Wisconsin Employers Are Partners in Career Development for UW-Madison Students

As the largest of UW-Madison’s schools and colleges, the College of Letters & Science (L&S) is an educational powerhouse, and much more. The L&S degree is a launchpad for students’ careers, plus a diverse pool of exceptional talent for employers in the state and around the country. Through study of 65 majors in the natural, mathematical, and physical sciences; computer, data, and information sciences; social sciences; and arts and humanities, students gain communication skills, creative thinking and leadership qualities that prepare students to be competitive and thrive in countless industries.

But how can employers—especially small companies with limited recruiting resources—know where to begin making recruitment connections with Badger students in a college of 16,000 undergraduates and so many areas of study? 

This presents a particular challenge for Aldevron, a small biotech company in Wisconsin, which benefits from less name recognition among students than some of the larger biotechs in the US—their competitors for talent out of college. Aldevron is hiring just about non-stop, and Senior Executive Assistant Diana Pastrana partners with the HR team to help hire and on-board new staff.  “We’re a quickly growing company, so we look for recruits with a growth mindset,” she explains.

When Pastrana recruits for internships and entry-level positions, she has a dedicated partner on campus—SuccessWorks, the center for personal & professional development just for Letters & Science students. “The L&S education is about preparing our students to be successful leaders and engaged citizens after they graduate,” says Eric Wilcots, Dean of the College of Letters & Science. “SuccessWorks is our linchpin to connect students to employers and enhance our engagement with industry.

 Rebekah Pryor Paré, Associate Dean and Executive Director of SuccessWorks
Rebekah Pryor Paré, Associate Dean and Executive Director of SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science

For Rebekah Pryor Paré, Associate Dean and Executive Director of SuccessWorks, that amounts to challenging the status quo of what it means to recruit on a college campus. “As a recruiter, you can’t just look at the entire 16,000-strong L&S student body and use the same recruitment approach for every student, or every position,” Paré says. “Our Internships & Employer Services Team are consultants, advising employers on the right strategies for fulfilling their talent needs.”

Employer partnerships with SuccessWorks go far beyond recruiting alone, according to Paré. “Employers are actively shaping and updating the ways we help our students explore careers and succeed on their chosen career paths.” Working hand-in-hand with employers, SuccessWorks creates innovative opportunities for employers and students to connect for networking and skills-building programs. “This work is re-shaping the ways our students think about their careers, helping them discover what’s possible with their L&S degree and then take concrete steps to turn their plans into reality,” says Paré.

Put simply, “SuccessWorks is kind of the glue between the students and our organization,” according to Diana Pastrana. “SuccessWorks is a trusted resource, both for students and for Aldevron. It’s nice to have that so we can meet and engage students, keep them in Wisconsin after graduation, and fill our positions with talented, smart students and alumni.”

Fostering Meaningful Connections Between Employers and Students

One hallmark of this collaboration has been SuccessWorks “Connector” events, featuring employers from specific industries hosting students for low-stakes, casual conversations about career possibilities, company culture, and what students can do to make themselves great candidates. 

As a member of Aldevron’s recruitment team, Diana Pastrana attended a BioHealth Connector at UW-Madison’s Memorial Union in February, 2020. “We get a lot of value from a recruiting standpoint, and these events help us raise our brand awareness with students,” she says. “We meet students one-on-one, hear from them about what they’re interested in, what they want in a career, and what they can offer our company.”

For students, the low-key atmosphere of Connector events takes a lot of the pressure out of the equation. A student at the BioHealth Connector recalled, “This event felt more inclusive than a career fair…Yahara Software asked me about what exactly I want to contribute to the world, and how am I going to use my skills to make that happen. Even if you’re not looking for a job yet, you can come to these events to learn and see what’s possible.”

SuccessWorks has served more than 42,000 unique students since opening in 2017. In addition to fairs and networking events, SuccessWorks hosts “Mock Interviews” where students get practice and employers have opportunities to pitch their positions to their top prospective recruits. Employers often call on their own UW alumni to participate, giving the direct, honest feedback they offer to students an added element of Badger-to-Badger encouragement. 

Students attend a networking event at SuccessWorks, on the third floor of University Book Store

“Every semester we’ve hosted Mock Interviews, at least one of our students has gotten hired for a position in the company they did the practice interview with,” says Rebekah Pryor Paré. “When employers say, ‘I’m here to help you out,’ that resonates with students.” Employers and students get a similar value out of the case studies SuccessWorks hosts and the treks they organize, bringing students to visit—sometimes virtually—the employer workplaces that interest them.

Access to the SuccessWorks employer network is woven into students’ career development experiences in the college. Deseree Dufek (‘22), a Chemistry and Spanish major, first connected with SuccessWorks as an incoming first-year student in 2018, attending a panel of STEM-oriented employers. That started a three-year career development journey for the graduate of Southern Door High School, leading to her current BioAnalytical internship with Covance, a member of the SuccessWorks Employer Partner Program. 

“An employee from Covance was on the STEM panel I attended as a first-year student,” Dufek recalls. “After the panel ended, I spoke with her further about her work with Covance. Two years later, that same person interviewed me when I applied for the BioAnalytical summer internship. I believe my previous experience with her helped with my application process and interview because I could introduce myself having already made that initial connection with her.”

Throughout the process of searching and applying for summer internships, Deseree turned to SuccessWorks Career & Internship Specialist Maureen Muldoon for assistance with her resume and tips for interviews. Drawing on SuccessWorks’ knowledge of the industry and their relationship with Covance, Maureen also helped guide Deseree’s search. “I was looking for an internship that would give me experience on the industrial side of chemistry,” Deseree explains. “At Covance, I found an opportunity to experience first-hand the different kinds of jobs chemists can do.”

Helping Employers Navigate a Changing Labor Market and Hiring Practices

A year ago, as COVID-19 was sending shockwaves through the college labor market, SuccessWorks offered a lifeline to both students and employers. “We drew on our employer relationships to better understand the needs and hiring plans of employers in this new reality, so we were ready to respond,” says SuccessWorks Executive Director Rebekah Pryor Paré. “Our team developed approaches to meet our employers’ needs and offered more than 40 opportunities over the year for students to virtually connect with employers, including traditional career fairs, panels and low-key networking events.” 

Aldevron, the fast-growing biotech company, took full advantage. “During the pandemic, even though students weren’t able to attend in-person events, we worked with SuccessWorks on strategies for continuing to connect with students so they would continue to know what career opportunities are available,” says Diana Pastrana. 

During the 2020-2021 academic year, 168 employers worked with SuccessWorks on hiring and recruitment programs, outside of traditional career fairs. That network is made of employers large and small, including organizations with operations in Wisconsin, like Deloitte, Yahara Software, GE Healthcare, Zywave, Epic, American Family Insurance and Aldevron.

Building on the Successes of Employer Relationships

The partnerships between SuccessWorks and the employers who hire students represents a long-term value proposition. “These connections between students and employers, plus our strategic consulting with companies, has never before been done on this scale at UW-Madison,” Paré says. “We’re continuing to scale up, advancing the career goals of our students while helping employers recruit students with a passion for their work. Our reciprocal relationship with employers makes all the difference.”

For Aldevron’s Diana Pastrana, the SuccessWorks partnership pays off. “We’re looking for recent graduates who will start their careers with us, then continue to grow with us,” she says. “We have people from all over the country who come from different universities, but there’s an eagerness from UW-Madison graduates and an open-mindedness with other people. It’s those Midwest values of work ethic and ability to be flexible that we value so much about UW students.”