New Career Center Director Helps Students Find Paths in Life
Oct. 8, 2012
Lisa Garza, director of the Career Center, wants students to be aware of everything the center has to offer.
Lisa Garza stumbled onto her career path when she overheard a friend talk about wanting to work with university students in a Student Affairs Department.
“I thought, ‘Is that possible? I love working with college students!’ I decided to pursue that direction,” she said.
Fortunately, the chance conversation resulted in a perfect career fit. Years later and as the new director of the University’s Career Center, Garza aims to help students find their callings with more information and strategy.
The Career Center at UT Dallas specializes in helping students explore career paths through skills assessments and counseling, and then supporting their choices through networking, mock interviews, job postings and career expos.
Garza knows how hard it can be to find one’s niche in life . “What fascinates me is how people got to where they are now, and what they like about it,” she said.
The key, she tells students, is to discover what they are passionate about.
“Think about what you love to do for fun, and see if there’s a field that relates to it,” Garza said. “If you find what you’re passionate about, the money will come—or it won’t matter because you love what you do so much.”
Thanks in part to the Career Center’s support, UT Dallas students enjoy a high success rate for landing jobs after graduation. More than 88 percent of fall 2011 graduates reported employment or continuing education. Those figures compare well with national statistics, including a 2012 Rutgers University study that showed 51 percent of recent college graduates have full-time jobs.
Corporate recruiters often tell Garza that UT Dallas students are in high demand: 16 of the 20 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in DFW, and 15 of the 20 Most Profitable Companies (from Fortune 500 online), recruit UT Dallas students.
Raised in Rochester, N.Y., Garza earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo. She was drawn to service opportunities in student government and worked as a resident assistant. She organized a peer-led health education program.
She crossed the country to take a residence life coordinator position at UT Arlington. While there, she earned her master’s in social work and met her husband-to-be. In 2001, she accepted a job at UT Dallas as coordinator of the new student apartments. In all, she lived on college campuses for 11 years.
“It was fun. The peer advisers were great. I spent three years, got promoted and actually got to move off campus,” Garza said. “But after six months, I realized I missed the interaction with students.”
When she saw an opening in the Career Center, she followed her interests and applied. Garza rose through the ranks and was promoted from internship coordinator to assistant director in 2006 and associate director in 2009. In May 2012, Garza became interim director when Michael Doty resigned.
“Lisa has developed a keen understanding of the opportunities available to our students,” said Dr. Darrelene Rachavong, vice president for Student Affairs. “She’s worked diligently to share her knowledge and convert it into programming and services that will help students as they transition from the classroom to the working world.”
Garza aims to increase awareness among students about what the Career Center can do for them. While students are familiar with the center’s resume critique services, many miss out on networking opportunities that are just as valuable. The “Career Advice and a Slice” program, for instance, lets students pepper employers with questions about specific careers—sort of like speed dating, for jobs.
“We provide that opportunity for them. They have access to industry reps without having to make a cold call to a prospective employer,” Garza said.
Students also can learn about different careers through a job-shadowing program called Explore the WOW! (World of Work), held during spring break week. Participation at UT Dallas has tripled in four years, as students take advantage of following professionals through the course of a work week in fields like accounting, business, nonprofit work, social media/communications, marketing, engineering and computer science.
“Job shadowing is going to help confirm what they think is true, or it will do the opposite, which is just as valuable,” Garza said. “Knowing what you’re getting into and making sure you’ll enjoy it will save you time, money and future heartache.”
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