By Ed Brennen
The Fall Career Fair was less than 24 hours away, and over on South Campus, a dozen juniors and seniors from the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences were huddled around tables at Coburn Hall, mapping out job search strategies for a pair of fictional characters.
“Gary” was a junior political science major looking to land a summer internship. “Mary” was a senior psychology major seeking a full-time job as an elementary school teacher. Using what they’d learned so far in their Career Planning Seminar, a one-credit course that prepares FAHSS majors for internships and jobs, the students collaborated on detailed game plans for each character.
In the process, they also reinforced their own game plans for the Career Fair.
“It will be good to use all the resources that I’ve learned here and get out in the job field,” said Crisayda Belen, a senior Bachelor of Liberal Arts major with concentrations in political science and legal studies who was preparing for her first Career Fair.
The Methuen native said her advisor suggested she take the seminar, which guides students through self-assessments and career explorations before covering concrete aspects of the job search process such as résumé and cover letter writing, online job searching, professional networking and interviewing.
“It’s really helped me with my résumé, which I needed,” said Belen, a transfer student from Northern Essex Community College who is on track to complete her degree in December. “I also feel like I’m very introverted and socially awkward, so this has helped me focus and refine my networking skills.”
Now in its third semester, the popular Career Planning Seminar is the brainchild of Susan Thomson Tripathy, a sociology lecturer and director of the Bachelor of Liberal Arts program.
Tripathy noticed that many liberal arts students seemed uncertain about their career paths after graduation and also struggled with résumé writing and job search strategies. She learned about a career prep course for engineering students and worked with Career Services Associate Director Dana Norton and Vice Provost for Student Success Julie Nash (then the FAHSS associate dean) to develop a similar class for liberal arts students.
“The course is extremely helpful because it offers concrete skills and ways to see more clearly how a liberal arts degree can open the door to a vast number of exciting career opportunities,” said Tripathy, who decided to expand the seminar to all FAHSS majors.
The seminar is just one way FAHSS majors are supported the Career & Co-op Center, which has an office at O’Leary Library. The center hosts a Liberal Arts Career Fair on South Campus each winter, as well as an employer-in-residence program.
Career Counselor Emily Brown, who is co-teaching this semester’s seminar with Norton, said the course gives students a convenient framework to help them successfully enter the job market.
“In the past, they would have to be more proactive about making appointments with Career Services to work on their résumés or do practice interviews,” Brown said. “In this class, those are all built-in requirements. We help walk them through the steps.”
Fair Thee Well
Since Career Fairs can be an overwhelming experience even for seasoned job-hunters, Brown said the seminar devotes an entire class on helping FAHSS majors know what to expect when they enter the Tsongas Center.
More than 1,500 students and alumni attended this fall’s Career Fair, where 189 companies were seeking interns, co-ops and full-time employees. While many of those companies were looking for engineering and business majors, there were also plenty of opportunities for FAHSS majors.
In fact, the first booth students saw when entering the arena was The Autumn Group, an IT staffing and solutions company that was seeking majors of every stripe, from English to economics, fine arts to social sciences, for internships and full-time recruiter and sales rep positions.
One of the people manning The Autumn Group booth, technical recruiter Melissa Simone, was living proof that FAHSS majors are in demand. Simone earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the university in 2015, with a minor in business administration.
“It’s all about people skills, interpersonal relationships and networking,” said Simone, a Methuen native who’s been with the company for almost a year. “We have a lot of sociology and liberal arts majors look into the staffing world. There’s a high need out there for very large clients.”
About 30 feet down the concourse, Benchmark Office Systems founder and president Michelle McManus echoed those thoughts.
“In our realm, it doesn’t matter what kind of background you come from, whether it be liberal arts, English, psychology, criminal justice,” said McManus, whose technology company has been attending UML Career Fairs for the past eight years. “We try to give our interns a well-rounded background, which is good for students. They’ll tell me years later that they never thought of doing whatever they did for the internship, and then all of a sudden they got a good job doing that full-time. And it’s because they had the opportunity to try it and do it.”
One alum attending the Career Fair was Melissa Harris, who earned her psychology degree (with a business administration minor) in 2016. Harris landed her current job as a client advocate at the Advocator Group, a national organization dedicated to helping individuals obtain Social Security Disability Insurance, through a previous Career Fair. She was back this fall to explore future career steps.
While the Career Planning Seminar wasn’t available when she was a student, Harris appreciates the connections she made on South Campus while earning her FAHSS degree.
“One thing I’ve found is that you’re able to build very strong relationships with professors,” Harris said. “Even to this day, I feel confident I could go back and ask them for advice on what to do next with my degree. That is such a useful resource.”