UNT amplifies career exploration and preparation for students

The University of North Texas is implementing comprehensive career exploration and development initiatives for its 42,000 students to better ensure students achieve professional success long after graduation day and successfully adapt to the always-evolving job market.

“By 2030, it is estimated that over 75 million workers will face career transitions every year, and the mix of remote and in-person work already has changed. We need to acknowledge that the way we work is changing rapidly,” UNT President Neal Smatresk said Sept. 21, 2021, during his State of the University presentation.

As business automation, e-commerce, and other technological disruptions accelerate changes in the workplace, Smatresk outlined the university's four-year goal to ensure every graduating student is exposed to the relevant skills that will help them not only in their first job out of college, but through multiple careers and transitions.

  • Career Resource Exploration and Skills — Students will explore career options, understand the job marketplace, learn to write a professional resume and cover letter, and understand how to interview, translate their marketable skills, and negotiate a salary.
  • Networking — Students will learn the power of networking through formal and informal means as they choose a career path, gain connections in their field, and engage with UNT's alumni network.
  • Practical Experiences — Externships, internships, research, volunteer work, leadership in student organizations, and other similar activities greatly enhance students' entry into the job market.
  • Comprehensive Professional Skills — All students will learn the suite of soft skills continuously requested by employers — great communication, teamwork, cognitive skills, information literacy, and an understanding of professional ethics.
  • Developing a Personal Brand — As UNT graduates seek positions, they must know how to distinguish and differentiate their experiences and skills from others by developing their own personal brand.
  • Diversity and Inclusion — UNT students must embrace and support diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

“We don't anticipate that all these skills will be mastered by every student in year one, but we do expect that they will develop the skills they need as they move through their degree programs, with periodic checkpoints with career advisors to give them feedback that will help them be more successful,” Smatresk said.

To help students achieve these skills and cultivate an active and engaging systemic approach to career preparation, UNT will expand and emphasize a number of programs and resources, integrating experiences into curricula when possible, to make them more widely available to all students.

Beginning with Orientation, students will use the MyPlan career assessment tool to explore careers, then participate in group discussions to better understand career opportunities and the skills needed to succeed in their chosen field.

UNT also will introduce a zero-credit online First-Year Seminar beginning in Fall 2022 to expose students to the skills that will help them chart their career path. After completing the course, transcript credit will be awarded to students who exhibit proficiency in understanding career exploration resources, communicating marketable skills, and writing a resume.

To streamline available career resources, UNT is combining Academic Affairs and Student Affairs career resources into a single integrated unit under new leadership to engage directly with colleges. Thirty Career Coaches will be embedded directly into colleges to provide one-on-one and group coaching to students, help faculty incorporate career and professional development into curricula, and help students secure internships and jobs at graduation.

“Since embedding career advisors and moving career services into the college, we have seen our students benefit greatly from direct access to those intimately familiar with their chosen fields and career paths, as well as the employers seeking to recruit and hire our graduates,” said Marilyn Wiley, Dean of the G. Brint Ryan College of Business.

Additionally, UNT will expand its Mean Green Mentors program, enabling current students to easily connect with alumni willing to offer advice and career recommendations.

“While students are selecting majors and trying to figure out career paths, it is important that they get to hear from professionals in the fields they are considering entering, and that they can network to expand their career horizons, ask questions, and, of course, get mentored when they find the right person to provide support,” Smatresk said, hoping to engage UNT's network of 461,000 alumni.

To support students in fields that do not provide internship compensation, Smatresk called for the expansion of UNT's Unpaid Internship Scholarship, calling on donors to help raise $300,000 this year to offer 300 students a $1,000 scholarship.

“Thanks to the generosity of donors Phil and Lea Sorgen, the Division of Student Affairs has awarded scholarships to a few students completing unpaid practical experiences,” said Elizabeth With, senior vice president for student affairs. “While the scholarship doesn't meet a student's full need, it provides some support to help students gain these critical experiences and further develop their resume. We look forward to growing the program to impact a greater number of our students.”

Lastly, Smatresk discussed the new career paradigm, a result of “the disrupted future of work and preferences of Gen Z are at odds with how universities educate students in our degree-bound model that emphasizes learning in single content areas.”

To empower students entering a changing job market and equip them to navigate multiple careers, Smatresk underscored the importance of UNT faculty and staff understanding the future of work. He also called on the expansion of programs like the Integrative Studies program and project-based degrees at UNT at Frisco, which allow students to study in multidisciplinary areas of interest, rather than a unitary-focused degree choice.

“Over the next year, we will investigate and apply best practice models for education paradigms that better meet the career futures of Gen Z,” Smatresk said. “This is a long-range, but important project as we acknowledge the changes our current students will see in a volatile job market for years to come.”

UNT's career initiatives were developed based on results from a career survey sent to students, and following listening tours with all academic advisors, colleges and relevant staff units.

“As we implement these initiatives and evolve them over the next four years, we will become a national model for how we support our students' career aspirations and professional development,” Smatresk said.