Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
As a result of the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), Columbia University canceled classes on March 9 and 10, and moved classes online until further notice as of March 11. School-sponsored student travel—including domestic travel—has been canceled, and in-person events larger than 25 students have been canceled.
As Heather Krasna, assistant dean and director of career services in Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health notes, the guidance is frequently changing, and developments are requiring her office to make swift and significant changes.
These changes have notably occurred around two of the career services office’s major spring events.
“We have an annual Washington, D.C. Career Week—now in its seventh year—during which we bring 60 to 80 students to Washington, D.C. to experience eight alumni panels on a range of public health careers, site visits to organizations like the World Health Organization, and a student-alumni mixer,” Krasna says.
“[As part of the D.C. Career Week], there is also an Advocacy Day when students meet their elected officials and learn to advocate for public health issues. We moved the event to an entirely online format, using Zoom as a technology to host the alumni panels and rescheduled the site visit as a Zoom panel.”
In addition, Krasna and her staff have made changes to the school’s Spring Career Day, which was originally scheduled for March 27, and brings 800 to 900 students and 70 to 90 employers to its campus in New York City.
“Originally, we planned to make the event a ‘no handshaking’ event and to supply hand sanitizer for every employer table,” she explains.
“Once it became clear that events of this size are a public health concern, we had to make a quick decision regarding whether to cancel the fair or move it online. Thankfully, we were able to find a vendor that was able to step up to turn this into a virtual fair that will be held on the originally scheduled date.”
Career services staff immediately emailed employers to notify them of the switch, and offer a refund to those that were not interested in attending a virtual fair.
“We have had some cancelations, but there’s a chance that new employers will sign up to replace them,” Krasna says.
“Fingers crossed that it rolls out smoothly.”
Other offerings have been moved to the virtual space. The career services office has continued taking student appointments using Zoom and by phone, with the option of allowing students to use Skype or WhatsApp.
“We are doing resume reviews using tracked changes and edits in Microsoft Word,” Krasna adds.
“Thankfully, we already had a very robust set of resources available through our online Canvas page, including hundreds of handouts, a 150-page career manual, video captures of almost all of our workshops, and a video-based practice interview software.”
The career services office in Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health is communicating its efforts regarding the coronavirus to its partners and community. It immediately emailed all of the alumni panelists for D.C. Career Week to ask them to sign up to be Zoom presenters and trained all staff members in the unit to host a panel discussion via Zoom.
It emailed its employers about Spring Career Day going online and offered them a refund if needed. It also sent a special newsletter to students to inform them of the changes in appointment delivery, the D.C. Career Week, and the job fair. It is promoting these updates via its Facebook groups, Twitter, and Instagram.
Krasna says that the expertise of individuals within the Mailman School of Public Health has been an invaluable resource during this crisis.
“We are extremely lucky to be providing career services within one of the nation’s top schools of public health,” Krasna explains.
“Many of my faculty friends and colleagues, such as famed virologist Dr. Ian Lipkin and epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Morse, appear on CNN and other worldwide news outlets on a daily basis. To say that we feel well-informed about the situation is an understatement.”
Krasna and her staff have relied on their guidance, along with the recommendations from national and global health organizations, to make other key decisions. For example, Krasna explains that almost all Mailman School of Public Health’s master’s students are required to complete a practicum (internship) in order to graduate.
“Approximately 100 of our students normally go abroad to work in global health or humanitarian settings in countries all over the world,” she notes.
“Due to new travel restrictions, we are working with our practicum office to help students attempt to turn an in-person internship into a remote or virtual one if possible, and/or to attempt to leverage our existing connections with global health organizations that have offices in New York City to see if we can arrange internship opportunities for students who can no longer work abroad.”
Beyond washing and sanitizing hands and cleaning high-touch items and areas, Krasna offers several tips for those in our field formulating responses to the coronavirus situation:
- Don’t be afraid of technology—“It is sad to lose the human connection of meeting employers and students face to face, but it is absolutely not worth the risk of bringing large groups of people into a crowded room when technologies now exist to allow virtual meetings,” she says.
- Be discerning about the sources of information you rely on—“Get your news from reputable sources, such as the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or other public health experts,” she recommends. “There are many interviews going on with elected officials and others, as well as commonly shared Facebook posts, that can provide incorrect guidance.”
For the latest information about the impact of coronavirus on our field—including preliminary results of the quick poll NACE conducted among its membership—see NACE’s Coronavirus Updates page.
Update: Krasna reported on March 17 that Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has reopened its fair to employers and provided free registration for those that are urgently staffing up for the coronavirus response. She notes that interest has been strong, with new employers urgently seeking to find public health and healthcare students and alumni to stem the tide of the epidemic. “We hope in this way, the public health school at Columbia, and our partner schools of nursing, medicine, and other relevant fields will be able to contribute in this emergency,” Krasna says.