Humanities Coalition: Building Professional Networks and Relationships at the University of Arizona

By Meg Lota Brown, PhD (Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs,  Associate Dean of the Graduate College, Director of the UA Graduate Center, Professor of English and University Honors Professor), Shawn E. Nordell PhD (Associate Director of Graduate Careers Services, Assistant Professor of Practice), and Ivette Merced, MS, EdS (Graduate Assistant Career Consultant, PhD Graduate Student in School Psychology, University Fellow) 

As a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and a national leader in the number of doctoral degrees awarded to Native American and Hispanic students, the University of Arizona graduate programs serve many first generation and international graduate students.

Data from the PhD Career Pathways report showed that first generation and international students feel that they have little experience with professional development. The Graduate Center at Arizona is using our Humanities Coalition grant, part of a Mellon-supported initiative led by CGS, to create a comprehensive approach to graduate career development so doctoral students can establish professional networks and relationships in multiple employment sectors.

To do this, the Graduate Center is offering several avenues for graduate professional development programs ranging from a one-credit course, skill-building workshops, one-on-one career consulting, graduate student peer-led programming, graduate faculty and staff career development training, and alumni career panels.

The one-credit graduate special topics seminar course, Networking for Diverse Careers, was taught by the Associate Director of Graduate Career Services during a 5-week summer session. Students created online profiles according to professional norms and developing a network of alumni that will help them translate their skills and better understand the transitional process from academia to business, nonprofit, or government positions.

The Associate Director of Graduate Career Services and a Graduate Student Career Consultant conducted a series of skill-building workshops with an emphasis on establishing networks. These workshops were structured to build on existing efforts in the Graduate Center that extend the scope of our services by making career training accessible to graduate students who cannot enroll in a semester-long course. Workshops were conducted via zoom in the evenings to best serve a diverse population. Workshop topics included how to use LinkedIn to create professional connections; job search strategies for business, nonprofit, and government jobs; how to tailor CVs, resumes and cover letters; and preparing for interviews.

In response to questions generated during the workshops, we created weekly drop-in career consulting hours over zoom where counselors were able to tailor their consulting to fit the unique needs of each student and work with them quickly and efficiently every week to address specific topics and to review job materials.

We also wanted an informal space for graduate students to discuss important topics related to their studies and participate in constructive dialogue, so we created a peer-led “Conversations” program. The Associate Director for Graduate Career Services trained two graduate student career consultants in facilitation and conflict resolution strategies to lead this program. The first Conversation was designed as a multi-departmental networking event to discuss how best to share departmental professional development opportunities across units. The “Conversations” program is part of an ongoing series that will continue each semester with a rotating discussion topic.

The Graduate Center also developed career development programming for faculty and staff, featuring data focused on recent graduate student outcome trends, the role of career development in graduate education, and Graduate Center resources.

To address graduate student concerns about networking and social norms expected when interacting professionally, we initiated a Networking Affinity Group program. These small, informal groups meet weekly for one month with a graduate student career consultant to discuss the purpose of networking and networking social norms and help participants create and implement a networking plan. A first generation Latinx graduate student career consultant will lead one affinity group of similarly identified participants, and an international graduate student career consultant will lead another international affinity group.

Finally, our project team partnered with the Alumni Career Lab to identify alumni to participate in our Alumni Career Panel series. They brought in two alumni who are currently in the nonprofit sector, and both eloquently outlined how they translated their skills from their graduate education to different sectors and how they used networking to support and guide their diverse career paths.

Arizona’s comprehensive approach to professionally developing students and staff through these innovative methods meets students where they are, supports its diverse student body, and has the potential to significantly increase positive outcomes for humanities graduate students.