School of Business

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When the COVID-19 pandemic swept into Richmond, the VCU School of Business Offices of Student Engagement and Business Career Services quickly modified the information and services offered to students. If student response and engagement are any measure, their actions have been a success. The school also created a special COVID-19 Resource webpage to house all new and existing services to help students navigate their wellness and careers.

“The support our business students have received from our network of alumni, mentors, employer partners and donors has been phenomenal,” says Katybeth Lee, director of Business Career Services. “Alumni are reaching out to us to say that their employers are still hiring, and our employer partners and recruiters are working hard to keep summer internship programs alive by going virtual.”

“Mental health and wellbeing are so important right now and our faculty and donors have wholeheartedly supported our transition from in-person programs to virtual wellness programs specifically tailored to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Cait Burns, director of student engagement at the VCU School of Business.

Career Services goes online and employers follow
“When Snead Hall closed, all of our in-person engagements were cancelled, but we were able to connect the dots so that employers who were scheduled to do on-campus interviews through Handshake are now interviewing students virtually,” says Lee. “We are also running webinars via Zoom on job searching during COVID-19 and doing group coaching for our underclassmen who are at the point where they must declare a major.”

Immediate effort to help students find new part-time jobs
The pandemic instantly disrupted students’ daily lives as well as their future plans. A majority of VCU students have part-time jobs and many found themselves unemployed and in immediate financial crisis. Some who had secured summer internships saw those opportunities disappear.

“Typically, when we send out job blasts, we send career-oriented jobs,” says Lee. “But when so many students lost their restaurant and ‘face-to-face’ jobs, we curated a list of employers still hiring and sent out a list of part-time jobs because we knew that was an immediate need.”

Micro-internships & LinkedIn Learning help students redeem their summer
For students whose summer internships were cancelled, Lee and her team developed alternate opportunities.

“There are several ways students can redeem their summer plans. The concept of micro-internships was around before this pandemic, but this is a perfect time for it,” she says. “We’ve worked with Parker Dewey and now have a VCU School of Business portal for students interested in short-term, vetted projects that let them practice their business skills and get compensated.”

“Our coaching team also curated lists of courses available through LinkedIn Learning for each major that would help students upskill. This summer, they can complete those courses and add technical knowledge to their resumes.”

Calling campaign to all seniors a huge success
Lee also looked to professional associations for best practices. After reading a community forum daily digest from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, Lee got the idea to have her team call and check in on every graduating senior.

“Students continue to get job offers!”
The office called all 410 graduating seniors and spoke with a third of them. “We asked: How are they? Are they still searching for a job? Do they need help? And we are connecting them with resources,” according to Lee. “Honestly, that effort has been even more successful than I thought it would be, and it’s giving them a high-touch experience even in a virtual environment. We’re also learning from this calling campaign that students continue to get job offers which is really awesome.”

Employers: “We want to keep engaging with students”
The Business Career Services team also has reached out to employer partners to ask how the health crisis is impacting recruiting and summer internships.

“What we’ve heard across the board from large corporations is that they recognize they are building a talent pipeline,” says Lee. “They want to get students in as interns, evaluate their talent over a 10-12-week period and, if it goes well, hire those students. They realize that talent development is a long game and if they don’t do internships now, they won’t have new hires for the next year. Employers are saying to us: ‘We want to keep engaging with students. How can we connect with them virtually?’”

“We’re also developing contingency plans for next fall, like investigating how to run a virtual career fair,” she explains. “If you are working at a company that continues to hire, stay connected with us and post your jobs in Handshake so that VCU students can apply.”

Office of Student Engagement creates helpful virtual offerings
Spring is typically a busy season for the Office of Student Engagement at the business school. “We had a lot of events planned for March and April with alumni scheduled to come back for our ‘Women in Business’ panel and our ‘First 100 Days’ panel that helps students navigate the first year after graduation,” says Cait Burns, director of student engagement at the VCU School of Business.

Last year, the school’s “I ♥ Snead” week resulted in nearly 1,000 interactions and enabled students to celebrate their school, alumni, faculty, staff, the Richmond community and even connect with prospective students. The program took place largely on Instagram this year. “It’s been hard not being able to host our large-scale, in-person events, but it’s also challenged us to think outside the box and come up with creative alternatives,” Burns shares.

“When it became clear all of our scheduled events had to be cancelled, we found different ways to support our students. It made the most sense do to ‘bite-sized’ events featuring topics that would be particularly helpful at this time. We focused on our two flagship areas: mentoring and wellness. That’s how our virtual series came into place,” Burns says.

With immediate cooperation and support from VCU alumni, donors and faculty, the office created a calendar of virtual events – five “Mentor Mondays” and five “Wellness Wednesdays.” To date, more than 250 students, community members and mentors have participated in Zoom events and the archived YouTube videos of each engagement (also available on the calendar page) have generated more than 250 views.

Mentoring Mondays
“With over 300 participants, our Connect Mentoring Program has connected undergraduate students to alumni and business professionals for the past 10 years. We usually do a big kickoff and year-end celebration with in-person networking. When that wasn’t possible this year, we created a completely new program, Mentoring Mondays, where groups of students could meet with a mentor,” says Burns. “Our alumni made Mentoring Mondays possible. All the speakers are mentors in our program and four of the five are alumni. When I reached out to them, everyone gave an immediate ‘yes!’”

Wellness Wednesdays
“Wellness Wednesdays came from a program that we hosted a few times a month that is focused on the Gallup Five Essential Elements of Well-Being. This school year, we introduced that framework to students and brought in resources from across campus in popular peer-to-peer led sessions. Since wellbeing is essential right now, we decided to leverage our faculty and community partners to host weekly 30-minute sessions on mindfulness, financial wellbeing, career wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and social wellbeing.

In post-event surveys, students expressed appreciation for the timely topics taught by VCU faculty and staff:

  • “In the midst of a pandemic, Chris Reina’s presentation to be intentional with our attention, refocus us on what’s important, forgive yourself was an excellent message at an important time. Thank you!”

The strength of the VCU network
“Our School of Business community is incredibly strong and tightly knit. Our faculty, alumni and business community members have jumped in to help out, and our turnout for these virtual events has been overwhelmingly positive and beyond what we expected,” Burns says. “It speaks to the strength of our network. Our faculty, staff and mentors all are seeking connection right now and there are easy ways to help. One of our biggest needs right now is recruiting our next cohort of mentors for the fall. In this uncertain climate, people with experience will have the opportunity to be impactful.”

Interesting in learning more? Visit the VCU School of Business COVID-19 resource page or sign up to mentor a business student

If you have a job to post, please contact Business Career Services .



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