Q&A with Wesley Thorne, Director of the UCLA Career Center
Wesley Thorne is new to the UCLA family – in fact he’s new to the West Coast. Having worked primarily in the East Coast and Midwest at institutions like Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern University and Wesleyan University, he made the move west to lead one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive career centers. His responsibilities: oversee 39 full-time and 20 part-time employees responsible for career counseling services, employer and campus relations and development, undergraduate and graduate student relations and development, and the publication of the First Destination Survey. After one month into the job, Thorne sat down with us to discuss his impressions and aspirations.
What excited you about coming to UCLA?
Thorne: Many things excited me about this position. First and foremost is the institutional support that the Career Center receives from the rest of the campus. There’s really a vested interest in the organization throughout the campus. I know this because when I flew in for my interview, I met with more than 50 campus partner. As the director, this is a great opportunity to take advantage of such interest and build connections with key stakeholders on and off campus.
What have you noticed are the differences between the UCLA Career Center and Carnegie Mellon or Northwestern’s Career Centers?
Thorne: The biggest differences when moving from a private institution to a public university are the questions around funding. As we think of big ideas, we have to also think creatively about where to secure additional sources of funding. This makes alumni engagement and donor relations all the more important. We want to be able to tell our story so that potential donors know our work and begin to see us as a good investment. In a private school setting, there are less hurdles when it comes to fundraising and how dollars are allocated. The good thing about the public system is there is more oversight over what we do, and therefore, more accountability.
Quite honestly, there has been much more synergy around partnerships and collaborations here at UCLA than I experienced elsewhere. I think it stems from the core values of Student Affairs, where cross-department collaboration is something we’re always talking about at a very high level. Put in practice, collaborating with other departments provides unique and diverse perspectives to help supplement the existing voice that the Career Center offers.
What are some of the challenges facing the Career Center?
Thorne:We need to look at ways of increasing our brand. For a long time career centers operated on the model where it served as a hub for students to come in and receive career counseling, conduct employer research or interview for job opportunities. The new emerging models are all external facing. My vision is to expand our presence and footprint across campus so that we have a stronger presence. We’ve been talking about this a great deal. We will be using some focus groups and meeting with internal stakeholders, like USAC, to discuss how we can improve our brand.
Another big obstacle we face is developing and administering the First Destination Survey. This is the survey that graduating seniors take that gathers data on what they will be doing post-graduation – what type of job, company they’ll be working for, what is their starting salary, will they be attending graduate school, etc.? It’s important from the standpoint that the university wants to do a better job of showing outcomes from the UCLA experience. This also allows us to educate younger students about the practical opportunities that lie ahead of a particular major. In the past, there’s been a fairly low response rate. So I’m tasked with figuring out a way of better engaging with students to increase that response rate.
How can you improve the experience of alumni with the Career Center?
Thorne: I would love to give alumni more access to BruinView [for Alumni]. The fee is a sticking point. Because of our unique funding model, there are certain things we can and can’t do. So I’m going to think of more creative ways to make UCLA’s primary job and internship database much more accessible.
I’m also thinking of creating infrastructure to assist alumni 0-5 years out as well as alumni in later career stages who are looking for a career change. Right now our main offerings focus on job search, career counseling and résumé critique. I’m working with Nick Theodorou in Alumni Affairs [Senior Director of Alumni Career Programs] on developing programing that fits with alumni needs by career stage. For example, we recently had the Alumni Career Forum, mainly geared towards young alumni, and it was a huge success. We also have the upcoming Recruit L.A. Career Expo that targets alumni across a wider range of experiences.
Lastly, I’d like to reach out to the different Alumni Networks and see how we can work together to bring the Career Center’s services out to their regions. Alumni who volunteer for career workshops that benefit students have been really generous with their time, so I would love to see that relationship and those opportunities with alumni to continue to grow.
What are some of your goals for the Career Center?
Thorne: Being so new, I’m still assessing our operations and the current landscape. One of the criticisms of the Career Center from students is that it’s hard to find. Our data also shows that students who engage earlier in their college career with us through internships and other ways, have an easier time finding a job at the time of graduation. So we’re thinking of ways to bring the Career Center out to students - potentially through satellite locations throughout campus where students can gather to discuss their questions, experiences, anxieties, etc. More importantly, students can then start seeing and using each other as career resources. The benefit of having a student body of nearly 40,000 is you’re bound to find someone who can connect you to whatever it is that you need. That’s the power of networking.
Do you have a final message you would like to impart to alumni reading this?
Thorne: First and foremost, it is important to stay connected to us. We would love to partner with any alumnus looking to get involved as a volunteer. We have an array of opportunities where alumni can give back to undergraduate students, grad students or recent graduates. Or they can take advantage of career fairs, career forums and career conferences both on and off campus.
I mentioned earlier that one of my priorities is to continue to build partnerships on campus, because if your base of support is strong, then we have more resources to leverage, more perspectives to consider and more opportunities to succeed. Everyone has a vested interest in seeing our students succeed, and part of that narrative means our graduates are finding quality jobs and driving up the value of a UCLA degree.
For more info on the UCLA Career Center, visit www.career.ucla.edu.
For questions, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.