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Students Talk Jobs, Other Issues at Coffee & Conversation

With worries about stepping into a tough job market, two dozen Old Dominion University students gathered Wednesday, Feb. 25, for some informal advice, part of Coffee & Conversation, a series of monthly chats at the University Village Starbucks.

This month's chat was on the subject on many students' minds: What do I do when I get out of school?

Tom Wunderlich, ODU's assistant dean for career management, didn't sugar-coat the economic news when leading the talk. But he said there are things that job hunters in this area need to keep in mind.

"This is my third recession in doing this job," Wunderlich noted wryly.

"The thing that has been demonstrated is that economically, things don't go down as far in Hampton Roads, and they don't go down as fast. But that means the area is also a little slower to recover than other regions."

Taking that into account, Wunderlich said students need to plan a longer lead time when looking for work, and also be prepared to look for positions in areas they hadn't previously considered.

"If you're an engineer, remember: Sentara's a health company, but they hire engineers. The school divisions hire engineers. Did you know the largest employer in every community in Hampton Roads is the school division? And it's not just teachers, it's administrators, support staff."

After a few minutes, the students started a free flow of conversation by asking questions that could help them in their job search. How do you get experience if the position you need requires it? What are the most stable career fields? What kind of jobs are out there for art majors?

One thing that Wunderlich stressed: Just because you think a company or organization isn't hiring, doesn't mean you shouldn't check for yourself.

"Your friend didn't get hired? Well maybe you have a different skill set than your friend. Companies are hiring. You'll never know unless you find out."

Wunderlich stressed that companies are hiring, pointing out that almost 100 employers are signed up for the ODU Spring Career Fair on Wednesday, March 18, at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

This year's career fair has been broadened. Wunderlich said immediate family members of ODU students - as well as the immediate family members of faculty, staff and alumni - are also allowed to register, a reflection of the current, troubled state of the economy.

Genevieve Molina, a sophomore psychology major from Clifton, N.J., was happy Wednesday night's session was held.

"I think it's a really good idea," she said. "This campus has really grown a lot, and it's nice that they do these things to help build a sense of community."

Sophomore music business major Zachary Hudgins of Mathews County said it's also an opportunity to meet people on campus and get involved. "Plus, I love coffee," he said.

Don Stansberry, ODU's associate dean of students, said Coffee & Conversation was created to provoke a discussion about current events that matter to students. The first of the monthly sessions was held the week after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, so the discussion was about politics.

"There's no set agenda. It depends on what's happening around campus," Stansberry said.

Dean of Students Geneva Walker-Johnson related a story from January's Coffee & Conversation as an example of what Student Affairs wants to happen.

"The night we did our first one, it was pouring rain, so we only had eight or 10 students," Walker-Johnson said. "But we had a good conversation, and a young man asked if he could join us.

"After we were done, he thanked us. He said he wasn't even a student, but he was glad there was this sense of community developing.

"That's exactly what we want to accomplish with Coffee & Conversation."

This article was posted on: February 26, 2009

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