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University of Utah launches U Career Success

By next fall, the University of Utah’s support for student career services will reflect a reimagined new approach—with a new name, new leadership, expanded staff and a renovated location to make it all happen.

Beginning this summer, career services staff will move into space in the David Eccles School of Business. Katie Hoffman-Abby, special advisor to the president and assistant dean for career services in the business school, will be the new U Career Success Center’s director.

The changes are meant to help the university lead out on the Utah System of Higher Education’s college completion goals, said President Taylor Randall.

“Graduation is just one measure for gauging the success of a student’s college education,” said Randall. “Our metrics need to include additional outcomes. We care about the number of our graduates who find jobs, the beginning salaries they make and the trajectory they’re on. We want to know where every student ends up.”

Katie Hoffman-Abby, director, U Career Success Center. Abby is also a special advisor to the president and assistant dean for career services in the business school.

To that end, Abby led a pilot project during the Spring 2023 Semester in four colleges and departments—the College of Science, Department of Communication, Department of Film and Media Arts and the School for Cultural and Social Transformation. The goal, Abby said, was to improve post-graduation placements for science and non-science student job placements by 20%, while also boosting graduates’ beginning salaries, regardless of discipline. Overall, U graduates’ salaries hit an average of $60,000 last year, but not every major shared in those outcomes. Now, the successes of the pilot will be expanded across campus.

By creating close partnerships with colleges and departments across the university, Abby’s team will build on her original model to extend personalized coaching to more students in more majors. In addition, a focused corporate outreach team will strengthen relationships with key employers to maximize access for students to the career roles they dream of.

The new Career Success Center will serve all university students from the main floor of the Robert H. and Katharine B. Garff Building, room 1300, a few steps west of the Huntsman Center. Staff from the former Career & Professional Development Center, previously located at the Student Services Building, have moved to the Garff location to better support the team’s expanded mission. Renovations at the site will continue during the summer months to accommodate the combined team.

During the course of their studies, many students develop skills that transfer well to areas beyond traditional career paths. According to Abby, it’s the job of career coaches to help students explore alternative visions that will lead to job and salary satisfaction.

“Traditional career services can be passive in its delivery and really requires students to self-motivate, to know exactly what they want when they walk through the door,” Abby said. “Many students shift plans as they experience more in the classroom and in life. By working with us, they can better understand the range of opportunities available to them.”

The pilot was based on an approach developed under Abby’s leadership at the Business Career Services office at the school of business. Originally tasked by President Randall with extending the student placement and compensation growth business students have achieved during her 8-year leadership, Abby will direct the new center in addition to her responsibilities at the Eccles School.

A 1984, graduate of the U in nutrition and food science, Abby started her career as a nutritionist for the Utah State Health Department, transitioned to recruiting for CHG Healthcare (then CompHealth), then founded VISTA Staffing Solutions in 1990. In 2007, VISTA was acquired by On Assignment. Abby returned to the university in 2015, and built the Eccles School of Business career services and corporate outreach program. She replaces Stan Inman as director of campus wide career services. Inman retired at the end of the 2022-23 school year.

Riley Coughlin, marketing senior, and U Career Success intern, showcases the professional clothing offered in the Career Closet. Students can borrow professional clothing for important interviews, located in GARFF 1300.

Engaging early and often with career resources is key to students’ eventual success, Abby said. Career coaches are embedded at colleges and departments across campus, making it easier for students to engage throughout their years on campus, a key factor for improved outcomes. The coaches connect students with a range of experiences to build their resumes long before graduation, including internships and co-ops, projects, case competitions, research and volunteer work.

Helping students recognize the value of the experiences they’ve earned in on-campus organizations and off-campus activities is another benefit. Most importantly, students learn to clearly convey that value to potential employers through personal branding, written communications and career conversations.

The Career Success Center also offers career studios for video interviews, a career closet with professional clothing and professional head shots—all at no cost.

Figuring out business and nonprofit employers’ talent and workforce needs is as important as helping students prepare their resumes, Abby said.

“We want to make sure the University of Utah is well-known in our state’s business, government, nonprofit communities and beyond,” Abby added. “With the tremendous skills and vitality of our students, they will be well-positioned to succeed personally and professionally.”