Episode 130 Transforming Career Services: Insights from Bucknell University’s STEM Career Coach Part 1

Welcome to Digication
Scholars Conversations.

I'm your host, Kelli Driscoll.

In this episode, you'll hear part one
of my conversation with Christa Matlack,

career coach STEM at Bucknell University.

More links and information about today's
conversation can be found on Digication's

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Full episodes of Digication Scholars
Conversations can be found on

YouTube or your favorite podcast app.

Welcome to Digication
Scholars Conversations.

I'm your host, Kelly Driscoll,
and today I'm so pleased to

introduce Christa Matlack.

She is the Career Coach
STEM at Bucknell University.

Welcome, Christa.

Hi, Kelly.

It's great to be here.

Thanks for inviting me.

I'm excited about the conversation.

Well, me too.

So I thought it would be fun to start
our conversation kind of back at the

beginning of your connection to Bucknell
University, uh, because I have learned

and Getting ready for a conversation
today that you were a student there

first and had some really incredible
Achievements there during your time as a

student before you returned as a career
coach So could you tell our listeners

a little bit about your background?

maybe how you came to Bucknell University
and what your Experiences were like

there as a student and some of your
involvement in sports there too.

Sure, sure.

Um, so I actually grew up just
down the road from Bucknell in

South Waynesport, Pennsylvania.

Um, so I knew Bucknell very well.

Um, I ended up at Bucknell because I
was recruited there to play soccer.

And so, um, out of the ordinary, my, hey!

uhm college soccer coach, he had actually
come to one of my high school games, which

is not typical, but because I was local,
um, it was a little bit easier for him

to attend a high school game than it was.

For us to match up my travel soccer
with his recruiting schedule.

So I did end up going, um, to Bucknell.

I played soccer there for all four years.

Um, we had a great four years of soccer.

We made our, uh, conference tournament
all four years that I was there.

First year we came in second place.

Unfortunately, we never made it
to the NCAA tournament or won a

championship while I was there.

But, um, you know, I had great
teammates around me that really

set me up for success on the field.

Um, so it was a lot of
time and commitment.

Um, On my part and on my teammates
part, you know, weightlifting, going

to practice, and trying to balance that
with the rigorous academic schedule.

I was a biology major, and I also have a
studio art and philosophy minor, um, so

they're really wide array of interests
that I had, um, while I was there, but.

You know, I had a very successful
soccer career there, but I think

the academics really prepared me for
going to grad school and also, you

know, in my career and looking back
now having such a wide background

from the liberal arts education.

I think I just look at problems in
such a different light because I have

the, the really organized systematic
way of doing things from the science

mindset, but I'm also very creative.

Um, and I question a lot of things.

I think that's all speaks to
what I studied while I was there.

Um, but following that, I ended up.

Going to get my master's degree.

And so I do have a master's in biology
from, um, it's now PennWest Clarion.

It was Clarion University of
Pennsylvania when I attended.

Um, but.

Beyond that, um, I don't know if you
want me to get into my career path a

little bit or if you want to hold off.

I would love that!

Like, no, I would love it because I think
it has such a beautiful kind of connection

to the kind of steps that you've taken.

So, yes, please do.


Um, my career path 100 percent
set me up for what I'm doing now.

Um, so following, um, my graduate degree,
the completion of my graduate degree, I

didn't know what I wanted to do, um, and
so I ended up applying to coaching soccer.

Um, so collegiate soccer
coaching positions.

I also applied to biology positions, um,
to try to find a research opportunity.

And I was getting tons of callbacks
for soccer, but nothing for biology.

So I ended up coaching soccer first
at the University of Scranton.

I absolutely loved it.

Um, for personal reasons, financial
reasons, student loans, stuff like that.

I, I chose to try to do
something within my major.

And so I shifted to Geisinger for
a little bit as a research tech.

I knew there was very little advancement
unless I went and got a PhD, but I

had made the decision for myself.

I wasn't ready for a PhD
at that point in my life.

Um, I couldn't choose, right?

I was, I loved science, I loved biology,
but I loved so much of it that I was

like, I don't know what my focus would be.


And so I decided, you know, this
Geisinger position, while it's great

right now, I know it's not long term.

I ended up stumbled upon a
product development role at

First Quality Enterprises.

Um, Where I got to design
tampons for four years.

Um, so that was a really cool job.

Um, it was exciting and it, I felt like
I was using my education every day.

And I think that's what
I love the most about it.

But I really realized that the
business environment wasn't for me.

Um, you know, it can be
really rough at times and, um.

So I decided, you know, maybe
this isn't right for me.

I ended up, it fell in my lap
to be an interim head coach at

Penn College, um, in my hometown.

And I took the opportunity to work
full time at First Quality while

also being the interim head coach,
um, part time at Penn College.

They ended up offering me that
job and I ended up taking it.

So then I coached college soccer
again for three years about that time.

I ended up having my son and
that's where my life pivoted again.

And, you know, college coaching
full time is a lot of time, a

lot of nights, a lot of weekends.

And, um, You know, I wanted to see my
son grow up, and I was realizing that

there was a lot of days where I was only
seeing him two hours in the day, and it

just wasn't sitting well with me, um, so
I started looking, and I stumbled across

a, um, job posting that looked like my
resume fitted into job requirements, and

so I applied to be a career coach, um,
with a STEM background, so that's where

the career coach STEM job title comes
from, Um, it required higher education

experience, working with students.

Um, it required, you know, a background
in STEM with a major in the STEM field.

Also, some STEM industry
experience was preferred.

And I said, I would be silly if
I didn't apply to this right now.

Um, and so I ended up landing it and
I moved back to Bucknell in 2021.

And now I get.

To help students through
their career paths.

So my experience of
navigating it and also.

Having a similar feeling of not
knowing what you want to do.

Um, and so how do I navigate that?

So teaching them how to navigate it
and letting them understand that like

your major doesn't have to be what you
do at the end of the day for a career.

It may not even line up.

For what's meaningful to you at the end
of the day, um, and what your values mean.

And so through my whole experience,
I realized, you know, I like

working with young people, um,
and I like working in higher ed

and I, I like just helping people.

And so, but it took all of those
jobs for me to figure it out.

So I'm hopefully helping students
figure it out earlier rather than

later, um, and in their career.

So hopefully they Start the process
now as a student, so that way it's

a little bit easier for them to
pivot once they're out of Bucknell.

Thank you so much.

And I, I do think that your, your
story and your experience must be of

so much value when you're communicating
with the current students at Bucknell.

You know, you, you just don't
know what various experiences

are going to lead you to next.

And, um, so often I find that when
students are in college and, you know,

kind of put with that decision that they
have to choose their major and or minors,

that there's a certain trajectory that
they feel like they need to be on or

that they just have to kind of, You know,
check the boxes to get to the next thing,

and I think having conversations with
someone like yourself as they're kind of

completing the certain requirements at
school to really just kind of embrace the

various experiences that they're having
and try to enjoy being in the moment

without thinking too far ahead about
what they're going to be doing next.

Um, yeah.

And it's, I have five kids, too,
and I have these conversations

with them all the time.

Um, I actually majored in textile
design, did not have plans to

get involved with the software.

So you just don't know what, you know, how
life is gonna, uh, kinda unfold for you.

And, and that's really, I think,
kind of the, um, the fun part.

Uh, so thank you for sharing your story.

I love this kind of soccer coach to
career coach and all of your background

in STEM and your love for science and,
but it really just sounds like you

found the, this incredible opportunity
to return to Bucknell and now, you

know, continue coaching, but in a
different, in a different capacity.

So, uh, you mentioned that it sounds like
you joined the institution in, uh, 2021,

um, so it's only been two years and I
would love to hear, uh, you know, what it

was like in some of your early days there.

Um, you know, I've, uh, connected with
Christa on LinkedIn, so I've seen some of

her, uh, Hostings reflecting on how much
has happened since those first weeks.

And I would love for you to share a little
bit about that with our listeners too.


Yeah, of course.

Um, so it was, it was literally, I
think the third day I was on the job.

Um, I had gone to a
Friday learning series.

So Bucknell hosts the Friday learning
series for faculty and staff to attend.

And there's usually a presentation by.

Another faculty or staff member, um, or
department on on some sort of a topic

but it's Designed to really, like,
allow you to get to learn either what's

happening on campus or, um, what other
people are doing, um, and so the Friday

Learning Series that week was actually,
uh, Joe Tranquillo, who's our Associate

Provost, he um, was presenting on the
new Pathways program, which uses the

Digication software, um, and how, you
know, they were launching Pathways

that year to try to get students to,
um, start to engage with ePortfolios

as a high impact practice on campus.

And so he kind of went through
the presentation, and as he was

talking, I said, there are so many
connections, but we're trying to

tell students about career here.

Um, That, you know, the reflection and the
self reflection piece and self awareness

that comes in it, uh, comes along with
that and, um, you know, starting to

really think about themselves and how
they relate to not only what they're

learning in school but things outside of
school in society and beyond that into

their career and I was just, I was so
excited about it that I went right back

to my office and I got on the Digication,
the Bucknell Digication website and I

just started Playing with it, right?

Just to see what it could do, um, and
how we might be able to see using it

in the Center for Career Advancement.

And Within the first week, I developed,
it looked more like a website, um, than

an e portfolio, but I had developed
something that, um, looked like a website

where I was integrating our resources
in and, but after talking with Joe, he

was like, it'd be nice if we could make
it more of an e portfolio, like more

of a template for students to grab and
to do things in, things that they can,

they can actually used to do something
rather than just a website because we

could always make a website in WordPress.

Um, and I said, okay, so I went back
and I kind of started recreating it

into more of a reflective practice
ePortfolio and it resulted in.

Um, a template that my colleague
Sarah Bell uses, um, in her

Foundation Seminar class visits.

So a Foundation Seminar is for first
year students, and so she'll go in,

um, if she's invited by the professor
and, and talk a little bit about the

CCA, our resources, but now she's
incorporating this My Career Journey,

um, as part of that presentation.

And so some of the faculty will assign
it as an optional assignment beforehand.

Some of the faculty are assigning it, but
she still kind of touches on it because

she can use that to show them some of
our current resources, because there are

still some resources linked in there.

But, it does walk them through looking
at some of our resources like, the

Bucknell career paths, or what can I do
with this major, which is one of the.

Subscription resources and then
have them reflect on it, right?

So there's some reflective
activities at the bottom of the

template where they can actually.

Um, start looking at these resources
and figure out what careers were

interesting that I saw in this
resource that I might want to pursue.

So, creating like, some of
it's just creating lists of

potential careers or absolutely
not, I do not like these things.

And, um, and just starting to
get that ball rolling, right?

Um, other things like exploring themselves
like, what does success mean to me?

What does it look like for me?

Um, and so it's just each page
is a little bit different.

And so she's been utilizing
that, um, that one, but we've.

Definitely evolved, um, into
really using ePortfolios elsewhere.

Um, so when we launched our in person for
credit, um, career courses, we actually

are using an ePortfolio as, like, a
learning, the learning center for them.

So they create a learning ePortfolio
throughout the entirety of the course.

That's where all of their assignments go.

And so some of it is reflective practices,
some of it Take pieces from class

discussions or readings and start talking
about how you see this like playing out

in your future or for your future career.

Um, and then some of it's like
uploading their resume in there

and really starting to build a
basis of career knowledge for them.

Something that they can look back on
and try to remember something that,

you know, sparked an interest in them.

Maybe an art course that they can address
later on in their career decision making.

Wow, that's wonderful.

So when you first got in there and
started, uh, kind of experimenting with

the tool and envisioning how this might
help career services, uh, when you were

starting to make that kind of transition
from it being something that was more of a

resource to becoming a place for beginning
more of this reflective practice.

How are you kind of designing the prompts
for the students and thinking about,

you know, what people looking at that
portfolio might want to know about the

students, or what were you hoping that
the students might start to discover

about themselves as part of that process?

Very often when we're
working with institutions.

You know, they really want students to
engage in this reflective practice, but

so often it's the, the quality of the
prompts that help get the students there.

So I'd love for you to just share a
little bit about what kind of guided

you in developing those prompts.

And if you can recall some
that you could share with the

listeners, that would be great too.


Um, so when, with the My Career
Journey, um, template, really what

the goal was, was just the start
of let's understand ourself, right?

It's, it's all about self awareness.

So majority of the micro journey prompts
would relate to thinking more deeply about

their self, their values, their interests,
their expectations for their future,

um, where they see themselves going,
um, so, you know, some of the prompts

might be related to career, so thinking
about what, one of the prompts is, what

career paths can you cross off the list?


Like, what's something that is absolutely,
absolutely nothing you want to pursue,

um, and, and reflecting upon that?

Like, what can I cross off and why?

And then, Other, others are what topics
and ideas are sparking my curiosity?

Like what really makes me tick?

Like what are these things that
I get really excited about?

Um, you know, I think I mentioned
before the definition of success to

them, like a personal definition.

Also what's important to them.

So starting to think more
about personal values.

So what is important to you?

Um, and then also they're thinking
about strengths and weaknesses, right?

Like, what am I good at?

What skills do I have
that I'm really good at?

And, um, also, what
activities do I like to do?

Because those things all play into.

Whether they like it or not into what
career is going to be meaningful to them.

So just really basic
reflections on themselves is

really where this one starts.

Um A couple of the pages in
will be a little bit more

geared towards our resources.

So that's where we rope in some of
our our your career center resources?

Um, but some of them are reflections that
are, you know, looking at what your majors

are, you know, is there an area within
your major that really stands out to you?

You know, computer
engineering is huge, right?

So, which part of computer engineering
are you most interested in?

So, it gets a little bit
more specific, um, as you go

through into the later prompts.

The first one's kind of really general.

But then it's starting to get,
break it down a little bit.

Um, and then another one that we have them
do is looking at one of our resources has

all of the alumni from their major listed
and their job title and the location

and the company that they work for.

So the cool thing about that resource is
when you look at the recent grads, they

tend to trend towards something that is
really in line with their major, right?

But as you scroll, Down.

And get into the alum that are
further into their career journeys.

You see some departure from that.

So you see, like you said, you
were in textile design, right?

And now, not even remotely close to that.

So, as people go through, they change.

And, and so, some of the prompts are.

What surprised you?

What did you notice?

Did you see any of these careers
in the later classes of alumni,

like the older alumni, that are
any of those of interest to you?

You know, what?

You know, it's, it was a design to
really get them to start thinking

that, Oh, maybe I don't have to do
something that lines up with my major.

Like it doesn't have
to be a straight path.

It can, you can go straight
for a while and then veer

off to the left or the right.

And you could always circle
back like I did, right?

Um, and end up figuring out for
themselves what the right career is.

So that's kind of the, my career journey.

Um, template in a nutshell.

I love that.

And are there opportunities for the
current students to connect with

some of those alumni as well to
kind of learn about the different

paths that they embarked on and
maybe what they're doing today?

Uh, yes, so we do have
an alumni directory.

So, um, some of the students, you know,
the alumni are in that directory and

we obviously use LinkedIn as well.

So, LinkedIn is a really good
place, a good starting point to find

people that are doing the job that
you want to do or working at the

company that you want to work in.

Work at, um, and so, you know,
they do have the opportunity

to network with alumni.

So we do have the alumni directory,
which helps directly connect them to

some of the alumni, but then we also
do a lot of on campus programming.

So we do have alumni panels,
alumni, alumni come back to campus.

It could be a math specific panel or
we've done physics panels across campus.

They're doing them in a wide range of the
academic departments, but then We also

like to do, you know, industry specific.

So one we're working on this
year is based on data analytics

across multiple industries.

So it's going to be a series
of, um, employer panels.

So we're trying to find different
alumni or employers that we can connect

with that are different industries.

And each month we're going
to do a virtual panel.

That will kind of, they can talk about
data analytics within their industry

and within their specific employer.

So, uh, Christa, one of the ways that
we were able to get connected was

that I saw that you were presenting
at the AAEEBL annual conference.

And, uh, the title of the session
was really about this kind of

transforming of career services.

And, uh, I wanted you to kind of
tell the listeners a little bit

about maybe why Bucknell, or maybe
why you personally feel like Career

Services needs a transformation.

Yeah, I think it's just
like anything else.

It's keeping up with the times, right?

Um, so keeping up with the changes in
technology, um, changes in resources,

changes in, The hiring process.

So, in the last, I don't know, a few
decades, I assume, um, there has been

a shift, right, from less of the one
on one focus to we have to be able to

reach more students than what, than
doing this one on one, um, attention.

Well, we still do that because it's still
imperative that the students have that

opportunity, right, to sit down one on one
and really talk about their career path.

Getting the basics out there
to more people on a broader

scale is going to help.

More students in the long run.

Um, so there's been this big shift
to a one to many approach, and that's

what we've been kind of trying to
do since I started there to now, um,

is try to shift our focus while we
offer the one on one appointments.

What are ways that we can collaborate
across campus to get our resources or

get ourselves in front of more students?


So that's resulted in a
lot of different things.

Some are class visits or collaborations
with student groups or reaching

out to faculty to try to find,
you know, department connections.

Can we come into certain classes, um,
for your major that are required, right?

Or it's, do you want to do a panel?

Can we collaborate on a panel?

And we've recently had a faculty
member reach out about, a student

project that she's hoping to have.

And we would be kind of roped into that
where the students would be required to

meet with us to talk about networking
and employer relations and stuff

like that in, in the course project.

Um, so finding new ways that we can
reach students to talk about career

things, to prepare them for the next
level has definitely transformed,

um, from what it used to be, where
it was we ran standalone programs.

We saw attendance dropping.

We couldn't get the students there.

So now instead of competing with their
time, we're meeting them in their

time and space, and we're hitting more
students by doing that than if we would,

um, hold a standalone resume workshop.

Um, and one of the things my presentation
was on was our four credit courses.

The, it was really focused on our
general career readiness course, which

is called Jumpstart Your Career, and,
um, that's the one where we have this.

Really in depth learning ePortfolio, which
they build throughout the entire course.

Um, and it, it really runs them
through everything they need.

And it starts with the self awareness, the
career exploration, but then it evolves

into, okay, now we're going to work on
a targeted job search, and then we're

going to move into Okay, once we applied,
we need a resume and a cover letter for

that application, so let's work on those
things, let's practice interviewing,

and let's talk about how we negotiate
and what's negotiable in job offers.

And so they really get a snapshot
of everything they need to know,

so that way it's a little less
intimidating when they go to start

applying to internships and jobs.

Yeah, yeah.

And so at what point, um, it sounds
like the kind of template that you've

created that has all these wonderful
prompts is often integrated into certain

courses that the students are taking.

And it sounds like they're beginning
this process not just in their

senior year when they're already
kind of starting interviews or

maybe doing some internships.

How are, you know, at what point are
they being Introduced to this, because

I think that that's another important
piece about transforming career services.

I know when I was going to college,
that was not even a topic of

discussion until senior year.

And I don't think it was just me.

So, you know, how soon are they being
introduced to this kind of thinking

when they join the university?

Yeah, so we are doing our best
to reach out to first years.

Um, so we do, uh, try to target them.

So we went, and this year what
we did was we went to, we got a

table at the resource fair, right?

And so we had a table at the resource
fair, and we had some handouts.

We revamped our handouts to be like,
here's the three things you need to know

about our office and how to work with us.

And trying to limit the information
because knowing as first years are

coming in, it's It's hard, right,
um, but using the ePortfolios in the

Foundation Seminars with the My Career
Journey that I think this year we're

going to reach approximately a thousand
students, um, you know, there's a lot

of students that Sarah will be in front
of and are So, Other colleague, Marilyn

Schull, has had to jump in, um, to kind
of manage the number of requests that

they received about the class visits.

So, they're going to be taking over
those, but then our career course is

actually designed for the fall semester,
designed for sophomores, right?

Because first years, their schedule
is already picked for them.

They don't really have a whole
lot of flexibility there,

um, when they come in, right?

So, the sophomores are
primarily who we target, um.

In that general career readiness
course in the fall, the spring is

geared directly at first year students.

Um, so at this point they have
the option to choose to take it.

So we are trying to, we, basically what we
do is in the registration process, we hold

more seats for those class years because
that's what the course is designed for.

Um, it's not necessarily
designed for juniors and seniors.

But it's so valuable to many of them,
especially the ones that haven't

thought about career at all yet.

Um, so we do see juniors and seniors
taking the course, um, so it, it does

speak to is there a need for us to create
another one, um, that we can provide

more room for juniors and seniors to
learn and maybe learn more in depth

advanced career readiness pieces.

I don't know.

That could be a future
endeavor we, we explore.

Um, but we do see students of all
class years attending and across all

three of the colleges at Bucknell.

This concludes part one
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