Students Gain Meaningful Career Experience Through Pilot Program

ConnextMSP is an inclusive talent network for early-career professionals of color in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region. Their mission is to ensure people of color are recruited, hired and supported by local employers as they launch their careers. This is a critical initiative of GREATER MSP, a regional economic development partnership to advance inclusive economic growth and build a 21st century workforce in the region.

ConnextMSP was one of six host sites that participated in May 2022 in the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts’ (CLA) industry-based projects pilot as part of its Get Ready Program. The pilot, funded in part through a generous gift from Target Corporation, provides a framework for students early in their college career to gain industry knowledge and real-world experience that will help them become competitive applicants for future internships in their chosen field. A modest but meaningful scholarship is offered to all students in the pilot to remove financial barriers to participation and to acknowledge the time, energy, and expertise they dedicate to their projects. For their part, participating organizations gain valuable, up-to-date insights and skills from students who will soon enter the workforce.

The participating students were members of CLA’s President’s Emerging Scholars program, an advising community that supports high-achieving students with diverse backgrounds to advance academic excellence and career readiness. ConnextMSP is a natural partner for this pilot as they share similar goals for students and young professionals of color beginning their careers.

Ambassador Program

ConnextMSP is creating an ambassador program with 20-25 college students who will be tasked with building awareness in the market around the ConnextMSP Talent Network portal platform. ConnextMSP’s goal is to grow the network by signing up hundreds of new, early-career professional members this year.

Four CLA students interested in careers in Communications & Media, Business, and Nonprofit & Advocacy participated in this project. Activities included mapping what components of the Ambassador program will look like, including goals, a marketing plan, deliverables and scope of outreach.

The CLA students were asked to provide the following deliverables:

  • Create a list of resources, including links for contact information.
  • Create an outreach calendar for Ambassadors.
  • Share recommendations on ways to engage Ambassadors and provide incentives.
  • Develop a way to track success metrics.
  • Review current ConnextMSP materials and suggest improvements.

Using CLA Core Competencies

A rising senior, Ava Hupka was one of the students who worked on this project. The Sociology major was excited to apply her skills to address real-world challenges, as well as learn new skills to create valuable work experiences.

“My CLA education helped me throughout this project based on the core competencies that are taught in my coursework. Competencies such as teamwork, digital literacy and understanding diversity were all vital to success within this project,” says Hupka. “Based on my education through CLA, I’ve been able to practice these competencies and implement them in the workplace.”

Hupka believes the highlight of working on this project was the networking opportunities that developed through GREATER MSP and ConnextMSP. ConnextMSP invited project participants to their office where they joined a partner Zoom meeting that provided an excellent networking opportunity.

“Having the perspectives of current students whose peers will potentially be Ambassadors was extremely helpful,” adds ConnextMSP Network Manager Roshandra Brown. “We gained insight directly from the source on how to make our program marketable, feasible and accessible to students. It was also a highlight to have them come to the office and meet our team.”

Building Career Skills

From Brown’s perspective, the project was a great success. CLA students completed all of the projected deliverables, and she was very happy with the results as they will provide a basis to begin a bigger project. The completed items saved ConnextMSP staff significant time, and Brown was able to move up the timeline to complete other goals.

She was also impressed the students were able to work so well together despite the fact they didn’t know each other before the project. The students explained how they decided to split up the work and complete it. Brown noted it was a smart, super-efficient group.

“The students’ final deliverable was to review our current materials/social media accounts and provide recommendations. Based on their feedback, we have a lot of work to do to change how we market our work to younger professionals,” says Brown. “I believe by using their recommendations we’ll be able to grow our network and meet our target goal of 1,000 participants within the next six months.”

“To those who question the value of a Liberal Arts education, I’d explain the career competencies I’ve gained and how I use them in my day-to-day work life,” adds Hupka. “All the soft skills gained in a CLA education can get you farther than hard skills in some cases. These are important skills and they’re applicable to the work world.”

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