By: Lucy Kneissler, Pinn Janvatanavit, Amalia Leamon, & Mirella Hernandez
In this project, we aim to help international students at Smith seek employment and internship opportunities through Smith connections, primarily by using Smith’s alumnae network. Our project was brought to us by several international students currently involved in making Smith’s Lazarus Center for Career Development more involved in the international internship and job search. However, we found that Smith’s current technological platform, the alumnae directory, is not user-friendly or engaging. Additionally, we spoke with many international students who were not able to effectively network due to fears of reaching out to strangers. E-Access, a platform that students use to find jobs and internships, also offers limited job opportunities abroad, which makes it hard for international and domestic students to work or intern outside of the U.S. The keyword filter makes it challenging for international students with an OPT designation to search for domestic jobs because it does not properly filter out jobs that do not accept OPT.
With our project, we aim to redesign the alumnae networking experience and career fairs to make it easier students to find relevant jobs and connect to alumnae. We hope that our solutions will apply to a wide range of Smith students as they seek out internship opportunities and employment.
Hilda Nalwanga ‘18 an international student from Uganda, is our client for Deep Dive 3. With her desire to go back home after she graduates, she struggles to find a job in Uganda (or within the African continent, more generally) with the current resources that Smith offers, especially with the inaccessibility of E-Access and her discomfort in reaching out to alumnae she does not know. We also spoke with Messi ‘18 from Ethiopia and Helena ‘18 from the United Kingdom both of whom are also seeking jobs in their home country upon graduation. We realized that many students are shy and uncomfortable with networking and that there are limited opportunities to engage with international alums and employment opportunities abroad.
“Going in and saying ‘Hi I’m Hilda’…is very, very nerve-racking for me,” said Hilda.
We also identified and interviewed stakeholders, including the Alumnae House, Lazarus Center for Career Development, and International Students Office. One of the staff members we interviewed is Nancy Streeter Howes, the Assistant Director for Reunions, Classes, and Clubs in the Office of Alumnae Relations. She said that the data provided in alumnae directory is based on information alumnae update. Next, we interviewed Hannah ‘10 and Maddie ‘93, who work in the Alumnae House. They said that the alumnae directory is outdated because it cannot be accessed through smartphones. They wanted a platform that was more user-friendly and engaging.
In order to make progress in our limited amount of time, we had to narrow a long list of issues relating to networking and the job search process into a point of view that was concise and focused on one perspective of our client. We knew that we started with an extreme point of view, an international student looking to return home who has social anxiety or debilitating shyness when networking, and we tried to address the networking shyness aspect in our point of view as one of the more pressing problems. Hilda’s shyness is common among college aged students when they lack experience going to job fairs, interviews, or feel unfamiliar with the specific companies they are meeting. We wanted to design a solution that would make our users feel comfortable practicing their networking skills and public speaking. Additionally, our goal was to redesign how students learn about companies they are interviewing for. We began our Prototype to Inspire by trying to address how students gain familiarity with a company before having speak with a recruiter or a company face-to-face.
First, we chose to identify our users, extreme users, and stakeholders. Our users are students at Smith who are looking for domestic and international job opportunities. Our extreme users are international students who want to return to their home countries to work and are agonizing over reaching out to strangers and the lack of resources at Smith. We decided to brainstorm solutions that target toward our extreme users, like Hilda, because we discovered that the designs we were coming up with would be applicable for all students. As we brainstormed our ideas for our prototypes, we had to consider how job-search and networking would look like in 2049. We chose the year 2049 to add in a constraint to our brainstorming process. This ultimately led to a diverse group of ideas that we hadn’t considered before. Our ideas ranged from a virtual reality career fair to an outdoor pop-up space, telepathy, and a matching app.
3 Prototypes, test and feedback:
1. Prototype to Inspire: Virtual Reality Career Fair
In order to address the specific need of our client from our POV, we designed a virtual reality career fair. This would allow students to practice talking to recruiters and become more familiar with attending career fairs. A student could simply put on the VR headset and would be able to interact with various domestic and international recruiters at a simulated job fair. They would be able to use a built in Alexa-like software to select pre-programed responses to the recruiters such as giving a handshake, asking for a brochure, or asking a question. Though we were optimistic that enhanced technology in 2049 would allow for live correspondence to recruiters similar to a Facebook live platform, we realized that the preprogrammed format would be limiting to students who were trying to practice responding to new and unfamiliar situations with the recruiter such as being asked for a resume or asking for contact information. We also wondered how we could keep the information about each company in a separate window in the VR screen similar to how Google glasses includes pop-up contact info.
Experience the virtual reality career fair below:
2. Prototype to Fit: Smithies in the World
From talking to students about our first prototype we learned that direct human to human connection is critical to landing a job or internship. We decided to pivot and use current technology to help students and alums network through a messenger type system. We called this new platform “Smithies in the World” based of of the tagline Smithies For The World (a recent fundraising campaign). We designed a website that data mines information about alumnae from multiple different social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn to update an alum’s profile. Students are able to find alums based off of keywords, location, major, work history, etc. and chat with them directly or drop a resume via email.
We thought this could be a user friendly and appealing way to connect with alums in a low pressure environment before potentially meeting face to face to learn more about their experiences with past internships or their current job. This platform is universally accessible with wifi so students could connect with one another across the globe. When speaking with representatives from the Alumnae House we discovered they use Salesforce and a Google Earth-type platform to locate alumnae around the world, but there were many technical errors that occur when searching for alums in specific regions. We wanted our prototype to be easier to use and more effective in locating alums in regions outside the US while still building off of an existing platform. The Salesforce platform used only limited data that alums themselves would have to update. Data mining would provide more insights into the experiences that Smith alums had after graduating from the College. We do want the information to be private so alums would not get spammed when their information is made publicly available. The platform would only be accessible with a Smith email and password.
3. Prototype to Engage: Job shadowing
a. How did we pivot into this idea?
b. What is it?
c. How are we implementing this?
a. After hearing feedback from the Alumnae House and several international students about our prototypes, we decided a pivot was necessary to combine the best elements of each prototype. The three international students we talked to — Hilda, Messi, and Helena — all had various career paths they were considering. None of them was set on one specific job type. They expressed interests in higher education policy, government work, design work, and research. In prototype III, we created a website that would allow alums to upload “Day in the Life” job shadowing videos so current Smith students would be able to consider different career paths. Students would select a region of the globe using GIS technology and click on alums to get their contact information and view job shadowing videos if alums had uploaded them.
b. Prototype to Engage is an app that allows students to type in a city or town anywhere in the world and locate Smith graduates in the area using GIS technology as seen in the link below.
GIS Preview: https://youtu.be/MHzU6G-v2aA
Students would then be able to access an alum’s work history, interests, and contact information. If an alum had posted a job shadowing video, a student would be able to view it to gain insights about a particular career path.
c. The Alumnae House and Lazarus Center for Career Development would take the lead in implementing this kind of technology. We feel as though the Alumnae House is ideal for reaching out to alumnae and helping persuade them to conduct job shadowing videos.
After speaking with faculty at the Alumnae House, they suggested some sort of live component to the app during the job shadow or to be used for informational interviews. Students would be able to comment on the live feed from the alumnae to ask questions about the company or background of the alum. (In other words, it would be similar to Instagram or Facebook Live)
We investigated different ways to engage Smith alumnae in innovative and creative ways. We chose to implement the hashtag #smithiesintheworld to spread awareness about the app and encourage Smith alums to conduct their own job shadowing videos to be streamed on the app.
Even though Hilda represents a small part of Smith’s community (international students who want to return home after graduation), we feel as though all of our prototypes apply to a wide range of students at Smith.
Throughout this Deep Dive, we were able to help a group of international students in the process of addressing the lack of career-related resources targeted at international students. Although Hilda, Messi, and Helena seem to have their own solution ideas (a database they received an Innovation Grant to purchase, a designated staff member in the Lazarus Center to work on international jobs and internships, etc.), we hope that our prototypes will be useful for them in the future. We were able to learn the importance of pivoting, which we did on a number of occasions throughout the process. We found that by narrowing our focus we were able to come up with many different prototypes that we able to expand upon each other and address different needs. Also, having healthy tension within the group pushed our ideas forward and was essential to the successful completion of our project. Similarly, we all learned the importance of maintaining constant communication with our stakeholders and users. We were in frequent contact with the Alumnae House and Hilda for the past few weeks of our project so as to gain feedback after each and every prototype. We collected so much feedback footage and brainstorming videos throughout the process that it became overwhelming when trying to compose a video to go over what we had done. Overall, we all enjoyed working with Hilda and hope that she is able to expand upon Smith’s limited resources for international students seeking jobs and internships.
What are our next steps?
We know it is important to increase Smith’s visibility to international recruiters while finding and maintaining a way to keep transportation and recruiting costs low. We also want to improve E-access so that jobs can be filtered based off of requirements such as OPT and Visa requirements which is especially helpful for international students who want to work in the U.S., but also for domestic students looking to work abroad. Given more time, we would love to focus on how to increase Smith’s visibility on the international stage so more international companies came to Smith to recruit. The Lazarus Center is currently working on global programming for Spring 2018 to address targeting companies that sponsor in the United States. We welcome any other ideas to Hilda’s concerns and hope to stay updated on her project as it progresses.