Inaugural year of career counseling-engineering partnership sees great success

By Jessica Buterbaugh
April 16, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a scholar, Diandra Prescod focuses her research on addressing one of the biggest occupational crises in the country — the STEM crisis.

Enrollment in STEM-related majors is on the increase, according to Prescod, assistant professor of education (counselor education) and coordinator of the career counseling emphasis in Penn State's College of Education. However, millions of STEM-related jobs remain vacant each year due to a lack of applicants. That's because, she said, many students enter these majors without an adequate understanding of how demanding and difficult the classes are and many end up changing their majors before graduating.

Penn State engineering students are not immune from this trend. To address growing concerns, Eric Marsh, Glenn Professor of Engineering in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering (MNE), approached Prescod last summer about providing career counseling services to undergraduate students in his department.

"Many times students pursing STEM degrees struggle to get through their classes and sometimes question their skills and abilities. At times, they feel stressed about the many obligations they face — class, internship, clubs, family life — and simply need someone to speak to about their day-to-day experience."

— Diandra Prescod, assistant professor of education (counselor education)

"Our students need guidance and support beyond what is offered in the traditional engineering curriculum to help find a career that best matches their unique strengths and talents," Marsh said. "Diandra's work in career development interventions for STEM students is a perfect fit for our goal to better support our undergraduate students."

At the start of the fall semester, a new partnership was formed where Prescod and five of her graduate students provided regular career counseling to MNE students throughout the academic year.

"We've had a great first year," Prescod said. "We've provided services to approximately 225 students who have experienced a variety of issues and problems, including stress management, time management, coping skills, resume review and interview skills."

After each session, students complete a satisfaction survey so that Prescod and the other counselors can track the success of the program and re-evaluate areas of concern. So far, students' responses are encouraging.

"Ninety-four percent of the students agreed that the counselor made them feel comfortable during their session and 96 percent believe the counselor understood their career questions and needs," Prescod said. "Even more encouraging is that 92 percent of the students reported that they would consider returning to future counseling sessions and would recommend our services to a friend."

Although the partnership is still in its infancy, it already is seeing growth. By the end of the spring 2018 semester, Prescod and her graduate students, at the request of Mary Frecker, professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering and department head for graduate programs, began meeting with master and doctoral MNE students.

"MNE houses approximately 1,200 undergraduate students and 240 graduate students, so we now have a total of 1,440 students we can reach," Prescod said. "Our goal is to serve the majority of those students by the end of 2018."

The partnership is beneficial for all who are involved, she said. MNE students who participate in the sessions become better equipped to handle the difficulties and anxieties of their major while also gaining a better understanding of career opportunities. Marsh and his MNE colleagues can offer their students services that are not typically part of an engineering curriculum, and retain students. Career counseling master's students gain hands-on experience to help them develop their professional skills while also expanding their academic experiences and interests, and doctoral students Latoya Haynes-Thoby and Deanna Burgess gain counselor supervision and research experience. Prescod also can apply her own research to help Penn State students and continue to build that research.

"What's most important is that we want the students to know that this is not a one-time service," Prescod said. "They can see a career counselor weekly if they feel the need to.

"Many times students pursing STEM degrees struggle to get through their classes and sometimes question their skills and abilities. At times, they feel stressed about the many obligations they face — class, internship, clubs, family life — and simply need someone to speak to about their day-to-day experience," she said. "The career counselors are equipped to help students work through these issues and we hope to see a significant increase in the number of students that make appointments with them."

MNE students interested in scheduling a meeting with a career counselor can do so by visiting http://www.mne.psu.edu/career-advising/index.aspx online. Counselors are available Monday through Friday and meet with students in the E-Knowledge Commons in Reber Building.

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Last Updated April 16, 2018