Emilie Rusch

Career Center prepares Mines graduates, students to enter workforce during global pandemic

“My biggest piece of advice for students is to be proactive and not wait,” Career Center Director Wendy Winter-Searcy said.
Photo illustration of Career Center on Zoom

Spring semester may be over, but the Mines Career Center isn’t taking a break from its work assisting students and recent graduates navigating employment hurdles put up by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Far from it: The Career Center continues to offer a full slate of virtual services, including remote advising via Zoom and phone and expanded hours for its new “Live Chat with an Advisor” function, where students can get their resumes reviewed, tips on virtual job searching or other answers to quick career-related questions.

“Conversations with the Career Center,” a series of professional development sessions that launched this spring, will continue over the summer as well, focusing on topics specifically related to job searching in the era of COVID, whether that’s working remotely or advice from alumni who also graduated during a challenging economy. Last week, the Career Center hosted Graduate Student Week for students who may be considering continuing on to advanced education, an option considered more often when the job market is difficult.

The demand for career advising has slowed due to the pandemic – in line with a trend of lower student engagement nationwide – concerning staff of the Career Center at Mines since students may be missing opportunities available to them, director Wendy Winter-Searcy said.

“We understand that students may be preoccupied with life issues and academics during this time of upheaval – we will be available when they are ready to engage,” Winter-Searcy said. “This has been a rapidly evolving situation since we went to virtual university mode in late March. Hiring actions with employers have been mixed. We had more job postings in April than we had last April, but on the other hand, about 70 companies have rescinded internships. It’s unsettled.”

At least 165 Mines students had reported having summer internship offers rescinded as of May 14, according to Career Center data. Eight students had full-time job offers rescinded, although Winter-Searcy said the actual numbers could be higher since they rely on students to self-report the information.

Earlier this spring, a survey of 500 Mines students showed that 58 percent of accepted summer internships were moving forward while 13 percent had already been canceled. That left 29 percent unsure whether their summer internship plans would happen.

Over the course of their undergraduate careers, about 75 percent of Mines students complete at least one summer internship.

“Some of the internships are moving to remote work and others are being pushed to a later start date,” Winter-Searcy said. “The employers are doing what they can to still provide a quality experience for students in a safe environment.”

Lauren Miller, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in geology and geological engineering, was supposed to start an internship this summer that would lead to a full-time position in the oil and gas industry. Due to COVID, her start date has been delayed until mid-September.

“I started looking for field opportunities for the summer as a way to stay busy and on top of my geology skills,” Miller said. “With the help of my department, I will be flying out for field exploration work in the greater Scandinavia region when the travel ban lifts with EMX Royalty.”

That is right in line with the advice the Career Center is giving to Miller’s fellow graduates and students who have seen their plans change.

“In a sentence, we’re encouraging job and internship seekers to be proactive, be flexible and be open,” Winter-Searcy said.

One factor still working in Orediggers’ favor: Mines continues to have strong employer partners who value the education that Mines provides, she said. The Career Center has already reached out to many of them, offering to help and asking for updates, too.

“Our goal before any of this happened was to diversify our employer partners,” Winter-Searcy said. “While some of our traditional partners have been harder hit, some of the industries that we weren’t working with as closely in years past are those that are still growing, like biosciences, aerospace and software development.”

Thinking outside the box when it comes to industries and opportunities is particularly important in times like these, she said.

One mechanical engineering student, for example, was able to secure a new internship with an aluminum manufacturer in Colorado – with help from the Career Center – after losing her already-accepted internship in the oil and gas industry due to current market conditions. She recounted her experience in a recent article from Bloomberg.

“A lot of the advice we’re giving is thinking about how to make the most of your summer – whether it’s another internship or taking some extra classes. The main thing is to find something that will help you with your professional development so at the end of the summer, at the end of your education, you’ll be able to talk about how you gained professional skills, even in the absence of the internship. It could be learning a new skill on your own or taking a class that’s in an interest area outside your major or volunteering,” Winter-Searcy said.

So, how is the Career Center planning to spend its summer? Being proactive, of course, working closely with May graduates to ensure they all get the individual resources and career services they need, whether it’s discipline-specific programming, virtual workshops or someone to bounce ideas off.

“My biggest piece of advice for students is to be proactive and not wait,” Winter-Searcy said. “That’s the biggest thing that concerns me. They hear all the bad news and they don’t think there’s anything for them – but there are opportunities out there, if they have persistence and an open mind.”

Emilie Rusch

Emilie Rusch

Director of Communications
About Mines
Colorado School of Mines is a public research university focused on science and engineering, where students and faculty together address the great challenges society faces today - particularly those related to the Earth, energy and the environment.