Recent grads discuss their level of career preparation post-USM

Recent graduate Phil Shelley (right) has been active in efforts organized by the #USMFuture group to oppose faculty cuts and call for funding reform throughout Maine’s public university system. The photo above was taken last Thursday at a rally in Monument Square, Portland, which culminated in a march. Shelley told the Free Press that he was concerned that the recent cuts could devalue a USM degree.
Sam Hill | The Free Press
Recent graduate Phil Shelley (right) has been active in efforts organized by the #USMFuture group to oppose faculty cuts and call for funding reform throughout Maine’s public university system. The photo above was taken last Thursday at a rally in Monument Square, Portland, which culminated in a march. Shelley told the Free Press that he was concerned that the recent cuts could devalue a USM degree.

Posted on April 14, 2014 in News
By dakotawing, Kirsten Sylvain, and Sidney Dritz

One of the arguments made by protesters of the recently retracted faculty layoffs and the still slated for elimination program is that such cuts will significantly devalue a USM degree.

“That’s the sort of thing that I worry about as a reality as I apply for grad school,” said Philip Shelley, who graduated in December.

Shelley said he has no doubt that the education he received at USM, which he described as the best deal in the northeast, was exemplary. However, he said that he thinks that the administration has never valued that academic excellence as they should, and that if the proposed academic cuts go through, they could negatively affect the quality of both the school’s education and its reputation.

“They’ve always sold [USM] short as an academic institution,” Shelley said.

Other graduates have different perspectives on the quality of both the education and the degree they’ve received at USM.

Kylie Bellefleur graduated from USM in 2013 with a degree in Health sciences, concentrating in wellness, and a holistic health minor. She feels that outside of the help she received from her adviser on what to study, there were too few resources to prepare her for finding a job after graduation.

“I still have no idea what I want to do with my degree and feel like I really got no help from USM,” she said. “I know there might be more options the school offers to graduates …  but I received no real guidance from any professors or any other staff.” Had she known about the annual job fair, she said, she would have attended, saying that it might have helped her in her search for work.

Another USM graduate, Nathan Dionne, did find work after he graduated in 2012 with a double major in economics and finance. He now works as senior manager of client services at CashStar, a Portland technology startup that specializes in building gifting apps. But Dionne pointed out that his success in finding work after graduation was more a result of his own, independent preparation.

“Most of what got me my job was what I did outside of school –– teaching myself technical (computer science) skills [and] networking,” he said.

Like Bellefleur, Dionne was not an attendee of any of USM’s annual career fairs, nor did he use other USM career services. “I actually just searched ‘startup in Portland’ in Google, saw an article and emailed them,” he said.

Current USM student, Jim Duffy, a senior computer science major, had a different USM experience. He’s graduating in May, and he said that he feels that the university directly equipped him with the skills that he needed to land a job. He has already secured a position with IBM for after graduation.

“Technically, I’ve gained a valuable skill-set through USM’s demanding computer science program,” he said. “Professionally, USM offers many networking and involvement opportunities, such as job fairs, visits from local professionals, employment initiatives, co-op [and] internship programs…and Campus Ventures. All of these are great avenues for connecting with industry, which is the key for job-market preparation.”

USM has the resources, he said, but it’s how the student uses them that determines their future success in the job market.

USM’s annual job fair, which was held just before this year’s February break, is one of several efforts to prepare students for the job market and connect them with local employers. There was also the series of Career Week events that preceded this year’s job fair aimed at preparing students to draft resumes, learn interviewing skills and otherwise represent themselves well to potential employers.

In the 2013 Graduating Senior Survey conducted by USM’s Office of Academic Assessment, graduates from 2013 largely reported feeling as though they needed more assistance from the university to be prepared to find jobs after school. The results listed lack of guidance to find internships and job opportunities as one of the most common complaints of the graduates about the USM experience.

But preceding the job fair with Career Week was one step taken toward a greater focus on finding students jobs after graduation. Student employment has been a significant part of conversations about the future of the university lately.

In her presentation to the rest of the Direction Package Advisory Board in February, Dean of Students Joy Pufhal shared data from an employer survey the group had conducted to use as background information. Pufhal reported that of the 145 local employers surveyed, 51 percent said that they expected hiring to increase in the next year, and 83 percent said they regularly hire undergraduates with bachelor’s degrees.

“One of the things we heard repeatedly from local employers was that ‘we really like USM, but we feel like we do a lot of meet and greets and then no one follows through,” Pufhal said. “Everything just sort of falls into a black hole. And apparently that’s not the experience they have when they work with UNE [The University of New England] or St. Joe’s [College].”

Duffy agreed that it’s essential for students to take initiative in order to succeed. “Reaching out to companies, finding local opportunities and attending networking events will all make a student stand out from their competition in a variety of ways,” he said. “Being involved to that extent is incredibly beneficial”

For Duffy, this type of motivation and a drive to take advantage of USM’s resources has led to his success. “For four years I’ve been doing this outreach to industry, through USM and outside of USM. Because of it, I’m confident that I have a significant advantage in the job market,” he said.