Sue Brien has two mannequins in her office.
To understand why, you have to understand Brien.
She’s a veteran career counselor. At High Point University, she sees many students. And some students she sees want guidance.
They visit Brien because she’s the associate director of employer relations for the Office of Career and Professional Development. But really, she’s the go-to person who helps students understand an employer’s needs.
So, she has two mannequins in her office — one male, one female. Both are dressed in suits, business-office blue, to show students what they need to wear to any interview.
Students come to prepare for their future. Brien has many ideas. She talks quickly. Students listen. They ask questions. Brien answers, her words tumbling together like waves on a beach.
She doesn’t “mollycoddle” her students because she wants them to be ready for the real world.
They will be.
Brien and her colleagues have nearly 60 years of experience in navigating the world of work and helping hundreds of college students land the internships and jobs they want – and need.
They teach students how to market their differences and show their relevance to employers and graduate schools in ways that are professional, distinguished and ever so subtle.
Students today need that edge. The world they live in is becoming more competitive with each passing day. So, Brien helps. As do so many others.
Excellence = Relevance
Research shows 95 percent of HPU’s 2015 graduates either gained employment or continued to graduate school within six months after graduating.
Why? Planned happenstance.
It’s a phrase Brien and her colleagues use often. They implore students to take risks and be flexible, persistent and optimistic. That, they say, will help students seize the opportunities they create for themselves.
They make sure students follow what they call the Four-Year Action Plan, a step-by-step road map for every year at HPU.
Bridget Holcombe, the office’s director, has another name for it: The Parental Nagging Document.
“I know what the parents are going through because I’m a parent as well,” said Holcombe, a mother to three grown children. “So I tell them, ‘Put this on your refrigerator so that you can partner with us.’
“I also tell parents that students who engage ‘early and often’ in the career development process end up having the most successful outcomes after graduation. The entire university is committed to this — helping students become who they want to be.”
That is the mantra of President Nido R. Qubein. He wants them to be extraordinary. He uses that word often. But he emphasizes the journey is not easy. There is, as he says, “no elevator for success.”
“You must travel up the stairway,” he tells students. “Millions of people can do what you do. Think. How are you different?”
Overcoming Confusion and Fear
The office’s career advisors help students answer that question as they navigate together one of the most exhilarating — and fearful — times of a student’s life.
The advisors help students talk the language of differentiation because they show them how everything — from interning to volunteering to doing research to steering a campus organization — separates them from their peers worldwide.
Thus, students learn how they can leverage their life on campus toward what they ultimately want after graduation: beginning their career or graduate school journey.
In seminar after seminar, Dr. Qubein has told them how the world’s global economy has made the competition for internships and jobs fierce.
So, Holcombe and her team go from their offices to everywhere on a 410-acre campus to help students in need.
Their work, along with HPU’s powerful network of alumni and parents, has helped the university make inroads with many companies and graduate schools.
Almost every step of the way, Holcombe and her team counsel and advise students. They’re the job catcher, fashion advisor, body-language expert, etiquette trainer, linguist and technologist.
Or they simply help students take that first step toward adulthood.
Elizabeth Walker is a career advisor. She remembers.
Walker is 27, a North Carolina native not that far removed from the angst students like Amanda Berger feel. Walker remembers the fear of the unknown from her undergrad days.
When she was a freshman, Berger came to a workshop in Phillips Hall because she wanted to get started on her LinkedIn profile. But before she typed her first sentence, she struggled to come up with a summary of her talents.
She leaned forward, hands in her lap, shoulders hunched. She started cracking her knuckles.
“I’m bad about starting this,” she said while holding her breath.
“No worries,” Walker responded. “That’s why I’m here.”
Berger listened. Walker gave her tips on how to write an effective LinkedIn profile. After 20 minutes of going over a few sentences, Walker scheduled an hour-long office appointment to help Berger polish her LinkedIn profile and work on her resume.
Where the Journey Begins
HPU’s career advisors know all their names.
Like Basil Lucas, a student from Charleston, South Carolina. Career advisor Kellie McLeod helps guide Lucas from confusion to clarity.
Through the results from his Myers-Briggs assessment, an inventory of personality preferences, she shows Lucas how to map a future.
“She’s the guide,” Lucas said. “Like the bumpers in a bowling alley.”
Then there is Connor Mathues, a 2015 business graduate from New Jersey.
Before he graduated in May, he had five internships with wealth management and financial firms and studied abroad in Australia.
Brien put him in contact with New Wealth Advisors, an independent private wealth management firm she knew outside Boston. After he graduated, she called to check in.
When she got him on the phone, she raised her arms, her fists clenched. Mathues told her he had accepted a services associate position with New Wealth.
“I did it,” Mathues told Brien.
“Yes, you did!” Brien responded.
Brien and her colleagues see dozens of students like Lucas and Mathues, sometimes as much as once a week for months at a time. They help with everything — down to the correct hue of an interview suit.
Meanwhile, Brien crafts partnerships with companies and businesses, even some HPU parents who run companies and businesses, and arranges time for them to come to campus and interview students.
And it all takes place in Cottrell Hall — the newest facility on campus.
Where the Journey Continues
Home of the Flanagan Center for Student Success, Cottrell Hall is a $22 million, two-story building behind the R.G. Wanek Center with a dome painted dew-point green.
The building was funded entirely by donations from HPU families who, as Dr. Qubein gratefully acknowledges, believed in HPU’s mission: empowering students with an entrepreneurial mindset.
The building covers 43,000 square feet. Its walls are all glass, and the space inside feels as roomy as an auditorium. A huge metallic globe sits out front, and inside are three atriums and the fuselage of an airplane.
But that’s not what makes this building special.
Cottrell Hall, which opened in August, is a hub of activity for students seeking career preparation and skill diversification. It houses eight university programs that help students make their dreams possible. That includes the Office of Career and Professional Development.
Brien and her colleagues have one professional home behind a wall of windows and glass at every turn.
In a symbolic sense, the glass conveys how HPU wants students to see their future.
Their world is becoming smaller, and like looking through one big window, students need to realize barriers are transparent and no obstacle can hold them back.
But they have to connect, collaborate and be creative in preparing for how the world is going to be. And their world is wide open, full of opportunities. So, embrace change, be innovative and challenge tradition.
That’s what the glass is all about. That’s what Cottrell Hall is all about.
It’s one of dozens of features on campus that ensures success as students start their own business, commence their career or continue to graduate school.
Brien and her colleagues are there to help students on their journey. That’s where it begins.