Next Level program aims to develop career skills in students

Published: Sep 28, 2023 10:00 AM

By Diane Pham

The Samuel Ginn College of Engineering is taking steps to enhance career preparedness in students. Next Level, a new program in the works among the college’s faculty and staff, aims to improve first destination satisfaction and career readiness after college by focusing on formative career development, as well as oral and written articulation of a student’s academic and experiential achievements.

Throughout their college career, students will have assignments and instructional models integrated into their coursework to help achieve this goal. Assignments will include topics such as informational interviews, resume and cover letter writing, interview question practice, LinkedIn profile creation and professional e-mail communication. After participation in a Writing Across the Curriculum Academy sponsored by the Auburn University Writing Center in spring 2023, a team of faculty and staff from the College of Engineering submitted a proposal for a Bright Idea Seed Grant. The grant, administered by the Office of Academic Insight, provides funds to project teams with a clearly outlined plan to support the university’s quality enhancement plan, Auburn Achieve. 

Next Level is being piloted this semester in at least one course at each academic level, freshman through senior. Faculty and staff from primarily the aerospace, biosystems and chemical engineering departments are working together to integrate this new curriculum. After further feedback and revision, the program will expand to other departments, inviting faculty to engage as faculty fellows. As a faculty fellow, participants will engage in an introduction to the program session, maintain communication with the program team and receive recognition for their participation.

These assignments are an expansion of the reach of the Engineering Office of Career Development and Corporate Relations (CDCR). The mission of the CDCR is to equip and empower students to discover, develop and launch professional experiences and purposeful careers. 

“As the CDCR just celebrated 5 years of operation this fall and 4 years of operation within the Brown-Kopel Student Center, we are excited to expand our approaches to empowering students in their career development,” said Jessica Bowers, CDCR manager of career development, content and strategy.

Currently, the CDCR offers a wide variety of resources to students, such as career coaching, facilitating career development and corporate events, and hosting career fairs that foster connections to experiential and full-time opportunities. 

“While the CDCR has exponentially progressed in reaching students through one-on-one coaching appointments, programs, and recruitment events, more than tripling student participation since fall 2019, we fully realize students most often prioritize the tasks and assignments required of them by the academic experience. They have to,” Bowers said. “We know from the research that the students who prioritize and seek career development support are often self-directed learners or beneficiaries of backgrounds that prompt development of professional materials. As a result, career development becomes a matter of equity when the academic experience does not signal the significance of dedicating time to it.” 

With this trend in mind, the Next Level program will facilitate students to engage with career development resources early and throughout the curriculum. 

“We saw in the data that those students who reported a successful career outcome at graduation also exhibited earlier resume activity, in the form of resume appointments with a career coach and resume uploads to our online job search platform, compared to those students who did not report a successful career outcome at graduation,” said Charlie Wilder, senior analyst with the Auburn University Office of Academic Insight. 

The students who were found successful at graduation had an average first time resume interaction or career appointment of up to one month earlier than those who were not successful at graduation. Starting the process earlier will create an easier job search process and allow students to begin thinking ahead about their professional careers.

The Next Level learning outcomes for each academic year are aligned with the National Association for Colleges and Employers (NACE) career competencies and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) student outcomes. By approaching career development in a more gradual, systemic way, students will be more prepared to engage in the exploration of their interests and ultimately to seek and secure professional opportunities well in advance.

“These types of topics during class time are a great way to improve an engineering students’ professional skills. It helped me a lot after only one class, so I hope to see more of these in-class topics in the future,” said Jesus Granero Garcia, after recent participation in an aerospace engineering class meeting that included instruction on cover letter development. 

The aim is to create stepping stones as students progress in their coursework, with the assignments being tailored to where they are in their academic career. Students will be able to revise and update their work as they progress through college, rather than starting a resume from scratch during their senior year. Overtime, stakeholders hope for the program to evolve with gamified achievement levels and a brand not only students, but employers and alumni will recognize when recruiting and hiring “Next Level Engineers.”

“Knowing they genuinely care about the outcomes of students, the CDCR is excited to partner with faculty and staff stakeholders across the College as a means to reach the rest of the engineering student body. I firmly believe embedding the development of career materials as academic assignments will provide a more equitable and systemic approach to career development across student populations in the college-ultimately taking their Auburn Engineering degree to the Next Level,” Bowers said.

Faculty and staff directly involved in the project include:

  • Bryan Beckingham, Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering & Director of the Center for Polymers and Advanced Composites
  • Jessica Bowers, Manager for Career Development Content & Strategy
  • Jon Davis, Senior Lecturer, Biosystems Engineering
  • Jeff Fergus, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and Program Assessment
  • Somer Givens, Analyst III, Engineering Online
  • Alicia Harkless, Acting Director, Engineering Online
  • Candice Kelly, Graduate Assistant, Next Level Program and Doctoral Student, Higher Education Administration
  • Russell Mailen, Assistant Professor, Aerospace Engineering
Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery,, 334.844.3668
The Samuel Ginn College of Engineering's newly launched pilot program aims to help students take their engineering career to the Next Level.

The Samuel Ginn College of Engineering's newly launched pilot program aims to help students take their engineering career to the Next Level.

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