Eyes on the prizes for career center play

One university is using incentives to engage students

“Engage with the career center” sounds a bit like “eat your vegetables” to a college student. Students know they should access career planning resources, but other options from the campus activities buffet beckon.

In surveys, graduating students from Loyola University Maryland’s Sellinger School of Business and Management raved about the faculty and facility, but not the career center, says Dean Karyl Leggio.

“We looked at the career center resources, and they’re good. But students were not utilizing them.”

Part of the problem was timing. “Loyola students LOVE Loyola. Oftentimes they don’t even want to think about graduating until after they come back from spring break [senior year],” Leggio says.

With students’ competitive spirit in mind, an idea was born. Sellinger partnered with the university’s career center to create Career Navigator, a program that uses rewards and social media to guide undergrads in career development, right from freshman year.

Students can earn points for being part of networking events, career fairs and resume workshops—and for engaging in related social media activity. They can redeem points for prizes ranging from Loyola hoodies and water bottles to chances to win a private wine tasting event, Baltimore Ravens tickets or lunch with a dean. The program website features a “leaderboard” of the top 10 earners.

“What we found very rapidly is that they loved it,” Leggio says of the program, launched in September.

It has attracted more than 1,500 students, which is about a third of the undergraduate population. More than half of the participants are from the College of Arts and Sciences.

And as of mid-January, the top student had racked up more than 51,000 points (an entry in a drawing for the current biggest prize, a plasma-screen TV, costs 50,000 points). One student has cashed in points for a ticket to a Business Leader of the Year dinner, where she’ll be seated at a table with employees from “the company of her dreams,” Leggio says.

Career Navigator runs on FanMaker, a fan loyalty platform designed by sports marketing firm Row 27 Studios for athletics use. Sellinger and the career center split the $10,000 investment, says Leggio, and a b-school assistant updates the links and prizes. The administrative time commitment is minimal.

She has shared these kinds of details with officials from other institutions, such as Florida State, that have inquired about how the program works. The biggest challenge, she says, will be keeping the program fresh. “How do you make it new and interesting for seniors after they’ve done it for several years?” is a question on administrators’ minds.

Meanwhile, the focus is on continuing to help graduates with job placement and at top firms. “We want them to feel confident,” Leggio says. “The work of the career center isn’t to get them that first job, but to prepare them for that next job and their whole career.”

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