewards. “The Project showed me what I’m really capable of doing,” Phan says. “I never would’ve thought that I and a handful of other UT students could plan and host an event for 800-plus volunteers and make a difference in the Rundberg neighborhood. After the Project, I can say that I can conquer whatever I set my mind to.”
COMMUNITY-BASED,PARTICIPATORY RESEARCH COURSE
School of Nursing in Partnership with the DDCE
While working as a neonatal intensive care nurse, Nicole Murry was focused on getting her patients back in good health so they could be discharged and sent on their way. It was a practical and efficient goal, but Murry couldn’t shake the feeling that something was lacking.
“In the hospital, we’re so focused on getting them better, but we don’t know what happens after they’re discharged,” Murry says. “I started asking people about what resources were available for families in underserved neighborhoods and found there were very few.”
With the goal of making a positive impact on community health, Murry came to UT Austin to earn a Ph.D. in the School of Nursing. In 2015, she enrolled in Dr. Miyong Kim’s Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) class, which connects students of all disciplines with community health-focused organizations. Together they work on a number of projects, such as grant writing, community outreach and programming. At the end of the semester, they give a presentation to potential funders.
“In nursing school, students are put in clinical environments,” Murry says. “But this was a reverse setting where people in the community are brought into the classroom. In this class, I saw how students and community organizations could form beautiful partnerships.”
After earning her Ph.D., Murry plans to give back to the next generation of nurses by becoming a teacher.
“I truly believe in the power of nurses,” she adds. “We have a duty and a responsibility to focus on health disparities. If we can work together with the community, we can find some solutions to give people a better quality of life.”
INTELLECTUAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP PRE-GRADUATE SCHOOL INTERNSHIP PROGRAM
DDCE and Moody College of Communication
When Daniel Conroy-Beam started his freshman year at UT Austin, he had visions of himself in a white lab coat and stethoscope. But as he started to explore his interests, he soon realized medical school just wasn’t for him.
When Conroy-Beam entered the Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) program, everything started falling into place. As an IE Pre-Graduate School Intern, he worked with a graduate student mentor who was studying evolutionary psychology.
“My mentor gave me a glimpse into graduate school life and academia,” Conroy-Beam says. “Just as importantly, he gave me encouragement and convinced me that I was good enough to go to graduate school and to be a scientist.”
Working alongside his mentor, Conroy-Beam gained hands-on experience in every phase of research, from developing hypotheses to designing experimental tasks to writing up and presenting data. He also got his first taste of academic life at the 2009 Human Behavior and Evolution Society Conference in California. The trip was funded by a Kuhn IE Award, which is granted to a select group of IE scholars each year.
“For the first time in my life I got to see cutting-edge research and be surrounded by people who shared the niche obsession I had been developing,” says Conroy-Beam (B.S., Psychology, ’11/Ph.D., Individual Differences and Evolutionary Psychology, ’16). “It was exciting and energizing, and after that conference I knew for sure that I could spend the rest of my life as a psychologist.”
Now an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Conroy-Beam is well on his way to becoming a leader in evolutionary psychology—and one of the very few African American scientists in the field.
AUSTIN CITY HALL FELLOWS
Longhorn Center for Community Engagement
Shadhi Mansoori’s passion for health care started in high school when she interned at a low-cost clinic for uninsured East Dallas residents. While attending to patients with chronic illnesses, she saw a high need for preventive care. Now she plans on working in public policy and later becoming a doctor. Her goal is to help low-income patients live longer, healthier lives.
“I’m interested in specializing in lifestyle design—helping people find solutions for health problems in ways that work with their own lives,” says Mansoori, a neuroscience junior.
In the meantime, she’s working with her Austin City Hall Fellows team on developing a health care resources packet for East Austin residents. As a fellow, she has learned how to collaborate with city leaders, community members and her teammates on a yearlong project that could help bridge East Austin’s health care gap.
Before jumping into the project, she and her teammates wanted to make sure they were providing a useful service.
“We had a lot of meetings with community members and civic leaders to make sure this is a community-identified problem and that residents would be interested in having this packet,” Mansoori says.
A big takeaway from this experience, she says, is that community members must be heard in order to find sustainable solutions—a lesson that will serve her well when she pursues a career in public policy.
GENDER AND SEXUALITY CENTER
To say that Ashley Yerim Choi is passionate would be an understatement. To hear her speak out about LGBTQ+ rights, it’s quite clear that she has found her calling in life.
After graduating this spring with a degree in International Relations and Global Studies, Choi plans to continue advocating for LGBTQ+ equality and later pursue a master’s degree in public policy. Fluent in Korean and Arabic, she plans to pursue her good work here in the United States and in developing nations across the globe.
While interning for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Choi became more familiar with the grim reality of LGBTQ+ life in North Africa. Though it was difficult learning about the violence inflicted upon innocent lives, her work galvanized her desire to take action.
“I realized there is much more to be done anywhere in the world when it comes to oppression,” Choi says. “Instead of imposing my Western values, I want to work alongside local activists in those countries and learn from their positivity and resilience.”
At the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC), Choi has been honing her advocacy skills through a number of student-led projects, from organizing the annual Feminist Action Project Conference to managing and editing the Zine, an annual publication that gives back to the feminist community. While working with her student groups, Choi has learned how to effectively communicate with other passionate people who don’t all share her ideas and opinions.
“The GSC taught me to be as inclusive as much as you can and not leave any identities behind,” Choi says. “I’m going to dedicate my entire life to LGBTQ advocacy. I feel alive when I do it.”
Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence
Mia Imienfan Uhunmwuangho’s interest in law school was sparked in her freshman journalism class when a lawyer/journalist came to speak about his coverage of the mass suicide rates of farmers in India.
“It was interesting to see how someone could bridge their legal skills with their journalism skills to advocate for these farmers who were losing their land,” says Uhunmwuangho, a journalism junior. “My dad’s a lawyer, but I never thought it would be interesting work until I learned about the opportunities a law degree can provide.”
Now she’s excited about becoming a lawyer and making a positive difference in her home country, where women and children must walk for miles every day to collect drinking water.
“I want to help societies, particularly in Africa,” says Uhunmwuangho, who was born and raised in Nigeria. “I want to focus on improving the quality of life, especially for women.”
Though she is still an undergraduate, Uhunmwuangho delved into law school classes last summer in DiscoverLaw.org PLUS, a program that aims to help students—particularly
underrepresented students of color—prepare for a successful future in law. Throughout the six-week program, undergraduates from UT Austin and Huston-Tillotson live on campus and learn how to prep for the LSAT, read, write and analyze legal documents, and even take on complex case assignments.
The biggest challenge, Uhunmwuangho says, was delivering an oral argument before a panel of judges.” “I’m a quiet, reserved person, so it was hard getting up there by myself in front of everyone,” Uhunmwuangho says. “But I learned that I can do public speaking and I do it well.”
With help from her graduate student mentor in the IE program, Uhunmwuangho is getting ready to apply to law school this fall. Not only is she prepped for the LSAT, she also has a supportive circle of students, faculty and staff who will help guide her along her journey.
AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE RESEARCH INITIATIVE
Like many college freshmen, Brandon Okeke needed a little help getting his bearings. He knew he had to meet a number of requirements to maintain his University Leadership Network scholarship, such as volunteer hours, internships and experiential learning training. But on such a sprawling campus, he wasn’t quite sure where to begin.
At a Black male student orientation, he learned about the many opportunities within the African American Male Research Initiative (AAMRI) and decided that would be the best place to start. Within the short span of the spring semester, Okeke has landed an internship position as a research assistant and volunteered at a number of events. Not only is he meeting the requirements of his scholarship, he is also building a solid network of friends and mentors at weekly “Power Hour” meetings, monthly gatherings at Gabriel’s Café and other networking events.
Though he has only just begun his college career, Okeke is already preparing for the workforce by practicing his networking skills at events on and off campus, including the Leadership Institute, an annual event hosted by AAMRI that brings in African American students, scholars, advisers and mentors from schools across the state. The greatest benefit, Okeke says, is learning how to break out of his shell.
Now he is confident while speaking to new people in a professional setting—and in his ability to travel the world. In May, he will be among many other first-generation college students experiencing their first trip abroad as part of the Social Entrepreneurship in China course, a signature program within the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence.
“I feel stronger, smarter and better about myself in general,” says Okeke, a biology freshman. “I’m doing things I never would’ve imaged before, like planning and financing a study abroad trip to China. At first I didn’t want to do it, but someone told me I’d grow from the experience, and now I couldn’t be more excited.”
When Mike Gutierrez came to UT Austin from El Paso, he made a few friends in orientation, but he really needed to connect with a mentor who came from a similar background.
“It’s just easier for students to build a relationship with people who have had similar upbringings,” says Gutierrez (M.Ed, Higher Education Administration, ’15/B.A., Psychology,’13). “Plus it gives you the sense that if they can be successful, you can, too.”
He soon joined a First-Year Interest Group and learned how to take advantage of the university’s many resources. In graduate school, he decided to pay it forward by mentoring students in Project MALES, a multi-pronged research and mentoring initiative that serves young men and boys of color. Now a program coordinator for Project MALES, Gutierrez is grateful for the valuable work experience he gained while guiding high school students into the college pipeline and working with undergraduate mentors.
“The reason why I went into the master’s program was to learn more about higher education administration and gain more experience and responsibilities,” Gutierrez says. “My graduate work really helped me learn how to interact with students and set expectations for them.”
Inspired by the progress he’s seen in his students, Gutierrez knows that he has found his true calling. In the future, he plans to take his mentoring career to the next level by becoming a director of a similar program or taking on an executive-level position in higher education administration. Whatever the future holds, he wants to broaden the reach of mentoring programs to students of all backgrounds.
GATEWAY SCHOLARS PEER MENTOR PROGRAM
Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence
During her freshman year, Shelby Gaylor learned how to adjust to her new life on the Forty Acres with some help from her mentors in the Gateway Scholars Program. Inspired by their good work, she decided she also wanted to make an impact on students’ lives. Now as a mentor, she is helping undergraduates who—like herself—need a listening ear.
“I know from experience how overwhelming UT and adulthood can be, which is why I wanted to be able to offer my help to freshmen in need,” says Gaylor, an economics junior.
Every year, mentees work on a conflict-resolution project to sharpen their problem-solving skills. A big challenge, Gaylor says, is guiding them through the process and helping them work toward a compromise. Through these activities, she’s learning how to be a stronger leader and an expedient problem-solver.
Whether Gaylor is leading a group activity or meeting with students individually, she’s learning how to become an effective communicator—a strength that will help her when
she lands a job in economic development.
UT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
UT-University Charter School
Erin Green is one of the lucky ones who found her true calling early in life. When a herd of 10-year-olds stream into her classroom, the smile on her face says it all. She was born to teach.
But after two rocky semesters of student teaching, she wasn’t so sure anymore. The prospect of teaching at a school that focused more on standardized testing than social and emotional learning seemed less than alluring.
Her love for teaching was rekindled the day she started student-teaching in Scarlett Calvin’s fifth-grade class at UT Elementary School.
“I was so inspired by how much these teachers care about their students and how invested they are in helping them learn and grow,” says Green, who graduated in 2015 from the College of Education. Now a full-time teacher at UT Elementary, Green enjoys going to work every day at a school where students are being nurtured in a safe, welcoming environment.
“Fighting for students and encouraging them to reach their true potential should be at the center of education, and UT Elementary is doing that in a way that I’ve never seen before,” Green says.