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The CLDC’s Erin Morgenstern and Imants Jaunarajs lead Brain Based Career Development training for career development professionals for the City of New York and State of New York university systems.

The CLDC’s Erin Morgenstern and Imants Jaunarajs lead Brain Based Career Development training for career development professionals for the City of New York and State of New York university systems.

Photographer: Jamie Dahl

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Five years after OHIO merged career, leadership development, CLDC reflects on University-wide impact


In the fall of 2012, Ohio University became the first higher education institution in the country to merge its student leadership development efforts with its career services office, setting a new standard for the holistic preparation of young scholars and establishing OHIO as a national leader in this area.  

Five years later, the result of that merger – OHIO’s Career and Leadership Development Center – has served tens of thousands of Bobcats, providing opportunities for students and alumni to cultivate co-curricular skills, engaging hundreds of employers in that process and weaving together a University community dedicated to students’ post-graduation success. 

In looking back on its formative years, the CLDC released a Five-Year Impact Report, highlighting its efforts to engage OHIO students, alumni, faculty and staff in the development of skills designed to meet the needs of today’s employers. 

Re-imagining career and leadership development

The CLDC was founded on the Athens Campus in the fall of 2012, merging OHIO’s Career Services Center with the services provided through the Amanda J. Cunningham Leadership Center and focusing on the life-long development of Bobcats’ career and leadership skills. 

“We were thinking about the personal and professional development of our students over the course of their lifetimes,” Senior Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones said in recalling the conversations that led to the formation of the CLDC.

Dr. Hall-Jones noted that at the time most traditional career services offices at universities and colleges were focused strictly on “placement,” getting students in their very first position. At the same time, there was overwhelming data showing that in an increasingly globally connected world, college graduates were switching positions quite often, rarely staying in that first career opportunity long term.

“We wanted to prepare our students for career mobility throughout their lifetimes,” she said, “and we felt that combining leadership development with career development would be the perfect synergy for our students.”

In August 2012, the University hired Imants Jaunarajs to serve as assistant dean for the CLDC, charging him with both building and directing this new office.

“This was a unique, maybe once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Jaunarajs said. “The real incentive for me was that it intersected leadership development with career development. … My previous roles always intersected the two at some level, so this was a natural fit and one that really made sense.”

Jaunarajs hit the ground running, hiring staff to join him and the office’s lone employee at the time and collectively developing the center’s strategic priorities, its mission and its vision.

“I think from a really big, pie-in-the-sky viewpoint, we set out to be more comprehensive and holistic on how we help students regarding their co-curricular and leadership development,” Jaunarajs said of the CLDC’s mission. “With career and leadership development, there are a lot of avenues and paths you can take, so at the beginning we tried to create many of those for our students.”

Ohio University students learn about career and leadership development at one of the CLDC’s “Prepare for the Fair” workshops held in advance of its biannual Career and Internship Fair.

Ohio University students learn about career and leadership development at one of the CLDC’s “Prepare for the Fair” workshops held in advance of its biannual Career and Internship Fair. Photo by Sarah Holm

By the end of its first year, the CLDC had laid a strong foundation for its future success, serving 15,114 students through its programs, events and individual appointments. Among its achievements: increasing usage of Bobcat CareerLink, an online database that connects students and alumni with employers; establishing three of its signature events, the fall and spring semester Career and Internship Fairs and the Teacher Recruitment Consortium; developing a few career courses; and coordinating on-campus recruitment efforts with employers.

Developing the CLDC’s services

From its earliest days, the CLDC has tailored its efforts around best practices, employer input and feedback, and assessment.

In developing its services, the CLDC staff hit the books, studying what employers were looking for when recruiting young professionals. 

“Employers are seeking employees who have certain skillsets, but who also have broad skillsets and who demonstrate transferable skills,” explained Erika Peyton, assistant director for employer relations and marketing at the CLDC.

Based on employer data, the CLDC identified six transferable skills most commonly sought by employers across a broad spectrum of industries. Those skills include self-awareness, interpersonal communication, teamwork, problem solving, adaptability and innovation.

Integrating those skills into its services, the CLDC employed an innovative, structured, but individualized, model based on neuropsychological best practices. Dubbed “Brain Based Career Development” or BBCD and developed by Jaunarajs, the model utilizes an action-oriented, student-led approach rooted in career coaching.

“Because what we do can be quite overwhelming for students, how we work with students is really important,” Jaunarajs said in explaining the logic behind BBCD. “A typical career services office overwhelms students with resources and services and older people telling young people everything we know and how they should do things our way. And, historically the field has really struggled with engaging students, especially students who themselves are struggling.”

(From left) Erika Peyton, assistant director for employer relations and marketing at the CLDC, works with students Anna Seethaler, Demari Muff and Gracie Freireich during drop-in coaching services.

(From left) Erika Peyton, assistant director for employer relations and marketing at the CLDC, works with students Anna Seethaler, Demari Muff and Gracie Freireich during drop-in coaching services. Photo by Marquis Maines

Using BBCD takes a step back and puts the ownership of the career and leadership development process on the student and breaks it down into short, actionable steps.

“You don’t just come and see us once and we tell you everything we know and expect you to remember it and do it, and then you’re done,” he said. “It’s a process. You come in, we talk about how to get started, what steps you can take in the next week or so and you come back when you’re ready and we just keep going, so it’s manageable, it’s doable.”

Over the past five years, the CLDC staff have engaged in career and leadership coaching with more than 12,000 OHIO students and alumni using BBCD theory. Those coaching sessions have led to Bobcats participating in, and building their transferable skills through, the CLDC’s growing list of programs and services, including:

Pepsi Scholar Eyunji Kim engages in community service through Community Food Initiatives in Athens.

Pepsi Scholar Eyunji Kim engages in community service through Community Food Initiatives in Athens. Photo by Sarah Holm

“I fully immersed myself in the CLDC,” said Demari Muff, who graduated from Ohio University this past April with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and is now enrolled in Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law.

Muff first heard about the CLDC during Bobcat Student Orientation but didn’t engage with the office until his sophomore year when he was considering changing his major and in need of some guidance. 

“My mom reminded me about the CLDC,” Muff said. “So I visited their office and had my first career coaching session with Erika (Peyton). The biggest benefit of that appointment was that I established action steps and set some goals.”

Muff continued to meet with Peyton on a weekly basis throughout that semester as he navigated his way through a change in major. At one point, he said, Peyton recommended he earn the CLDC’s 21st Century Leadership Certificate, which he did.

After that achievement, Peyton suggested he apply to become one of the CLDC’s Student Ambassadors who support the office’s mission by facilitating workshops, offering peer resume reviews and assisting with CLDC events and special projects. Muff joined the Student Ambassador Team in the fall of 2016 and spent the following year helping to facilitate the office’s certificate programs and providing outreach to the campus community, including presenting at the OHIO Up Close programs for admitted first-year students. 

“One of the things that I loved about serving as an ambassador was working with my fellow Bobcats, hearing about what they wanted to do with their professional lives and kind of assisting them in getting there,” Muff said. “I don’t attribute their success to anything I did, but I helped in a small way so that they could achieve something even greater in the future, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

Muff said his experiences with the CLDC allowed him to acquire skills that rounded out the skills he was learning inside the classroom.

“It taught me how to communicate better and how to work in a team,” he said. “Erika and the CLDC are responsible for where I am right now because when I came to that office, my life was in shambles. In addition to really listening to me, Erika inspired me. She allowed me to believe in myself and was there with me as I accomplished all of the things I wanted to accomplish.” 

Creating an OHIO community dedicated to students’ post-graduation success

In reflecting on the past five years, Jaunarajs said he is most proud of the partnerships the staff at the CLDC have formed within the OHIO community – partnerships that have created an ecosystem dedicated to the employability of Ohio University graduates.

“Those relationships,” Jaunarajs said, “I think that’s where our biggest successes are because it is those relationships that have led to greater student engagement and allowed us collectively to reach the greatest number of students.”

Taking a comprehensive approach to its efforts, the CLDC coordinates its efforts with academic units across the University, working with student advising and career development offices throughout OHIO and, in some cases, creating “academic splits” to serve specific student populations.

Over the past five years, three academic splits, professionals whose roles are split between the CLDC and an individual college and who facilitate collaboration between the two entities, have been created. Those splits are in the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Health Sciences and Professions, and the Patton College of Education’s hospitality, merchandising and recreation departments. The efforts of those professionals have resulted in increases in student engagement with CLDC services that range from 113 percent to 760 percent, as well as career and leadership development programming designed specifically for each unit’s students.

The CLDC’s efforts also extend to OHIO’s regional campuses. Jaunarajs noted that the CLDC’s outreach to those campuses includes annual daylong training for student services staff members, opportunities for regional campus students to complete the CLDC’s leadership certificates, participation in career and internship fairs and other events on those campuses, and some work with faculty around specific initiatives.

The CLDC also boasts a strong relationship with OHIO’s alumni, offering its services and expertise to Bobcat graduates and incorporating them into its multidimensional approach to career and leadership development. According to Peyton, a representative from the University’s Alumni Relations office meets with the CLDC’s employer relations team monthly to discuss potential partnerships, the CLDC and the OHIO Alumni Association actively participate in each other events, and graduates often volunteer their time and talents to serve on panels at CLDC events.

Aaron Sturgill (far right, back), associate director of employer relations at the CLDC, chaperones students during a company visit organized by the OHIO Alumni Association for Chicago Networking Week.

Aaron Sturgill (far right, back), associate director of employer relations at the CLDC, chaperones students during a company visit organized by the OHIO Alumni Association for Chicago Networking Week. Photo by Megan Johnson/Advancement Communications and Marketing

“Faculty, staff, alumni – we’re all engaged in preparing our students for their professional futures, which is how it should be,” said Jaunarajs. “I think all of the work that we do in higher education should have some kind of a connection, but especially in terms of leadership and career development.”

Partnering with employers

Joining Ohio University in its student professional development efforts is a wide array of employers with whom the CLDC collaborates. 

“Employer engagement is a core element of our career and leadership development process,” said Jaunarajs.

In addition to continuously gauging the needs of today’s employers, the CLDC staff is growing its partnerships with employers to develop programs and events that enhance what research shows employers are increasingly seeking from college graduates – applied-learning or project-based experience – while also providing opportunities for Bobcats to engage with employers.

“Employer outreach has definitely been a priority for the CLDC over the past five years,” Peyton said, noting the office’s efforts to bring employers to the Athens Campus as well as to diversify those networking opportunities. “We serve all of Ohio University’s students, so we really focus on bringing in a broad range of employers, and we know that if we can bring employers to OHIO for on-campus interviewing and other opportunities to engage with students, they are more likely to hire our students.”

Over the past five years, the CLDC has gone from hosting three employer-focused events – its fall and spring semester Career and Internship Fairs and the Teacher Job Fair – to more than 10 employer-focused events. Those events include the Work That Matters Non-Profit and Service Fair and JobFest, which highlights part-time, on-campus and seasonal employment opportunities. Most recently, the CLDC has implemented industry-specific events, designed to educate Bobcats on all of the opportunities available to them while providing them a forum to connect with potential employers.

Ohio University students speak with a recruiter at the CLDC’s biannual Career and Internship Fair.

Ohio University students speak with a recruiter at the CLDC’s biannual Career and Internship Fair. Photo by Leanna Siupinys

In addition to these University-wide CLDC events, Bobcats are presented opportunities to engage with employers on a more personal level through several career and leadership courses the CLDC offers in collaboration with some of OHIO’s academic colleges. Since 2013, more than 1,600 students have enrolled in these courses, which include a variety of employer engagement opportunities, including case studies and industry tours.

Among the employers that the CLDC has partnered with over the past several years is the Hyatt Regency Columbus. It’s a partnership that is growing and evolving and that has resulted in many Bobcats finding careers with a hospitality company that spans the globe.

“Our partnership with Ohio University is unique. The level of collaboration that we have with the CLDC, instructors and students is continuously growing,” said Emily Rodriguez, Director of Human Resources for the Hyatt Regency Columbus.

According to Rodriguez, that partnership began when Sarah Finney, a graduate of the Restaurant, Hotel and Tourism Program in OHIO’s Patton College, was promoted to a Recruiting Manager role with Hyatt Regency Columbus. 

“When Sarah looked at expanding our partnerships throughout the state and with colleges and universities, Ohio University obviously was a natural choice,” Rodriguez said.

The partnership began with the Hyatt Regency Columbus participating in the CLDC’s biannual Career and Internship Fairs. That led to conversations between some of the company’s representatives as well as staff from the CLDC and the Patton College.

“They’ve always been open and welcoming to us with a true desire to identify and fill the needs of both the employer and the students,” Rodriguez said of her experience working with the CLDC and the Patton College. She noted opportunities she and her colleagues have had to speak with students on the Athens Campus inside the classroom, during more informal career exploration events and most recently during an event management industry panel. 

The partnership reached a new level when the CLDC, the Patton College and the Hyatt Regency Columbus, in collaboration with the OHIO Alumni Association, established an immersion day for students enrolled in the Department of Human and Consumer Sciences. Offered during the past two fall semesters, the immersion day allowed more than 70 students to spend a day at the Hyatt Regency Columbus exploring various areas of the business as well as learn more about career and internship opportunities while interacting with staff. The day also included a panel discussion with OHIO alumni.

“We see such a strong caliber of students through Ohio University’s Restaurant, Hotel and Tourism Program,” Rodriguez said. “I think that can be attributed to both the classroom instruction and the CLDC services being offered to the students. Everyone has the students’ best interest in mind, which keeps students focused on their passion and interest and how that translates into the real world.”

Rodriguez pointed out that the Hyatt Regency Columbus helps Bobcats earn real-world experience prior to graduation by offering summer job opportunities that have led to several Ohio University graduates being hired on full-time following graduation. Over the past five years, the Hyatt Regency Columbus has hired more than 27 OHIO graduates. While the bulk of those Bobcats came from the Restaurant, Hotel and Tourism Program, Rodriguez said the company has also seen great success with OHIO’s sports management graduates and noted that its Events office includes an OHIO political science alumnus.

When asked what stands out about Ohio University students, Rodriguez said, “We see a great level of humility and empathy with the students. It seems like they can easily transition into our culture, which is really built around care. Caring for people so they can be their best is our purpose statement, and we see this with Ohio University students. They just have that. They can interact with guests and colleagues whether they’re in leadership positions or not. They can interact with others from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Rodriguez added, “And there’s oftentimes a greater understanding that I’m not going to come out of school and step into a senior level leadership position – almost that I have to pay my dues, that I have to learn the culture and the business to be successful.”

The CLDC’s entire professional and graduate assistant staff is seen in this fall 2017 photo.

The CLDC’s entire professional and graduate assistant staff is seen in this fall 2017 photo. Photo by Sarah Holm

OHIO’s CLDC leading the nation in student professional development

From the moment it decided to merge its student career and leadership development services, Ohio University emerged as a leader in the field of professional development. Over the past five years, the staff at the Career and Leadership Development Center have been continuously called upon to share their expertise and the office’s innovative approach to student career and leadership coaching.

Since the CLDC founding, office staff have presented at more than 30 national and regional conferences, sharing with their peers everything from how the University navigated the merging of its career and leadership development offices to its approach to student coaching. The staff has presented at the National Association of Colleges and Employers Conference and Expo, the National Career Development Association Global Conference, the American College Personnel Association Convention, the Midwest Association of Colleges and Employers Annual Conference, and the Ohio College Personnel Association Conference, just to name a few.  

This past summer, the CLDC was one of three university professional development offices to be featured in a career panel presentation during a chief academic officer/chief business officer workshop in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the American Council on Education and the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

“We are regularly asked to present at all of the main professional development conferences and institutes,” Imants Jaunarajs, assistant dean for the CLDC, said during an interview in late October. “We just returned from Oregon. We’re going to Kentucky in two weeks and then heading to Illinois.”

The CLDC’s Brain Based Career Development model has gained particular national attention. CLDC staff have presented the model at seven national and regional conferences, trained dozens of university career offices on its implementation, and published a monograph on the theory with the National Association for Colleges and Employers.

“These are all opportunities to shine a spotlight not only on the CLDC and our staff but also on Ohio University and the innovative ways we are serving our students and the individuals who will someday hire them,” said Jaunarajs.