DePaul program gives students employment EDGE

Tony Scott
October 13, 2016

DePaul student Adriana Kemper signed up for the university's EDGE program in 2014, and after working with fellow students on the Housing Services Green Team she is now a mentor to others who participate in the same program.

"I truly believe that participating in the EDGE program was an opportunity to foster growth and success," says Kemper, who is studying Environmental Studies.

The EDGE, or Education and Development Grant for Employability, program offers eligible first-year students an experience that provides career and job skill development in a team setting within a DePaul campus department. It offers the university's staff the chance to mentor those first-year students as well.

The DePaul program recently received national recognition for its innovative contributions to student success. In June, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE, presented DePaul with the Career Services Excellence Award. The EDGE program beat out 115 other entries. NACE represents nearly 2,000 four-year and two-year colleges and over 900 employers who hire college graduates.

"The innovative thing about EDGE is it simultaneously addresses several challenges," explains David Kalsbeek, senior vice president of Enrollment Management and Marketing, the division that created and coordinates the program.  "Freshmen face affordability barriers and limited scholarship opportunities to fill the gap. They want on-campus work experience. There is not enough to meet the demand, and they often lack job readiness skills anyway. Finally, we know that increased freshman engagement on campus improves affinity and retention.  EDGE allows us to address all of these factors through a single first-year program, delivering tremendous value to both the institution and the students who participate."

The EDGE program takes first-year students and pairs them with a DePaul department and staff mentor, called a team leader, who closely supervises them for an entire year.  This year, it is serving 210 students through 20 teams.

Brenda J. Williams, associate director of the Career Center at DePaul, manages the program and says EDGE helps prepare first-year students for employment.

"I consider the program to be a pre-internship for first year students," Williams says. "They have the opportunity to gain 'work' experience, learn about themselves in a 'work' environment, develop meaningful connections with full time staff and become ready for next steps in the employment process."

Williams says the students are expected to engage in meaningful tasks, while building various skills and working on projects that deliver a high-impact experience. .

"They practice various universal skills like time management, punctuality, collaboration and project implementation," she says. "Staff mentors have an extended amount of time to train the students on various skills and then allow them to assist with implementing supervised projects over the course of the year."

The projects start small and increase in size and scope over time. In order to help students develop professional skills, EDGE provides plenty of opportunities for feedback and growth.

For Kemper, the mentoring aspect of the program was very important for her professional development.

"My Green Team supervisors were not only my 'bosses' but were also my mentors," Kemper says. "They helped me organize my class schedule, advised me about DePaul resources, encouraged me to study abroad, and also led by example to be the best student I could be. Their support and advice made my high school to college transition extremely easy, which made me extremely comfortable and excited to develop my leadership within the university."

Kemper leveraged what she learned participating on the team to land her current role supervising it.

"I have hired three 'alumni' from my EDGE team to serve as student leaders for my team over the past couple years," says Eric Musselman, a staff mentor and facilities project manager for Housing Services. "There have been a number of students from my EDGE team that have gone on to be hired in various positions in my department. It is great all around because I can provide a positive reference for them and vouch for their strengths, and my colleagues are very satisfied with the quality of employee they are able to hire."

Jennifer Von Drehle, associate director of International Student and Scholar Services, also serves as a team leader for EDGE students. Her department co-hosts a team with Study Abroad called Global DePaul EDGE.

"One of the biggest social challenges for new international students on campus is how to become friends with U.S. students, and one of our EDGE team's primary goals is to build intentional relationships with our international students," Von Drehle says. "Our EDGE team members benefit from participating in our Global DePaul team by learning intercultural communication skills and about the experience of new international students on campus."

Von Drehle says the EDGE program is unique as it engages the entire university and asks everyone to invest in student success.

"This looks different in each department, but the personal care, attention, mentoring and coaching available to these students is remarkable," she says. "Our Global DePaul EDGE students grow tremendously in their freshmen year. After a year of intentionally building relationships with people all over the world, they are more confident, more articulate, and I believe more likely to achieve their personal, academic and professional goals."