CONVERSATION | Branden Grimmett joined Loyola Marymount University as associate provost in June 2015, where he leads the university’s Career and Professional Development initiative. Grimmett specializes in student return on investment, the rebranding of career services and measuring and reporting post-graduate outcomes. His work in career services has been featured in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, the Education Advisory Board, The Lawlor Review, The Hechinger Report, the Career Leadership Collective and in the book “Will College Pay Off?” Before joining LMU, Grimmett served as the founding director of the Piper Center for Vocation and Career at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, and as associate director of career services at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts. He talked with LMU This Week about his work.
LMU This Week: What are the primary aims of Career and Professional Development?
Branden Grimmett: The goal of CPD is to provide resources and experiences to help students leverage their LMU education to achieve their full potential. CPD’s programs, staff, and resources help students identify their values, interests, and skills while also helping them understand how their skills relate to professional life. Through CPD programs, students explore a wide range of careers that reflect their values, interests, and skills in order to develop and pursue a plan for life after college.
LTW: How has CPD grown under your leadership? Who works in CPD, and how does the team interact with students, faculty and staff?
BG: Since I arrived in 2015, the CPD staff has doubled in size – growing from a team of six professionals to 14 full-time staff plus 20 student employees. Last year, our dedicated career coaches and Peer Advisors met with more than 5,000 students – providing critical career guidance and direction to undergraduate and graduate students from every major. CPD staff assist students with resume reviews, mock interviews, and job and internship search strategy, while also collaborating with faculty to customize workshops delivered in the classroom that help students translate academic learning into tangible skills employers seek in the workplace.
LTW: Is LMU doing something that other universities and colleges are not in the field of student career preparation?
BG: LMU is known nationally for its innovative vocational discernment retreat for sophomores and transfer students. VOCARÉ (Latin for “calling” or “vocation”) helps students identify where they have been, who they are, and where they are going within a supportive community of fellow students, staff, faculty, and alumni. More than 200 students and 30 faculty have participated the past two years, and nine out of 10 students who attend the retreat report feeling less anxious about their future.
LTW: How early in a student’s LMU career do you try to reach them?
BG: CPD reaches students before they enroll at LMU. Our staff presents during each admission event, and also engages first-year and transfer students during orientation, administering the Strengths Finder self-assessment prior to their arrival on campus. Through this tool, 100 percent of incoming LMU students interact with our office, and enter college knowing how they can make the most of CPD during their time as a student. After completing the Gallup Strengths Finder assessment, LMU students are six-times more likely to be engaged in their future jobs and three-times more likely to have an excellent quality of life compared to their peers.
LTW: Do you get inquiries from recent and/or long-term alumni?
BG: LMU is proud to have a career center that supports alumni for life – any graduate of the university is able to utilize CPD services any time during their career. While some recent grads seek out CPD for career support, our more established alumni are eager to give back to the institution. Since 2015, more than 300 alumni have participated in CPD programming, attending on- and off-campus CPD networking events where they can share their career story and form mentoring relationships with current students. LMU alumni validate the dream for current students, and CPD programming brings students closer to alumni, providing ways for alumni to pass along critical knowledge of career and internship opportunities for students in every major.
LTW: With many universities adding resources to career development efforts, do you sense competition over company connections and job placements?
BG: Not at all. CPD collaborates extensively with other L.A.-based universities, including USC and UCLA. Through these strategic and mutually beneficial partnerships, CPD staff benefit from knowing when employers of interest will recruit at competitor institutions, and we invite them to campus for career expos and on-campus recruiting to ensure LMU students can also compete for the same opportunities. LMU also benefits from benchmarking and sharing ideas about ways to better engage students in career development activities. This past summer, LMU hosted the career center staff from UCLA, who shared their best practices with the team. CPD is a member of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the National Career Services Benchmarking Group, and the Career Services Institute – West. Through these consortia, LMU collaborates with universities such as Stanford, USC, Purdue, and the University of Washington to ensure its career services are of the highest quality and always on the cutting edge.
LTW: What is next for CPD?
BG: CPD continues to gain national attention for its innovative programming and ability to connect students to career opportunities nationally. Our VOCARÉ retreat was recently recognized by NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education – and will be featured at the 100th anniversary during the association’s annual conference in Philadelphia in March 2018. We will also be bringing 25 students to New York City over spring break 2018 to visit companies in Manhattan as part of our popular Career Treks Program. Participants will have the opportunity to visit LMU alumni working at Spotify, the Metropolitan Opera, Amazon, Barclays, Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations, and many other employers. Launched in 2015, Career Treks has taken students to San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and throughout Los Angeles to explore career leads via alumni connections in each city. Future programs will take students to Seattle, Phoenix, Boston, and eventually outside the United States.