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VCU Career Services initiatives open VCU students’ eyes to in-demand careers in public service – VCU News | #schoolsaftey


“If you can hear my voice, raise your hand,” said the man at the front of the classroom. “If you can hear my voice, raise your hand.”

It’s a phrase much more common to hear in a grade school or middle school classroom than in front of a college class. But for the 26 Virginia Commonwealth University students in the 300-level education studies course, it was a great lesson to hear directly from educator Sean McDonald.

“That’s one of those tips or tricks that you can have at your disposal in your classroom when you’re working with students,” said McDonald, a former special education teacher and administrator.

On a recent Tuesday, McDonald joined a VCU School of Education Human Development and Learning class to talk with students about résumé preparation and interviews as they consider careers. As supervisor of recruitment and specialty programs at Prince William County Public Schools, McDonald and his team review résumés and interview candidates for openings among the more than 4,000 teachers the county employs.

“We want students to see where these in-demand roles really are, so that if those roles and gaps in industry align with their interests, it allows them to see natural pathways where they can plug in to these opportunities and really contribute to the future of the workforce in those in-demand areas.”


Danielle Pearles, senior associate director for employer and experiential development in VCU Career Services

As Virginia and the U.S. face workforce shortages in fields such as education and public safety, VCU is connecting students with opportunities where the jobs are.

Danielle Pearles, senior associate director for employer and experiential development in VCU Career Services, and her team study local, state and national workforce trends. They track job opportunities available to VCU students through platforms such as Handshake, where employers posted more than 102,000 positions – including jobs, internships and other experiential learning opportunities – last year alone.

“We stay on top of what the workforce trends look like so that as we are consulting with students and providing them with information and resources to empower them to embark on their job searches and their career decision-making, we’re able to provide them with insights through the tools we have that allow them to identify and see where these gaps are in the industries,” Pearles said. “We want students to see where these in-demand roles really are, so that if those roles and gaps in industry align with their interests, it allows them to see natural pathways where they can plug in to these opportunities and really contribute to the future of the workforce in those in-demand areas.”

What does educating students about these in-demand fields look like? It’s things like McDonald’s visit to the classroom, part of VCU Career Services and the School of Education’s new District Education Series for students.

Not every student in the Human Development and Learning course is an education major – in fact, many are not. But Pearles and her Career Services peers recognize that there are opportunities for students outside of that major to consider careers in education. The District Education Series, for example, allows students to ask questions and speak directly with representatives from school districts across Virginia in the classroom.

“It can be anything from DEI in K-12 education all the way to, ‘You’re considering a career in K-12 teaching and education. What does that look like? What do you need to be prepared for, and how can we support you in your transition from being a student to being a first-time educator?’” Pearles said.

And there are other efforts that Career Services, in coordination with its campus partners, has underway, too. This year, VCU signed on as one of 26 inaugural universities in the Higher Education Coalition as part of the National Partnership for Student Success. And through the Federal Work-Study program, VCU is committed to placing at least 40 current students in PK-12 student support roles each year for the next two years.

The School of Education has also created additional Teacher Pathway Initiatives to encourage individuals, whether current K-12 students, VCU transfer students, career switchers or current education majors, to consider careers in education.

Zainab Hasan, an interdisciplinary studies major, raises a hand to ask a question about building a résumé in a Human Development and Learning class. (Allen Jones, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

“For me, my dream job would be teaching engineering at the grade-school level,” one student told McDonald in the Human Development and Learning class. “I used to be just an engineering major, but as I delved more into what I would be doing after college, that was not as interesting to me, but I still liked the subject matter and I like working with children.”

In public safety, faculty in the L. Douglas Wilder School for Government and Public Affairs frequently invite employers to speak to students, and many regional public safety employers attend VCU’s career fairs and partner with VCU for employer-student engagement opportunities.

Career Services is working with faculty across the university to help them share data with students on which careers are in high demand and “build that culture of curiosity and opportunity and conversation at VCU through career advising and through the curriculum,” said Samara Reynolds, executive director of VCU Career Services.

Efforts like these make a difference across the state. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Virginia has 57 available workers for every 100 open jobs. Virginia’s top industries of employment include business, government, trades and education and health services. Many VCU graduates join the workforce in Virginia: 72% of May 2022 graduates who reported being employed within six months of graduation said they were staying in Virginia.

According to data from May 2022 VCU graduates who responded to the First Destination Survey within six months of graduation, K-12 education was the No. 3 industry in which graduates were employed, and government (federal, state and local) was No. 4. Only health care and higher education ranked higher.

“VCU has an excellent reputation in a number of fields, including health care – both for pre-professional health students who want to go into those fields and for our health sciences students on the VCU Health campus – and with nonprofit organizations and opportunities that focus on helping and serving others,” Reynolds said. She cited fields such as “social justice, government at all levels of public service, education and other spaces of innovation that are at the intersection of ‘How can I help people and make the world a better place while also putting my many transferable skills and individual curiosities to best use in today’s workforce?’”

VCU Career Services continues to find innovative ways to connect employers and students. And Reynolds and Pearles said they repeatedly hear from employers how pleased they are with the VCU students and graduates they employ.

“Anytime we engage with an employer, and they have a VCU student as an intern or a full-time student, they ask us, ‘How can we get more VCU students?’” Reynolds said. “There are workforce demands. There are employer demands. Often our biggest job is connecting students to those opportunities because they are out there, and VCU students are great candidates for them.”