KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The future looks bright for Western Michigan University students. A recent report shows 93% of alumni who graduated between August 2020 and June 2021 have jobs or are continuing their education. And of those employed full time, 88% are in jobs they love related to their degree.
"I was fortunate enough to be a part of the paper engineering program, where there were many internship and co-op opportunities," says Emily Schulte, who earned a degree in paper and pulp engineering in 2020. She secured a full-time job at Kimberly Clark, one of three companies she interned with during her time at Western. "(The internships) were key in the development of my professional and technical skills. They certainly helped set me above the rest when it came to securing a job, and the networking opportunities I had during my experiences were invaluable."
"I feel like the (College of Aviation's) programs have given me everything I need to be successful going into my first real career," adds Dezmond Stover, who graduated in December 2020 with a degree in aviation management and operations and became an operations officer at Capital Region International Airport in Lansing just two months later. "I owe a lot to Western and to the professors who have taught me different life lessons—it's not just about what we learned in class."
The Post-Graduation Activity Survey is conducted annually and reported to the National Association of Colleges and Employers as a way to measure career outcomes for recent college graduates. Over the past five years, more than 90% of Western alumni have reported being actively engaged in work or advancing their degrees soon after their graduation.
"I think it shows we really do what we say we do, which is integrate career from day one and get students to think seriously about what those possibilities are, get them meaningful experiences along the way so they can try things out," says Dr. Edwin Martini, vice provost for teaching and learning and dean of Merze Tate College. "Sometimes they find something that early on is not a good fit, but we get them adjusted. We help them think about a new path so that by the time they do walk across the stage and go out into the world, they've got a good plan in front of them."
Launched in fall 2020 as University College, the newly named Merze Tate College was created to "centralize resources, embrace a more holistic approach to student success and scale it up in a way that ensures equitable access for all WMU students," Martini says. The college is an alliance of units and programs such as Career and Student Employment Services, WMU Signature—a program to help students explore their purpose and complete a resume-building culminating experience—and Student Success Services.
A large contributor to success—and something that sets Western apart from larger schools—is the deep connections alumni report forming with faculty and staff who opened the door to meaningful experiences and networking opportunities. Of the alumni who completed the most recent survey, 98% report having at least one instructor who made them excited about learning, and nine in 10 students felt their instructors cared about them as a person.
"These results show internships matter. Mentoring matters. Engaged learning matters too," says Dr. Ewa Urban, director of assessment and effectiveness in Merze Tate College. "We saw significant gains for students who had caring professors in terms of being prepared for their profession and satisfaction in post-graduation jobs."
"I received a lot of encouragement from professors during undergrad. It was super important to establish those relationships early on," adds Marquin Evans, who earned his master's degree in applied behavior analysis in 2020 and now works as membership development coordinator at the Association for Behavior Analysis International. "These relationships served me all throughout graduate school. I had a strong network that I relied on, and I am extremely thankful for that."
According to the report, students who had a mentor were twice as likely to be satisfied with their post-graduation job and one-and-a-half times more likely to have a job related to their degree. Experiential learning also played a large role with 91% of Broncos reporting completing an internship, co-op, practicum, field experience or participation in an on-campus job or Registered Student Organization.
"I worked as a student ambassador and tele-counselor for the admissions office, which helped me develop presentation, facilitation and leadership skills. I had fantastic professors, advisors and mentors at WMU during my undergraduate and graduate years," says three-time Western graduate Charles Golden, who most recently earned his master's degree in organizational change leadership in 2021.
"The internship experience I had really impacted the choice of my career path. I completed my internship at Every Woman’s Place. I learned so many new skills, and I was able to participate in many roles," adds A’miya Ezell-Taylor, who was hired to work full time at Every Woman's Place (EWP) after she graduated with a degree in health care services and sciences in 2020. EWP offers comprehensive services to individuals who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking in Muskegon, Michigan.
Acknowledging the transformative impact of practical experience both in networking and finding the right career path, Western is taking new steps to break down barriers that keep all students from completing internships. Through the historic Empowering Futures Gift, the University is dedicating resources to subsidize internships for 100 students every year beginning in the 2022-23 academic year.
"We really want to get to the point where an internship is available for any student who wants one and to ensure that those are really meaningful experiences as well," Martini says. "Our goal is to work with students and be more proactive to make sure that we are working to close the equity gaps in things like internships and externships and WMU Signature as well."
The full Post-Graduation Activity Report is available online.
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