Perspectives Online

Making the (Pay) Grade. College programs prepare students to succeed in 'real world' careers. By Suzanne Stanard.

Rachel Brown participated in several student leadership programs, including CALS Ambassadors and the College Honors Program, before she earned her 2005 zoology degree and landed a job as a veterinary technician - a step toward her goal to become a veterinarian. Here she examines Jake, a Lab/pit mix.
Photo by Daniel Kim

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Graduates of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences take on a number of different job titles in a vast array of industries, from human health to horticulture. They are molecular biologists, pharmaceutical sales reps, field technicians, lab managers, landscape designers, farmers, teachers.

They're medical assistants, criminologists and soil conservationists - even communications specialists, editors and writers, among many others.

And they're making good money.

The average starting salary for a grad who earned a bachelor's degree over the last five years (classes of 2000 to 2004) was $29,589, according to annual surveys compiled by the College's Career Services office. Master's degree graduates earned an average salary of $35,886, and doctoral grads earned $48,340 on average, as reported by survey respondents.

These figures are especially significant when compared to one 2000 U.S. Census finding of an average salary of $26,890 for American workers who don't hold college degrees.

More than half of the survey respondents from the College's class of '04 are employed in full-time jobs, and 41 percent are enrolled in graduate or professional schools, including medical school and vet school. This is good news for the College's future graduating classes and also bodes well for the state of North Carolina, where most of these alumni choose to live and work.

Tricia Buddin, assistant director of CALS Career Services, tells a student about some of the hands-on experiential research and teaching opportunities available to undergraduates.
Photo by Daniel Kim
"The impact of our academic and leadership programs permeates the agricultural and science sectors in North Carolina," said Dr. Kenneth Esbenshade, the College's associate dean and director of Academic Programs. "Our alumni are leaders in their communities and in farm organizations, community associations and agribusinesses. Graduates in the life sciences are leaders in the health professions and in research and development."

The College offers nine associate, 40 baccalaureate and 29 graduate degree programs across 18 of 22 departments, as well as cutting-edge interdisciplinary courses that are the result of collaborations with other N.C. State colleges.

Leadership and enrichment opportunities are also abundant in the College.

The Honors Program, open to sophomores and juniors with a grade point average of 3.35 or higher, enhances their education and enables them to gain a competitive advantage for the future. Students participate in special courses, seminars and independent research projects, and these experiences often play a big role their career decisions.

Through the Ambassadors Program, students serve as liaisons between campus and community, participating in College recruiting events, career services programs and alumni activities (see sidebar). Tricia Buddin, assistant director of Career Services, describes the ambassadors as the "student voice" of the College, bringing news to prospective students, alumni and interested citizens across the state.

Undergraduate research and teaching opportunities, available to all qualified students in the College, provide valuable hands-on experience in a number of fields. Students also can sharpen their leadership skills by joining any of the College's 33 clubs, honor societies or student associations, from the Agronomy Club to the Pre-Veterinary Medical Association.

Rounding out the College's selection of leadership and enrichment programs are a slew of effective and popular career development initiatives that guide students through the "ins and outs" of the job search process.

Take Rachel Brown for example. The 2005 graduate of the Department of Zoology is now a veterinary technician at Wake Veterinary Hospital in Knightdale, N.C. She landed the job just before graduation, deciding it was the most appropriate step to take toward her long-term goal of becoming a veterinarian. How was the transition from college life to the "real world?"

"Quick and painless," Brown said, thanks to her experience in the College, which included membership in the Honors, CALS Ambassadors and University Scholars programs and several clubs. In particular, her experience as an ambassador proved to be the most rewarding for Brown.

"Awesome relationships, professional networks, communication skills, leadership skills, confidence . these are all things that you will gain as a student ambassador," Brown said. "I can't imagine any other program better preparing students for their future in the 'real world.' This was certainly my most valuable experience as an undergraduate."

A major part of the ambassador experience is an intensive career-prep program that equips students with the tools they'll need to secure good jobs.

The CALS Ambassadors create "skills portfolios," loaded with information about their accomplishments and career goals. The booklets also include personal statements, resumes, photos and other examples of success, such as award certificates and even thank-you notes. Buddin considers this to be the most important tool they'll acquire as ambassadors and describes the strategy in simple terms: "Prove your resume."

"The skills portfolios help our students figure out their strengths and weaknesses, which come into play when they get into jobs and interact with new people," Buddin explained.

Being an ambassador, Brown said, taught her a lot about the job search process and helped her shake a few fears along the way.

"The most useful tools I gained from the program were interview techniques," she said.

Career Services also hosts a packed schedule of career development activities for all students in the College. Workshops include the "Kick Start Your Career" series, a slate of one-hour seminars with topics like "Dynamite Letter Writing" and "Acing the Job Interview." Students who participate in at least six sessions throughout the semester earn a certificate of completion - and bragging rights on their resumes.

The College's annual Career Expo typically draws about 100 companies and offers students valuable face-time with recruiters. At the "Focus on Your Future" seminar, students work with Career Services staff to determine the steps they can begin taking toward their careers, no matter what their class year. "Medical Networking Night" offers students the chance to talk with a number of different medical professionals, from dentists to cardiologists. "Mock Interview Day" brings recruiters to campus to interview students and provide feedback, giving them a glimpse of what to expect in a real interview.

The College's academic, enrichment and career-prep programs all play a role in student success.

Graduates are equipped not only with knowledge, but also with critical leadership skills and career training.

The result: a large, diverse, well-qualified and well-rounded pool of new graduates eager to join the workforce in North Carolina and contribute to the lives of their communities.

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