Teresa DiMagno, the new executive director of Suffolk University’s Career Development Center, has spent most of her career building the relationships and networks that lead students to meaningful experiential learning and employment opportunities. She views successful career development as “an influential hub of connections” between students, alumni, faculty, campus officers, and employers. DiMagno joined Suffolk in January. Her goal is ambitious: to achieve 100 percent post-graduate success of Suffolk graduates in pursuits that are worthy of investment in a college education. We spoke to DiMagno to learn more about her approach.
Q: You’ve had success building career development services at Syracuse University and Hartwick College, both in upstate New York. What kind of advantages does Boston offer?
DiMagno: Overall, I think it’s a study in contrasts. A number of my positions were in very small cities, so I know the challenges of creating a recruiting environment off the beaten path. When I consider Suffolk’s location in downtown Boston – it’s like winning the lottery. In terms of opportunity, the university is situated on a mound of diamonds; it’s simply a question of mining those prospects and making them available to students.
Q: Throughout your career it appears that you have viewed career development as more than just a trip to the career services office. Tell us a bit about your view.
DiMagno: It’s really about enmeshing the career services enterprise into the fabric of the institution. What we’re finding in the field of experiential learning research is that it’s to the benefit of students to create a network of experiential learning entities on a campus – entities that no longer work in isolation but that really partner and collaborate. It’s that network that allows us to maximize the number and kind of opportunities that our students can engage in. There are very few areas of the institution where there isn’t an opportunity for collaboration. Career services should connect with diverse entities in a university so that it becomes seamless or transparent to the students. It’s no longer just about “going to” the career services office. It’s in every part of the experience – academics, co-curricular, extra-curricular activities, internships, externships, research, civic engagement, international study. We have to ask: What is the role of career services? What is the role of faculty? What is the role of alumni? The goal is to build an internal and external network that ties all of that together.
Q: Since you mentioned alumni, what is their role in that network?
DiMagno: Alumni are fundamentally role models and mentors. They are invested in our students because of the campus community affiliation. The benefits are bidirectional. Each side gains from exposure to the other. In a sense, every new group of alumni is a trailblazer. They are the ones out in the world setting examples for current students. And each group of alumni has a different set of offerings for current students. Younger alumni may have greater relatability because they are closer in age and they have just experienced the challenges of the current market, whereas alumni who are older and more established are able to provide the longer view. Alumni supplement and enhance the work that we do, and we could not do our work as successfully without them.
Q: The value of an internship is well documented. But clearly some internships are better than others. What makes for a meaningful internship?
DiMagno: A meaningful internship has to be a partnership between the hiring organization and the student intern, whereby the partnering organization provides rich and diverse exposure to that organization’s mission, culture, and purpose. In other words, you don’t hire an intern because you want them to get coffee. On the student side, what makes it meaningful is immersing in the experience, being open to whatever opportunities are presented, and being reflective about the experience. Without reflection, the meaning is lost. Internships are a critical piece of a student’s college career because they allow students to be in the driver’s seat when exploring and choosing their career and life direction.
Q: How is career development evolving?
DiMagno: Students are using social media to create networks and partnerships in their own way. It’s their way of reaching out to strangers and seeing what’s out there, what the possibilities are. Every generation tries to do the same thing to a degree – it’s how they do it that’s different. We need to keep pace with rapidly changing models of career services. Suffolk students--and many alumni--will continue to seek advising expertise from the CDC staff to help clarify academic and career directions. This piece of career development is timeless. However, how it is conducted and communicated must reflect the technology savvy and social preferences of a new generation.