GradLeaders recently interviewed Shakira Rhoads, Assistant Director of Career Services at Missouri Southern State University. We wanted to check in with one of our partner schools to better understand changes they’re making to increase student engagement in the virtual world we live in today. Here’s what Shakira shared with our intern, Emily Mowry:
Emily: How long have you been with MSSU?
Shakira: I’ve been at MSSU for about 5 years now. I graduated from Missouri Southern and then this was my first professional position after I graduated, and I’ve just been here in the career services office ever since.
Emily: That’s awesome so can you describe your role at MSSU and what your position entails?
Shakira: My official title is the assistant director of career services but what it really boils down to is the whole reason my job exists is to help students. We’re a student focused centered office. I help them prepare for and succeed in the job market with resume reviews, cover letters, job postings, professional development events. My team is very very small. There’s only two of us so we all have to wear many hats and do what’s needed.
Emily: Well that’s cool. So, what would you say you love most about your job today?
Shakira: I love helping people. Ever since I was younger, I liked helping people and I thought “man I don’t really want to go into health care because that’s grody,” so this is a really great way that I can help people. It gives me the warm fuzzies because I like doing that and plus, I just love the college environment. It’s fun and keeps me young and I’ve got an amazing team that I work with as well.
Emily: That’s awesome. I’m also a people person and find it rewarding to help people. I think that the college environment is exciting, and I could also see myself going into that as well.
–So, I know you went to MSSU, but can you explain a little bit about your educational background and previous work experiences and how that all led you to where you are?
Shakira: Yeah so, I joked that I loved college so much that I never wanted to leave. Learning is my favorite thing to do so of course college classes were a big hit with me. I was considered a non-traditional student when I graduated because I was in my late twenties. My whole background has been in customer service, so this role naturally fit well into that background.
Emily: Yes, well that makes sense. So, looking back now is there any advice that you would give to your college self either about college or your early career?
Shakira: Yeah so, I would tell my college self don’t wait till your very last semester to work on your professional development or get volunteer hours in because it’s going to be too stressful. You really need to be preparing for that ahead of time a lot earlier in your college career. And then I’d tell my early career self to maybe have a little bit more confidence. You got hired for this position for a reason. I had a little bit of imposter syndrome when I first started because I never worked in college before, I had never worked in student affairs before, but it really was that customer service and that caring, nurturing background that ultimately led me here.
Emily: Well that’s really good advice to hear before I go back to college for my senior year, to keep working on my professional development. That’s helpful so thank you.
–So, what is MSSU’s plan for this year? Are you virtual or in person? And how does everything that’s going on right now affect your position?
Shakira: There’s quite a few things going on. Being a student-centered office, it’s hard to meet with students if they’re not on campus. So, we had to very quickly shift to virtual meetings, email, zoom and phone calls. We’re still going to continue that throughout this school year. Some of the students will be on campus on a modified schedule. So, if it’s a Tuesday, Thursday class half of the students come on Tuesday and the other half come on Thursday. There’s some regular online classes and some classes that have been moved to bigger spaces, like the 101 classes have been moved to the auditorium or the theatre so those students can still spread out a little bit.
Emily: Well that’s good. Are there any new implementations being added during this time?
Shakira: I mean I think we’re pretty much doing all the exact same things that all the other schools are doing. Just trying to adapt to what the new normal is and still trying to meet students where they’re at and what they need help with.
Emily: Yeah that’s good. So, switching over to a little bit about your relationship with GradLeaders, have there been any industry challenges that you’ve been able to solve by using GradLeaders?
Shakira: Going back to the transition to virtual, we are using GradLeaders to facilitate online resume reviews where a whole entire class can send their resume in for review. I’m really excited for the virtual video integrations coming out I think in about a week. We’ll definitely be taking advantage of those. And the way we can email and connect with students has been very helpful as well.
Emily: Absolutely, it’ll definitely come in handy during this time and I think many people are looking forward to that as well, so yes that’s very exciting.
–Have you worked with any other software companies in the past?
Shakira: I haven’t. My school has been with GradLeaders for 13 years. We started out on CSO platform and then we migrated to GradLeaders I think two or three years ago. I get probably 100 phone calls a semester from competing products and I definitely have stuck with GradLeaders for a reason.
Emily: That’s awesome so would you recommend GradLeaders to other universities then?
Shakira: Oh I would absolutely recommend GradLeaders to other universities. In my opinion it’s the most customizable platform out there. You can really build and control the system to do what you need it to do instead of adapting to what the platform can do when you can’t even change your name on it or anything. So the flexibility and the adaptability of the system is really great you can make it do whatever you need it to do. And then just bar none hands down the customer services that GradLeaders offers is unparalleled; personalized, quick, it’s just always a great experience.
Emily: That’s so good to hear I’m glad you guys have had an awesome experience. So how has GradLeaders effected student engagement at MSSU?
Shakira: Last semester, pre-COVID, as we’re saying it, we had great engagement at our events, but not so great engagement with our GradLeaders program. Not as many students were logging in and we didn’t know why. So in this season of change we’ve kind of overhauled everything in our processes for GradLeaders and we’re really going to use this system more fully to all of its capabilities instead of just job postings or just events, we’re going to use some of those other modules. I’m going to incorporate some of those other things to really drive traffic to our platform as much as possible.
Emily: That’s a great idea. I think it’s helpful when it becomes a one-stop shop where you can rely on it for more than just the job search so that’s awesome. Can you describe a little bit about the typical co-op/internship process and how its changed since using GradLeaders or how GradLeaders helps the whole process?
Shakira: So, two or three years ago we created a formalized internship toolkit and framework for the university. Before it was kind of the wild west, anybody could do whatever they wanted. But we made one central document that outlined everything they needed to know. So, this led to more organizations and businesses in the area creating internship programs because they had the framework already in place, they just had to build it to what they needed it for. So, with that that led to more internships being created which led to more internships being posted on our GradLeaders platform. From the 2018-2019 school year to 2019-2020 postings rose 68%. So that’s definitely a lot more that we’re seeing since we started using a formalized process with GradLeaders.
Emily: Yeah that’s huge. I’m sure that’s helped student’s ability to find those internship opportunities. Well that’s pretty much all the questions I have for you. Is there anything else you would like to say about MSSU or GradLeaders?
Shakira: I just can’t stress enough the personalized service that GradLeaders gives. Problems are solved quickly, everybody is friendly and if the system can’t do what you need it to do, wait until the next month because an upgrade could be coming out.