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MC helps grads beat unemployment

Barry McNamara
Just a few weeks following commencement, not all of Monmouth College’s 274 May graduates have full-time employment or graduate school plans confirmed. What they do know, however, is that the Monmouth College diploma they received from President Mauri Ditzler substantially increases their chances for success.

According to recent information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for individuals between 20 and 24 years of age is 17.2 percent.

However, Michelle Shawgo, MC’s director of career development, said that some individuals in that age group are unemployed by choice, which is also the case for certain college students.

Her Wackerle Career and Leadership Center office prefers to target another figure on the report – the unemployment rate for individuals 25 and older. Predictably, the unemployment level shrinks for each level of education received. Those without a high school diploma are unemployed at a rate of 14.7 percent. Rates are also listed for “high school graduates, no college” (10.6) and “some college or an associate degree” (8.3). Finally, students with a bachelor’s degree or higher have an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent.

So attending college is beneficial in and of itself, but attending Monmouth, in particular, also bodes well for future professionals.

"I think that the well-rounded curriculum here at Monmouth sets our graduates apart from others,” said Shawgo, who also noted that the Wackerle Center offers many programs specifically geared to matching students up with professional positions.

For example, Monmouth’s Job Search for Seniors program prepares students for the different aspects of the job search, including networking, applying, interviewing and staying organized.

"By scheduling all seniors to attend, we are preparing our graduates for what is ahead of them whether they think it is important at the time or not,” she said. “Even if they are planning to continue their education with graduate school, they will need these skills.”

One satisfied customer is Kayt Griffith, who secured a teaching position with help from Shawgo’s office.

"I was very pleased with the support that I received from the Wackerle Center while I was searching for my teaching job,” said Griffith, who’ll be teaching at Baxter Community School in Baxter, Iowa. “Both Michelle Shawgo and (program coordinator) Rhonda Spence worked with me to make sure that my credential file, my résumé and my cover letter were the best that they could be.”

Griffith explained that over the course of just a few weeks, she had sent out more than two dozen credential files to schools all across the Midwest, and Spence made sure that all of them were prepared, mailed and received by the proper school before the deadline.

"Ms. Spence paid careful attention to my files and made sure to call and ask if she was unsure about my preferences or if I had made an error that had not been caught,” said Griffith. “I was extremely appreciative of her attention to detail. In the end, I landed a job interview at Baxter, where I was offered a high school English teaching position. I owe my successful job search in part to the helpfulness and thorough work ethic of the Wackerle Center staff.”

For the few graduates not as fortunate as Griffith, Shawgo said that help is still readily available. Although they no longer have the ease of walking across campus to visit the Wackerle Center, alumni are encouraged to use its resources.

"Our No. 1 service by far is résumé critique,” said Shawgo. “That’s true while they’re students, but also after they graduate. That’s the reason we are contacted the most by graduates. Maybe they’ve been sending their résumés out for a while and haven’t heard back, so they want someone to take a look at it.”

Students in Shawgo’s office are trained to review résumés, and Spence also reviews many of them.

"It’s often a multi-step process, with the graduate sending in a résumé and then sending revisions once we suggest changes,” said Shawgo.

When a graduate calls for other help, it might also involve a specific question relating to what was previously discussed at Job Search for Seniors programs on campus.

"They want to know about a particular issue, such as when is the right time to follow up for a second time with an employer,” said Shawgo.

Does the employment assistance Monmouth provides really matter? The statistics say, “Yes.”

"For the past several years, our numbers at Monmouth have been right in line with or exceeded the national employment rate,” said Shawgo. “Obviously, I’d like to do even better and improve on that number. We target less than 5 percent unemployment for our recent graduates, even during this economic downturn.”

Shawgo’s efforts are focused on increasing attendance at workshops and seminars devoted to the job market and the job search. She said that recent economic events have made it easier for her office to get its message across.

"Getting a job after college was like an entitlement a few years ago and was taken for granted,” she explained. “There’s a better awareness now among the students that it’s not something they should be putting off until graduation. We want to continue to build on that awareness and instruct them on how to use the Monmouth network and resources. The job market is still tight, and we need to show them how they can be more competitive.”

Shawgo added, “We design our programs to be informative but also appealing to students. We try to identify ways to make it attractive and interesting, such as targeting certain groups of students with specific programs.”

For the past few years, Shawgo’s office has presented “Pizza with a Panel” programs for psychology and sociology students. The programs, presented during the lunch hour, feature area professionals discussing their career paths and answering students’ questions.

"We also held a program a while back called ‘True Life: Life After MC,’” said Shawgo. “The idea for the program was based on MTV’s ‘True Life’ series and included several presentations about a variety of topics.”

"True Life” topics included getting a job in a down economy, finding a first home, understanding employee benefits and smart communication for new professionals in the workplace.

In a related “real life” note, at least one Monmouth graduate went on to have a career at MTV. In fact, Dwight Tierney ’69 was one of the network’s co-founders.

Who knows what similar adventures await the latest class of Monmouth graduates?