Beyond Career and Job-Ready Graduates: Beating the Underemployment Odds:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 202 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Kevin Grubb

Table of Contents

Changing Higher Ed podcast 202-Beyond Career and Job-Ready Graduates-Beating the Underemployment Odds
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

9 April · Episode 202

Beyond Career and Job-Ready Graduates: Beating the Underemployment Odds

36 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

How Villanova equips students for career and job readiness and embedding skills-based learning throughout the academic journey and beyond.

 

According to a new report, a startling 43% of college graduates are underemployed in their first job. It’s no surprise career readiness has become a critical priority for universities across the country. With the cost of education rising and underemployment rates soaring, institutions have a responsibility to ensure students are equipped with the skills, knowledge, and experiences they need to succeed in their careers and lives beyond graduation.

Under the leadership of Associate Vice Provost for Career and Professional Development Kevin Grubb, Villanova has developed a holistic approach to career readiness that integrates career development throughout the student’s academic and career journey, from orientation to graduation and beyond.

Villanova University is transforming the student experience by integrating career and professional development throughout students’ academic journeys. By embedding these essential skills into the curriculum and student life, Villanova is setting the stage for student success in their first jobs and throughout their careers. University leaders believe this holistic approach is crucial for ensuring students realize a return on their educational investment while also supporting their overall well-being.

 

Building a Foundation of Strengths

At Villanova, career readiness starts before students even set foot on campus. Incoming students complete the CliftonStrengths® assessment to identify their unique talents and learn how to apply them in academic, personal, and professional contexts. During orientation, students explore their strengths and discover how they can leverage them to succeed in college and their future careers.

This strengths-based approach continues throughout students’ time at Villanova. Career center staff and faculty help students articulate their strengths in resumes, cover letters, and interviews. Students also learn how their strengths can help them contribute to teams and work effectively with others who have different strengths and styles.

This focus on strengths is essential for helping students develop a positive mindset and understand their unique value. By starting with a foundation of strengths, Villanova sets students up for success from day one.

 

Integrating Career Skills into the Academic Experience

At Villanova, career readiness is not treated as an extracurricular activity but as a core part of the academic experience. Faculty include the NACE Career Readiness Competencies in syllabi to highlight the career-relevant skills covered in their courses. Career center staff also teach for-credit classes on job search skills, resume writing, interviewing, and networking.

This integrated approach ensures all students have access to career development, not just those who seek it out, emphasizing the importance for first-generation and underrepresented students, who may be less likely to engage with optional career services.

Villanova’s career integration efforts are paying off. In the university’s College of Engineering, 92% of recent graduates said they felt supported by the university in their career preparation, up from just 75% before the college integrated career skills into the curriculum. Similar efforts are underway across the university, ensuring every student graduates with the skills and confidence to succeed in the job market.

 

Launching Students to a Strong First Destination: Combating Underemployment

For Villanova leaders, setting graduates up for success means not just helping them find any job but a job that is commensurate with their education and skills. Grubb pointed to research from the Burning Glass Institute and Strada Education Network showing the devastating long-term impacts of underemployment after college.

According to the report, 43% of college graduates are underemployed in their first job, and most stay underemployed long-term. Underemployed graduates earn, on average, $10,000 less per year than their appropriately employed peers. Women and minorities are disproportionately affected, with 47% of women underemployed compared to 37% of men.

To combat underemployment, Villanova starts preparing students for the job market from their first year. The career center offers workshops on resume writing, interviewing, and networking and connects students with alumni for mentoring and job shadowing. The university also leverages its partnerships with companies like Google and Amazon to provide students with hands-on learning experiences and access to top employers.

These efforts are yielding results. Villanova has seen a steady increase in the number of graduates securing high-quality first jobs, with salaries and job titles commensurate with their degrees. By focusing on underemployment, Villanova is not just setting graduates up for a strong start but for long-term career success and financial stability.

 

Supporting Wellbeing and Addressing Student Stress

At Villanova, career readiness is seen not just as a matter of professional development but also as a well-being issue. Grubb noted that many students, especially those from low-income or first-generation backgrounds, feel immense pressure to secure a good job to justify the cost of their education and support their families.

To alleviate this stress, Villanova provides robust career support and resources. The career center offers one-on-one coaching, mock interviews, and salary negotiation workshops to help students feel confident in their job search. The university also connects students with alumni for networking and mentoring, providing a support system as they navigate the transition to the workforce.

Grubb emphasized that universities can help reduce anxiety by supporting students’ career development and setting them up for success not just professionally but personally as well. When students feel confident about their career prospects, they are better able to focus on their studies and enjoy their college experience.

 

Preparing Students for an AI-Driven World

As artificial intelligence transforms the workplace, Villanova is ensuring students are prepared to use these technologies ethically and effectively. The career center teaches students how to leverage AI tools like ChatGPT to analyze job descriptions, tailor their resumes, and prepare for interviews. At the same time, staff emphasize the importance of using AI responsibly and being able to identify potential biases in AI-generated content.

Grubb noted that while some universities have banned AI tools entirely, Villanova believes it is crucial to teach students how to use them thoughtfully. With many employers already adopting AI technologies, students who are comfortable leveraging these tools will have a significant advantage in the job market.

By grappling with the ethical implications of AI and preparing students to use it effectively, Villanova is ensuring graduates are ready for the future of work.

 

A Model for the Future of Career Readiness

Villanova’s holistic approach to career readiness offers a model for universities across the country. By integrating career development throughout the student experience, providing tailored support and resources, and preparing students for an evolving technological landscape, Villanova is setting graduates up for long-term success.

As Grubb noted, this work is not easy, but it is essential. With the cost of education rising and the job market becoming increasingly competitive, universities have a responsibility to ensure students receive a return on their investment. By prioritizing career readiness, universities can help level the playing field, combat underemployment, and support students’ well-being and success beyond graduation.

 

Three Key Takeaways for University Presidents and Boards

  1. Embrace Generative AI: Recognize that a significant number of people, especially students, are already using generative AI tools. Institutions should proactively address this reality and leverage AI to benefit their communities and better prepare students for the future.

  2. Embed Career Development into the Student Experience: Integrate career and professional development as a core component of the student experience rather than treating it as an optional or extracurricular activity. This is particularly crucial for supporting first-generation college students and those from backgrounds where career preparation may not be a common expectation. Embedding career readiness into the curriculum ensures that all students, regardless of their background, can benefit from these essential skills and resources.

  3. Prioritize Student Well-Being in Career Readiness: Acknowledge that career readiness is a significant source of stress and concern for students, even if they don’t openly discuss it. Students are acutely aware of the investment they are making in their education and feel pressured to realize its benefits. By proactively addressing career readiness and providing support throughout the student journey, institutions can alleviate some of this stress and contribute to overall student well-being.

 

About Our Guest

Kevin Grubb serves as the Associate Vice Provost for Professional Development and Chief Career Officer at Villanova University. He spearheads the strategic vision for career and professional development, aiming for top-notch career outcomes for students and alumni. His role includes integrating support across various university sectors and contributing to Villanova’s national acclaim in career services and professional development.

His leadership has earned recognition from prestigious organizations, including the National Association of Colleges & Employers and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Grubb, a respected figure in the field, has received accolades for his contributions to career services and college recruiting from several bodies, including LinkedIn and Strada Education Network.

He holds a BS in Psychology, an MA in Higher Education Administration, and a certificate in Leadership in Performance Coaching. Grubb is an Associate Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation and a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, demonstrating his commitment to professional excellence and leadership.

Kevin Grubb on LinkedIn →

 

About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton is a consultant to higher education institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.

 

 

Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 202 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Kevin Grubb

Drumm: Today, our guest is Kevin Grubb, Associate Vice Provost for Career and Professional Development at Villanova University.

Kevin is an internationally and nationally recognized expert on career services delivery and higher education. And his expertise focuses on community-driven approaches to career education, a high-tech, high-touch approach, and prioritizing… prioritizes equitable access to career services, especially for those who have been historically excluded from higher education. Kevin is driving important changes at Villanova that are enhancing college-to-career success.

And he joins us today to talk about the holistic approach Villanova is taking that creates career and job-ready graduates.

Kevin, welcome back to the show.

Kevin Grubb: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be with you.

Drumm: I am as well. And I’m looking forward to our conversation. We spoke a year ago or so about how Villanova is leading the way and creating career and job ready graduates. But before we get into that, and you’re going to give us an update on what you’re doing, give us a little background on you, so the listeners get a sense of who you are.

Kevin Grubb: Sure. I am the Associate Vice Provost for Professional Development and Chief Career Officer at Villanova. I have been at Villanova for over 10 years and most of my time, in this role. And I oversee the work that we do to support students, undergraduate students, graduate students in certificate programs, nontraditional students, and alumni, in their career pursuits, and I live just outside the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. And have for a while, and it’s been fun.

Drumm: Good! So Villanova for 10 years that’s a long time now days at one place

Kevin Grubb: It is, it’s actually just, looking at an article, that was published. It was either in the times of the wall street journal about the length of tenure, at organizations and how quick it can be these days. So it’s been a while and I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve had a chance to grow quite a bit at Villanova, so no day has ever been the same, and it is a great community. That’s a big word at Villanova, is community, and that is what makes it such a good place to

Drumm: And that’s what makes higher ed such a good place to be as well it is generally a community and with the changes that are going on now disrupts that community.

Kevin Grubb: Yeah, it’s, there is a lot of rapid change that has happened to higher education over the last, especially five years. And there’s a lot of focus on higher education and the impact of education, the return on investment of education. That focus has only been brought into clearer view. So it’s hard work to maintain a really good environment at a university, and I think Villanova is doing it.

Drumm: That’s a great segue into what we’re gonna talk about today. Bring us up to date, you know we spoke last year about how you’re creating career and job ready graduates, but you’ve taken that to a whole new level so bring us up to date if you wouldn’t mind

Kevin Grubb: Yeah, absolutely. Last year, we talked a little bit about some of the things that Villanova has been doing for a while and has continued to uplevel and a lot of it is really making sure that career development is embedded into the student experience and into, in many cases, the academic experience, and that continues, and we actually just saw some survey results this year that were emblematic of the impact of what we’ve been doing.

As an example, our college of engineering, several years ago, made a commitment to integrate career and professional development into the student experience, and we had always been asking and continue to ask in our surveys of our graduates when they tell us about where they’re going for their career next, we also asked them about how they felt about the support that was provided to them by their college and the university in the area of career development. And we got a baseline of this before we started this program, this curricular program, and I would say it was in the mid to high 70 percent that students agreed, yes, the university did a really good job in this area for me.

And this most recent graduating class of 23, I’m really happy to say they were a class that’s had this full program, and it’s been matured and tweaked over the years, and about 92 percent of them told us that they feel supported in their career and professional development by the college and the university.

So I anticipate that number continuing to grow as we refine the program always and make it better. But the payoff is big. Drumm, when we talked a little bit ago, we discussed the real big impact of students feeling the career services were supportive of them that Gallup research, that demonstrated that alums who felt that career services were beneficial or either three times as likely to recommend their alma mater or two times as likely to give. So this is a metric we’re tracking really carefully because we know this matters. These services, this kind of support matters. It’s just getting better and better. The more we practice, refine and understand how we can make sure students feel like this education is great and where it’s going to take me to is going to be great too.

Drumm: This is a big shift in the way higher ed approaches its, quote, product is being able to make sure people are job ready. It’s interesting to me because in the past, when we identified with an institution, it was for undergraduate and we didn’t really think about, what are we going to do going forward?

I think there’s a few institutions out there that are doing a really good job in changing that quote business model to where, not only are you selling someone, and I’ll use the term selling very liberally, but that’s what you’re doing you’re selling them on coming to your school. You’re giving them an experience and then later on you’re giving them the opportunities to come back and take certificate programs, graduate education, et cetera. What you’re doing is you’re changing the perception that your graduates have and making them more likely to come back to see you for those graduate degrees, certificates throughout their life.

Kevin Grubb: Yeah. And it brings up in a really important investment that we’ve made, that we’re continuing to uplevel. So we have started a team that reports to me, that’s called the career management team. And they specifically are designed to support our alumni, our graduate students, and our adult learners, in certificate programs and in all kinds of degree programs that are for adult learners and part of that conversation is to think about, that cycle, right? 

They graduate with us. And then our provost would usually like to say it’s the amortization of the value of the degree, right? How can we keep being part of making sure this degree? And this experience at Villanova is valuable to you for a long time. Lots of the studies longitudinally point to the increase in salaries of folks with degrees compared to those who don’t go to school, go to college. So it’s important to us to make sure we’re investing in the ongoing support of students and graduates, whether it be because we have career services specifically for them at those different life stages or also because we’re having them get involved in continued education at the university, and then also supporting them with what the next step looks like after.

Drumm: The changes that you have to put in place for this, you’ve got differences in the way you enroll someone for an undergraduate or for graduate nontraditional students is different. But before we go there, what you’re doing is you’re helping the students get a really good start on their career. And when we talked last week, you’d mentioned the survey and how this changed and how important it was to give students a really strong start in their careers

Kevin Grubb: Yes, very much. Some folks and listeners of this podcast might be familiar with the report from the Burning Glass Institute at Strada that was out years ago called the Permanent Detour, and they just released an update to that recently that talks about the challenges with underemployment of college graduates, and the percentage of college graduates that start out underemployed.

And then the difference in earnings and career impact for folks that start out underemployed versus those that don’t. So this idea that we’re getting graduates out to a good first place is really significant. There’s something very significant for the long term. For them where they begin. So we have to do a very good job, with that first mile, that first thing, because that will set them up for longer success, long after us.

And then for us, it’s also an investment in thinking about how can we continually help you be part of this community and help you see the value in this community with these alumni career services and these programs that support your ongoing upskilling. That’s huge for us to know to recognize and continue to invest in our people that way.

Drumm: And from a salary perspective, if they started a higher salary, they’re going to end up at a higher salary versus lower, and no disparity about Starbucks or anything else like that, but if you’ve got college graduates who can’t get into their desired fields and they have to go to a Starbucks or somewhere else to make it. It’s going to hurt them in the long run.

Kevin Grubb: it will that’s that is exactly what the report from the Burning Glass Institute and Strata points out is that if you start out at that place your lifetime earnings are likely to be significantly impacted lower than if you’re starting out in a profession that is would not be considered underemployed for someone who has a degree.

So it is crucial that we focus on that initial college to career transition and think about all the steps that it takes because we set people up for a lifetime of success when we do that, right.

Drumm: And for those of us who remember graduating from college and, having to look for a job, et cetera, et cetera, we forget the challenges that most folks had in finding that first job. We always say, oh yeah, college prepared us for the job market, et cetera but are we looking at that through rose colored glasses

Kevin Grubb: I would say maybe likely. Unfortunately we have, I think all of us as humans have a propensity to romanticize the past, and that’s not a bad thing for us to make sense of the world that way. But in this case, it is a very different market for an entering, college student to get to that first job, that good first job.

 The process for this is beginning earlier and earlier. It is starting in the first year or second year at the latest in many cases. It used to be very nice to have an internship and now it is absolutely essential, and in many cases, having more than one is a huge advantage or expected for you.

So the ways that students have to engage in this to land these jobs is significant. And the pipelines from the employers of all kinds are starting earlier in terms of engaging students. So the competition for those roles and the ways that students feel the pressure to land in those kinds of jobs, the ones that really will break a generational wealth barrier or change the sort of trajectory lifelong, there’s a lot of times where it feels, and is real that pressure to begin and that pressure to always be moving is present.

So I think we talked about this related to that, Drumm, I think a lot of this conversation also centers back to being, and why I really feel like the work that we’re doing in the career space, we have to be thinking a little bit about the well being element of this, otherwise, we’re missing a huge component.

Drumm: I fully agree with what you’re saying there so let’s walk through what Villanova is doing to make sure that you’ve got career ready graduates when they graduate

Kevin Grubb: So it’s, it starts at the beginning, right at the beginning, there’s one thing that we do that I really enjoy and love about what we get to do at Villanova. Right before they actually started orientation, all of our, entering undergraduate students take an assessment called the Clifton Strengths Assessment. Maybe people might remember it as Strengths Finder or Strengths Finder 2. 0. , and what that assessment does is helps them understand what’s really positive and great about them. And we use that as a foundation to continue their education and development as people, and it also helps them think about themselves in terms of their employment, think about what they might be good at, how they might maximize the things that they’re great at. So that is a right out of the gate thing that every student gets involved in at orientation, new student orientation.

Drumm: Wait a minute you’re you’re telling me that you’re training them on life skills right off the

Kevin Grubb: Absolutely. Absolutely. We’re teaching them mindset skills about strengths based mindsets and thinking about themselves in that positive light right out of the gate. So we are engaging in those conversations early on and that is a platform on which we help them think about how they can be best academically, how they can be best in their social circles and with roommates, how they will live in a way that’s going to feel aligned to who they are. So it really helps set the foundation for how students are going to be living their college life. And then, thinking about what it might look like after and around it and beyond it. So that is right out of the gate at orientation.

Drumm: So with that have you got some specific research, that tells you that this is impacting them positively.

Kevin Grubb: Absolutely. We’ve studied the impact of this program. We’ve been doing this one for about six years and the students who engage in the programming that we develop around this strengths based programming, they continue to report that they understand their strengths much better than not. They continue to report that their overall sense of wellbeing is improving because they understand how they maybe uniquely show up and what that can do for them in their academic work, group work, teamwork. Many of them talk about it in interviews for student leadership opportunities, student employment, internships and jobs. 

Many of them come back and tell us my employer uses this at my internship. So I was able to get right into the conversation and talk about. You know what I contribute and how I think. So we absolutely see there’s evidence of that in our survey returns and in our conversations with students, how it helps transform their thinking.

Drumm: What about graduates? What are they saying about it?

Kevin Grubb: Graduates, tell us a lot that it’s a great first way for them to have conversations with people to talk about work style, work preference, to understand difference. That’s another big return that we see in some of our surveys that it, that students feel like when they engage with this, it helps them understand that people might approach the world differently than them, and that actually could be a benefit, if we’re both able to be in a position of who we are and how we approach things, and if we can appreciate those different approaches, that helps. So it gives them some language and a way to talk about work style, work preference that can smooth out those first kind of interactions and teams.

Drumm: Wow, that’s really neat. And I know that you’re very unique, there aren’t a whole lot of schools out there that are doing this. So you get them started right off the bat. What else happens?

Kevin Grubb: So then in their curriculum, there are a variety of things that we do to ensure they have some of the skills that they’ll need to be effective in career decision making and specifically in job seeking. So we take them through assessments to think about themselves in their careers. This may happen at different stages for different students, right?

You might imagine an assessment for a nursing student is very different than an assessment for a philosophy student about what I might want to do. So it takes different stages of formality, right? That, that we walk through. There’s times when we introduce them. We make sure all students are introduced to the resources of the career center and the professional development offices that exist within each college of the university. So they are fully aware of what is offered to them. 

 

That way they know that it exists, but they know more beyond just that it exists. They also know what they can do, how they can use the services, what services there are, and in some ways start to test those things. Across most of our students, by the end of sophomore year, they are already engaged in having done a practice interview, written a resume, done a networking event, come to a career fair, any one of those things. We are actually embedding that into the curricular experience.

So there are for credit courses that students are taking. Not the number four, F O R, four credit courses that students are taking, where they are learning these job search skills and the skills of networking and career decision making. So this is just embedded, as part of the experience. All of these things in different stages, depending on the college and the student’s journey, they’re all embedded. So they’re not missing, these experiences, because they’re getting a chance to be exposed to them right away.

Drumm: Give me an example of how a faculty member pulls some of these skills into their courses.

Kevin Grubb: That’s a good question. Depending on the course, there are opportunities where faculty members are actually taking the NACE Career Readiness Competencies, and they are identifying on their syllabi, here are the career readiness competencies that we’re going to cover in this course. They may also be taking our university learning goals, which are similar to competencies and skills for success, and actually listing those on their syllabi as well.

So it makes it clear what sorts of skills they’re learning in the course that may be relevant to their professional or personal life. The faculty also frequently invite the career center and the professional development teams into their courses to teach some of these skills with students in line with the subject matter that they’re teaching that course on, and in many cases, the courses, the four credit F. O. R. Credit courses are actually being taught with some of the staff from the career and professional development offices, as adjuncts. 

So we ourselves are teaching these courses to students so that they are hearing it right from us, and we’re opening up our computers and showing them all the resources that are digital and available, and we’re grading assignments like reflections on an informational interview, and we’re reviewing resumes and cover letters. All those things are happening with some of our team as adjunct faculty.

Drumm: So not only are you doing the credential within a major, but you’re also doing life skills and skill base instruction to be able to have almost a parallel track for a graduate.

Kevin Grubb: Yes, those things are happening together. A next frontier for us that we are starting now. So I hope in future years when we’re back together on this podcast, I’ll tell you more about it, but we are starting now on that note of life skills and practical skills. 

We’re in a pilot right now of a larger scale financial wellness initiative so that we would be able to provide more education, more systemically to students on things like budgeting and saving and credit cards and having an apartment and, maybe even being philanthropic, since service and service to the community is very important to Villanova. So helping them learn some of those life skills that are also going to impact their career, which are going to impact their life and all the way around.

Drumm: And right now, so many students are having to take out student loans. .

Kevin Grubb: Sure.

Drumm: And that whole finance piece, I would assume is critical for them understanding the obligations that they’re taking on, et cetera, et cetera.

Kevin Grubb: Absolutely. And this financial wellness initiative that we’ve started is in lockstep with our financial assistance office. They are part of our advisory committee to do this work so that altogether we can be having a holistic conversation about financial wellness and financial health for students starting while they’re in school, but also thinking about some of the things they’ll want to know and need to know for when they finish.

Drumm: Equate this back to my own undergraduate degree, which was a long time ago, I’ll admit that. , And of course I tell people I didn’t have an education, I had technical training. I was a physics major from the Naval Academy. So when I think about my major, I had physics courses and I probably had, oh, I would say 60 credit hours of physics courses.

Naval science. I probably had 60 or 70 credit hours. And then we also had the, physical education. We also had what we used to call the bull courses, which were the liberal arts courses, political science, et cetera, et cetera. With the folks there at Villanova going through your program, is there a whole separate course that’s done this, are they embedded into the courses or both? Or neither?

Kevin Grubb: Both. So in some cases some of these things I’m talking about are their own separate course. And in some cases it’s embedded into courses that faculty are teaching. So these life skills and these corresponding things around career, it may be that we are always a part of a course, and always teaching workshops and sessions as part of that course, or there is a standalone separate course that is about career and professional development.

So it depends on the curricular requirements of that program, or that college, but it is always part of, the student experience somehow.

Drumm: That’s really interesting because when i stop and think about some of the courses I took, we really didn’t have much in the way of how to network, or personal qualification standards, or anything else like that and to have those embedded into the course to me seems it seems brilliant, but now it’s necessary because we’re asking so much more of graduates.

Kevin Grubb: We are, and they have entered, and are entering a universe where, again, the process to land that first job is not simple. Recruiting has become much more complicated than potentially when people might have thought about their own experience, getting that first job out of school. We have a lot more technology involved in it now than we did before. I often speak with alumni and parents and they’ll tell me like, Oh, I remember coming here and dropping my resume in a bin, a physical bin, a physical paper, and it went to somebody. 

And, that is a more simple, compared to the, not that it was less difficult, but it was, it’s that simpler than the complexity of thinking about how to apply to a job, how to apply to multiple jobs, how to search and find jobs when they’re all over the internet, when things like applicant tracking systems are at play. When because technology allows people to apply to so many jobs when you have to now stand out among a pack of people that might be even taller and higher because there’s more applicants to jobs than people have ever had before because we have technology to do it.

There’s a lot that’s complex, and it is very important that we don’t let this stuff that we’re teaching and talking about be volitional, that we don’t let it be “if” I go find it, it will happen, because that does leave it to chance. And that chance isn’t so easy when there’s many things to consider.

Drumm: Yeah, so right. You brought up an interesting point about technology, and you guys are doing something that’s pretty cutting edge right now. You’re talking about generative AI and its impact on the college to job trajectory. Tell the listeners a little bit about what’s going on with that, because I’m fascinated.

Kevin Grubb: Yeah I’ll caveat that we are learning and testing along with the whole world right now as generative AI continues to evolve itself and get smarter all the time. But we are embracing using generative AI responsibly and effectively and ethically with students, but particularly to help them with the job search.

There are many ways to do this. For a long time, we’ve had software that students could use to upload their resumes to, and they would receive AI generated feedback on that resume, which helps a lot in fast tracking things, for students in terms of how they could make their resume stronger.

Of course, if for those that have used any form of generative AI, it’s not always perfect. It’s not always right. You usually need a human to

Drumm: Really?

Kevin Grubb: No, you’re not shocked by that.

Drumm: No, not a bit.

Kevin Grubb: Not at all. So we always pair that or or encourage students to pair that with come and meet with us or talk with us or talk with someone, about that feedback and contextualize it a little bit more, but it does often help the process go a lot faster for students and making sure their resumes get queued up, to something that’s even more polished and ready. We’re also talking with students about how you might use generative AI to help you generate at least the beginning of a cover letter or even how it may help you understand, from the job description qualifications and the duties, what are the key skills and competencies that you should focus on highlighting in your interview? 

Because generative AI can help make sense of that for you. I was actually sitting down with a group of folks in one of our master’s programs, and they asked me questions about how I would recommend they use AI in the job search. And I said, we could have, I think a whole three hour conversation, at least on just this subject. But I said, take a whole bunch of job descriptions of things that you might like, throw them into Chat GPT or whatever you feel comfortable using, and let it surface for you, what are the key themes that you see across all these jobs I’m interested in? 

And then maybe give your resume to it and say, how would you highlight my resume? How would you turn up my resume in a way to match those themes, right? So you’re getting great suggestions based on that analysis of where else could I be looking for jobs? How else could I highlight myself?

There’s so much potential in that to speed up the reflection and discovery. I love being able to dive into that with students.

Drumm: So this is early on, but one of the things that you mentioned to me was the ethical use of AI.

Kevin Grubb: Yes.

Drumm: We all know that there’s all sorts of things that you can do with AI, and a lot of them are not ethical.

Kevin Grubb: Yes.

Drumm: How are you training students on this?

Kevin Grubb: Yeah. It’s important because it’s something that they want. They want to be trained and taught on the ethical use of AI. They are aware that AI can be biased. They’re also aware that AI can, what is called hallucinate, or make things up that aren’t real. So it’s, and that’s one of my favorite things just that we talk about it, hallucinating, I just, I love that term. But it’s true, I’ve seen it happen myself. We’re talking with them about that in real time as we show them, okay, let’s put this thing in, into a generative AI system and see what comes up. 

And as we find things that aren’t right, or, Hey, did you notice it said this? That’s something we need to be careful about because that might not actually be true or that might come from something else, and where do you think something like that might come from? So giving them that time to dialogue about it, and debate about it as we’re working through it with them, that’s really important.

Another skill that we’re teaching them, to help them think about using it ethically and effectively is prompt engineering, which is one of the most important things about generative AI, I think to start with, is teaching people how to write effective prompts, and then following up those prompts, right?

So to even ask Chat GPT or any AI, you just wrote that, what do you think is biased in that? Asking it right back, and challenging it a little bit to think differently with you. So that whole idea of prompt engineering, may help people think about and get more clarity on where is the bias, where’s the hallucination, what do I need to be looking for? Again, that dialogic component, us talking with the students directly as we see it live. That helps, people to see it in action.

Drumm: Are you doing anything with faculty on the use of AI?

Kevin Grubb: There are a lot of faculty at Villanova who are quite expert in AI and have been using it for a while. One thing that we’re hoping to do, we have not started yet, but is to have some conversations and even more dialogue with faculty who are quite expert at this to help us create some content that could be modular for students to learn directly from them.

Of course the university is talking a lot with faculty about effective and ethical use in the classroom and proper attribution of content in writing and in assignments. So there are a strong set of guidance that the university is helping offer faculty, so that faculty can be teaching students about using AI in any of their materials or courses.

 Again, the integrity of “are you going to say, I wrote this, or are you going to say AI wrote this”, and what does that look like? Cause that certainly can get people into some trouble if we don’t have some good guidance around this. So lots of things going on with the faculty and AI, of course, too.

Drumm: Yeah, that’s really good to hear. I know there’s a number of institutions out there who are starting to embrace AI. I’ve heard of one, Miami Dade College, who embraced it back three or four years ago and they are really leading the way and a lot of the trainings and others. And then there’s a lot of other Institutions who have just you know said “nope, get away, we don’t want to do anything with it” and I feel in some ways feel sorry for their students because they’re not going to be prepared for the world that they’re going into.

Kevin Grubb: It’s an important thing for us to acknowledge that, we may have our own hesitations and fears about generative AI, and I think aren’t unfounded. I think there’s some understanding of the fear. It is reaL. And I think we have to understand that the world is changing. There are employers who have already built, who are not AI companies, they’ve already built their own internal AI systems to help their employees use. So for us to not be embracing this for students might put them, to your point, at a disadvantage against others who are comfortable with this and familiar with this, if they enter an employer who is already starting their journey with this. So it’s something we have to be mindful of, even if our discomfort and fear is real, what does it do to our students to not be using it and showing them how.

Drumm: Very much so. Well Kevin, this has been a fabulous conversation, I’m, really impressed with what you guys are doing at Villanova and embedding all of this job readiness into your curriculum to be commended for that.

Kevin Grubb: Oh, thank you. It’s a, it’s very much a team effort. We have incredibly committed staff and faculty at the university and leadership at the university, especially, who understands the importance and investment that people make when they pay the tuition at Villanova and they know that this matters. So we’re blessed to have a community of people who care.

Drumm: Yeah, that, that is fabulous. 

Three takeaways for presidents and boards.

Kevin Grubb: One is way more people are using generative AI than any of us probably know or would like to admit. Let’s start getting our arms around that much more quickly for the benefit of our communities, particularly our students. That’s the first. 

The second take away, I’d say, is there’s incredible benefit to embedding career and professional development into the student experience, not letting it be a volitional voluntary thing, especially for students who come from backgrounds where this might not be as common. This might not be something that’s expected. So when we’re thinking about supporting students who come from backgrounds that maybe they’re first generation in their family go to college, maybe they, are working jobs to support their family back home to make sure this is part of the experience and not something that to find extra is going to really especially benefit them. So that’s a big one. Embedding it is really important.

And the third is that this is really a well being issue. Students are stressed about this, they’re very stressed about this. They might not be talking about it all the time, but it’s an underlying stress and concern for them to realize the benefit of this education, this gift that they’ve been given, and they know how much it’s costing to be there. It is a well being issue and it can help, very much, students feel a little less stressed about the future if we’re helping prepare them for it all along the way.

Drumm: Yeah, those are great takeaways. Thank you. What’s next for you? What’s next for Villanova?

Kevin Grubb: I think the next steps for us are really continuing the journeys we’ve started, but specifically what you highlighted at the beginning is thinking about some of those practical skills and life skills that are really important across students, career journeys. That’s a big element of the strategic plan for the university. So as we continue refining the way that we help students get through that college to career transition, it’s also then how do we help them feel supported stood up after, right? They’re have a strong platform for success all the way around their life holistically. So I’m excited to embark on that and stay tuned because we’ll have a lot to be sharing about it.

Drumm: Look forward to having you back next year. I’m especially excited about how you’ve embedded these skills based, lifelong learning, into courses and i mean if everybody was doing that we certainly wouldn’t have this perception at higher ed isn’t worth the money.

Kevin Grubb: I agree. And I hope we all do figure that out because it’s higher education is an important part of our society and culture. We need it. We need it to help our people become successful, and we need it to have our societies be successful. So it’s a both/ and, that we really need it for.

Drumm: I fully agree. Kevin thank you so much.

Kevin Grubb: Thank you so much, Drumm.

 

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