GradLeaders recently interviewed Imelda Dudley, the Coordinator of Internships & Professional Experiences at California State University, Fresno. Imelda graciously shared exciting new projects happening at our amazing partner school, gave valuable advice to students during the pandemic, and shared her experience using the GradLeaders Virtual Career Fair platform! Here what she had to say to our intern, Emily Mowry:
Emily: How long have you worked at California State University?
Imelda: I have worked at Fresno State for over 10 years now.
Emily: Okay awesome. Can you describe a little bit about your role and your team structure?
Imelda: Yes, so I am the coordinator of internships and professional experiences for the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology. Woo, that’s a mouthful. But in my role, I oversee internships and I oversee anything that has to do with career development for the entire college of agriculture. So, I have a caseload of 2,500 students and I coordinate career fairs for them, networking events, I take students on field trips, I bring in speakers to do workshops for professional development and recruitment as well. I also recently wrote and received a grant from the USDA and so I am the Co-Director of this new project and we’re working on developing a Soft Skills Certificate Pathway for high school, community college, and university students. And we’re partnering with local schools that have FFA chapters and we’re piloting that program this month actually. And we’re developing a mentoring program a job shadow program as well for our students at Fresno State as a result of that brand. So, I do quite a bit of things related to career and professional development.
Emily: Well, that’s awesome. What was it that made you guys start that new program?
Imelda: Well, we felt that our students really needed that additional support when it comes to social skills and soft skills. They’re learning the technical skills through their education and then also once they get hired in their careers. But we felt that, and through speaking to our employers and doing research, we felt that we could help our students polish those social and soft skills.
Emily: Yeah, that’s a great idea. I’m sure you guys will definitely see the benefit of that.
Imelda: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to seeing how we do. In my team I oversee two student assistants that work directly with me and then through the grant project there’s a total of seven student assistants that we oversee that are helping us really develop the program and get it off the ground.
Emily: Oh good, that’re awesome. Can you describe a little bit about your educational background so we can understand how that led you to where you are now?
Imelda: Sure, I have a bachelors in family and consumer sciences and I have a minor in criminology and a certificate in victim services. I thought that I wanted to work out in the community and through actual internships and volunteer experiences I realized how much I loved working in higher education. I did an internship in social services, I did an internship at my local high school, and then I did an internship at Fresno State and that’s when I really realized that I enjoy helping people. But more than anything, I enjoy helping college students. So, then I pursued a master’s degree in higher education administration and leadership, and that opened up some great opportunities to work at Fresno State, and so I’ve worked in different departments these past 10 years, and I’ve enjoyed working in every department that I’ve worked at and I really enjoy my current role, and I’ve been in this role for about three years now.
Emily: OK, that’s awesome. And what would you say is your favorite part of your job?
Imelda: I think my favorite part about this job is helping students reaffirm that they’re in the correct major or redirect them if they’re not in the right major and then they want to pursue other career communities. I enjoy the diversity of my job because I get to work with students, but I also get to work with employers, and I get to coach students one on one, but I also get to work with employers and find out about all the different opportunities that we have. Our area is very rich in agriculture and there’s a lot of pride in this region and I really enjoy working with employers and connecting them to our talented students. So there’s a lot of things that I enjoy, but I guess I enjoy the variety of the things that I get to do.
Emily: Well, that’s awesome, I love hearing that and I think that your job is so impactful and especially with college students that are actually receptive to receiving that help and they want to know which career is best for them. And you’re able to do that for them which is really cool. So, besides the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, what other challenges or current trends are there that you and your team are dealing with today?
Imelda: You know one of the things that’s really sad that we’ve noticed is that there is less student engagement, and I think that we call it the Zoomed out phenomenon. I don’t know if it’s really that, but just some of our workshops that are virtual are not well attended. We post a lot of jobs and internships and some of my employers are telling me they’re not getting any applications at all or they’re getting one or two applications, so there’s not a whole lot of engagement anymore like there used to be. I think that it has to do with just the virtual learning and I think that the students are just not as connected to us. They don’t feel that sense of connection and there’s still a lot of opportunities in agriculture, but our students are just not really taking advantage of the opportunities that we have and are putting out there for them.
Emily: I totally understand that it seems like that’s one of the biggest problems most schools are facing today but I think maybe with your situation, if you’re starting this new program, sometimes starting those relationships earlier on in their higher education like senior year, junior year of high school, maybe that’ll help build that connection with your career center to keep them engaged long term. So, hopefully that helps you guys.
Imelda: Yes, I’m hoping that as well.
Emily: So if you were to look back at your college self, knowing everything that you know today, what advice would you give yourself about college or professional development, networking, the job search, anything like that? What do you wish you knew?
Imelda: I would tell myself to start early; exploring, doing career assessments, and really trying to figure out what I’m good at and what I really enjoy. I did start sort of early with my career exploration. I was very fortunate that I had mentors that really guided me through my academic and career journey, but I would probably have started even earlier because I didn’t start really doing internships until about my junior year in college, but I wish I would have started as early as my freshman year. Even doing volunteer work or networking with people who I saw myself in and maybe their careers in the future. I think that the career exploration has to be done very early. Networking is very important, finding a mentor or several mentors that can help guide you through your journey is very important, so that’s probably what I would have told myself is just start earlier.
Emily: Yeah, that’s great advice and do you have any advice to students who are looking for internships, or starting their first job, or maybe going through a career change during this pandemic?
Imelda: My advice is to be proactive and apply for all of the opportunities that come that they have an interest in and use their resources and take advantage of their resources because as career counselors and internship coordinators, we’re here to help our students find those opportunities and help connect them to the industry. So, take advantage of us as your resource and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there because you never know what the outcome may be. I think that a lot of the times we are our worst critics and we sometimes think that we don’t have the qualifications or we’re not good enough. But I think that putting ourselves out there is the most important thing that we can do and just be courageous and be confident. You have the education and you need to get experiences related to your major so that you can have more career opportunities. So, it’s really important to not wait and just start applying for opportunities so that you can get professional experience in addition to your educational experience and when you graduate from Fresno or from any University, you’ll have the experience and you’ll be a well-rounded candidate.
Emily: Right, that’s also great advice, thank you for that. So, switching over to your relationship with GradLeaders, how would you say GradLeaders has impacted your recruitment efforts, your hiring events, and your overall experience working in career development?
Imelda: Well, I have to say that I love GradLeaders. I especially love the customer service support that we receive. In the past I used to use GradLeaders just to post jobs and internships, but more recently I started using the virtual career fair platform and that went great. Our companies that participated in the virtual career fair were really happy with the platform and I was really happy with all of the support that I received. And it was just a really great tool to use during these difficult times. The students really enjoyed the platform as well. For the new grant funded project that I mentioned earlier I’ve been working with GradLeaders in developing a tracking system for jobs in addition to the jobs and internships for the mentoring program, the job shadow program, and it’s just really great that we’re able to customize the system and use it for so many different things not just as a job board.
Emily: Yeah, that’s awesome. I’m so glad that you guys have had a good experience and are actually being able to benefit from it. So, have you guys used the GradLeaders embedded video meeting tools yet?
Imelda: Well, we did use it through the career fair system, so we’ve only used it during the career fair. I haven’t used it for anything else, but it worked really great.