Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Jennifer Williamson-Mendez
For Dr. Jennifer Williamson-Mendez, director of the Career and Professional Development Center, no two days on the job are the same. But whether she is working one-on-one with a student on a résumé or forging partnerships with employers, her end goal is always the same: help students find careers they love. Williamson-Mendez has been immersed in the higher education field for most of her career, having worked at Herzing College, Edgewood College, and most recently Lakeland University, before returning to UW-Platteville – her alma mater – in 2014. In her past few years in the position, she has grown the bi-annual Career Fair, expanding the number of employers and implementing more flexible options for both employers and students. Next week’s annual fall Career Fair will bring more than 300 employers to campus.
What feedback about our students do you most often hear from employers?
Our students are extremely well prepared, both academically and practically. They not only have the academic knowledge that they need to be successful in their careers, but they also have that practical hands-on experience which allows employers to get them up and running on the job much more quickly than students from other institutions. That is why employers really appreciate our students.
What is the one piece of advice you would offer students before walking into the Career Fair?
Be confident. That confidence will show through and the employers will engage with you. Remember they have come here to recruit you. So be confident in yourself and your skills, abilities and talent.
What do you enjoy most about your position?
This is such a unique position because one moment I’m helping a student revise his or her résumé, and the next moment I’m sitting with the executive leadership team, and we’re working on challenges or things we want to improve on campus. I really enjoy the variety of the position.
You have spent most of your career working in the field of higher education; what keeps you passionate about it?
Having spent time in a career prior to working in higher education, I appreciate the opportunity to know that I am having an impact on something other than a bottom line. We are really having an impact on people’s lives, and to me that is the most important thing about working in higher education.
What do you wish more people knew about the Career and Professional Development Center?
First of all, I want people to know that we’re here, our services are free for students and they even have access to us after they graduate. Current students can come in and talk to us about anything from cover letters, résumés, career exploration and interviewing. Most people don’t know that we will also help them with negotiations. A lot of times students will come in to talk through an offer, and we help them decide if it is a good offer for them. If they need to have that tough conversation and negotiate, we can help coach them through that. We also have a Skype/telephone room here so if they need to interview via Skype, or just need a quiet, reliable telephone, we have that available.
We’ve also made an exciting change this year to our Pioneer Career Network – powered by Handshake. Our updated platform now gives us access to over 180,000 companies nationwide and internationally. That has resulted in a huge bump in our connectivity to larger companies – more fortune 500 companies, and for our education and criminal justice students we have so many more contacts than we have had in the past.
A lot of people also don’t realize that we do more events than the Career Fairs. We work with the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation on a Leaders Luncheon, which is coming up on Oct. 31. It is free and includes a panel discussion with leaders from the greater Dubuque area; anyone is welcome to attend. Our etiquette event is Nov. 8, which is a great opportunity for students to get one-on-one time with our employer sponsors who attend the event. We’re also working on something new this year in conjunction with UW-Extension and the Grant County Economic Development group. This is still being fleshed out, but we plan to do a one- to two-day event that includes a tour of Grant County to show students, as well as faculty and staff, the value and benefits of living and working in rural Wisconsin. This will include company tours as well as how to become involved in the local communities. We hope it will help the students in being able to see themselves living and working in the different communities.
Interview conducted by Alison Parkins, Communications. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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