In the Beginning
When asked what inspired me to start uConnect, I usually tell a story about an underutilized career center. While I was an undergrad at UMass Amherst, I frequently visited the career center. So after graduation, when tasked with hiring junior analysts for the private equity firm where I was working, my first instinct was to call the Director of Career Services at my alma mater to coordinate an info session.
Eager to meet enthusiastic, hungry UMass students, I got in my car and drove two hours out to Western Mass sure I would return to my employer with a list of candidates aching to join our team. When I arrived on campus I was greeted by less than a dozen students out of the 20,000 on campus. After the event, I asked the Director why attendance was so low. She explained to me how hard it is for her office to reach students - very simply, she said "they communicate differently than they used to. Today, Students, are glued to their mobile phones, sending disappearning picture messages to one another, cruising the web, and not paying attention." It had become too difficult to keep up with the advances in technology and communication mediums required to secure and retain their focus.
Soon after I had a passion project. I proposed to assist the career center at my alma mater in improving their web presence and marketing strategy so that they could more effectively promote their services to students. It wasn’t long before I realized that student engagement with the career center is a big problem for a lot of schools. In fact, McKinsey and Co. recently found that 60% of the 2013 graduates they surveyed never stepped foot inside their career center while in college. Perhaps this is one of the reasons many students are having serious trouble transitioning into steady and suitable employment after graduation.
It became clear to me that this disconnect was causing students to overlook some of the most amazing on-campus resources. I decided to launch uConnect to help schools raise awareness and ultimately increase the impact of career services on campus culture.
LearnLaunch & Babson
Some two plus years into building the business, I was a part of the LearnLaunch Accelerator and spending lots of time speaking with students, employers, and career service professionals. I heard a lot of stories that motivated me to push our organizational mission forward and, one example in particular hit close to home. Some Babson College students visited our co-working space to learn more about start-ups and the growing education technology industry. At the event, they listened to first-hand accounts from young entrepreneurs, like the group that started Testive, and poked around our quirky office space.
The event was a hit. There were about 15 smart, ambitious students in the room that asked astute questions and seemed genuinely inspired. The career center at Babson both sponsored the event and set up the visit. On the way out of the event, I was chatting with Brenda Kostyk, from the Babson CCD, who had done much of the legwork for the event, organizing it and promoting the opportunity to students. During the conversation she said, “there should have been a hundred students here today.”
For those of you who don’t know, Babson is a small, prestigious, private business college with an amazing reputation for entrepreneurial studies. As an institution, they do a great job branding their school in a fresh, innovative way (check our Babson Connect and Babson San Francisco.) Nevertheless, despite a closely knit and career-oriented student body, even Babson struggles with with constant challenge of keeping students engaged in career programming.
Brenda’s comment overwhelmed me; I felt a renewed burst of purpose and inspiration. Purpose because, like Brenda, there are many great career service professionals all over U.S. campuses that work incredibly hard to help students plan and launch their careers. Too much of their work, and the potential value of said work, goes unnoticed and underutilized. I felt inspired because of the immense opportunity in front of us, as an industry, to help students immerse themselves in career exploration.
Why We Do What We Do
My conversation with Brenda reminded me of why I started uConnect and now, why our growing team, works hard every day to push positive change. In this case, if more Babson students had come to the event, maybe more would have been motivated to work in the education technology industry. Maybe some of them would have pursued their own entrepreneurial ventures. Maybe some of them would have worked with a startup to create cool in-classroom technology. For all of us at uConnect, maybe isn’t good enough.
In short, we do what we do because students need more guidance and support exploring the wide range of potential career paths. We don’t want smart students getting lost in the chaos that is the job market; we want them to chart their own career paths and we want it to be fun. We started uConnect to help career centers facilitate this experience, making it easy for them to engage students in their offerings so that graduating students are prepared to navigate whatever path they choose.
If you share this mission or have a similar story, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a note at email@example.com or about how uConnect supports colleges and universities.