Kimmy Nguyen standing next to bus with open compartment exposing mechanical workings while holding a computer and wearing her unitrans jacket.
Kimmy Nguyen, who helped maintain campus buses while studying at UC Davis and still proudly wears a Unitrans jacket, credits the experience with helping her land her first career position at bus manufacturer GILLIG in Livermore, California. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

UC Davis launches major student career initiative

Campus aims to foster social justice, equity

The University of California, Davis, is embarking on a major initiative to make career exploration and preparation accessible to all students as a matter of equity and social justice.

Through Aggie Launch, the university aims to foster opportunities so that all graduates — including those who are from low-income families, underrepresented minorities, first-generation college students and women — can experience meaningful, timely and gainful employment.

It is one of the Big Ideas or flagship priorities for funding in the university’s $2 billion comprehensive campaign. Aggie Launch-related programs and hundreds of students are already benefiting from more than $10 million in donations.

As part of the initiative:

  • The Quarter at Aggie Square is integrating classroom learning and community engagement through Aggie Square, the innovation hub planned for the Sacramento campus.
  • UC Davis is leading a consortium of four colleges and universities to provide paid work experience at community organizations for 1,000 students over two years under the #CaliforniansForAll College Corps.
  • And beginning this quarter, a UC Davis pilot program will extend federal work-study funds to startups and small businesses employing students with financial need.

Focus on first career position

Marcie Kirk Holland, executive director of the Internship and Career Center at UC Davis, said a graduate’s first job is key to setting the pace for the rest of their career and earnings. Nearly 30% of graduates who start out underemployed — in a job for which they are overqualified — remained underemployed after five years, according to a 2018 research report by the Strada Institute for the Future of Work and Burning Glass Technologies.

UC Davis has programs to help first-generation students, and others. But many students still miss out on resume-building experiences and skills development that can make the difference in landing that all-important first career position and being competitive for graduate and professional school.

“We see this as a social justice issue,” Kirk Holland said.

Aggie Launch is UC Davis’ vision to help undergraduate and graduate students start career preparation early, participate in an expanded array of experiential learning, benefit from career mentoring and graduate with a robust career plan or path to advanced studies.

The initiative seeks to remove barriers to student participation — including awareness about opportunities, finances, and lack of transportation to jobs and internships.

Initiative involves whole campus

Kirk Holland said Aggie Launch already goes beyond the career center and involves a campuswide “fleet” of partners across both academic and administrative units in students’ career preparation. It plans to establish infrastructure to provide some administrative support and capture economies of scale for new and existing programs.

Aggie Launch will build on existing successes, such as Aggie EVO, which provides career-building programs for student-athletes. “The real power is that the coaches prioritize time for the student-athletes’ professional development — just as they do for their athletic training,” said Kirk Holland. “Our goal is to replicate that kind of focus throughout the campus.”

Over the last two years, about 120 staff and faculty from across campus have helped develop Aggie Launch and its recommendations. Mary Croughan, provost and executive vice chancellor, has approved an implementation plan, and formal consultation will occur with the Academic Senate on curricular- and faculty-oriented elements of the initiative.

Experience from student jobs

Citing the student-run Unitrans bus service as a model, Kirk Holland said Aggie Launch will strive to increase the mentoring and skill development offered through more than 5,000 student jobs on campus.

Kimmy Nguyen credits three years as a shop assistant in the bus fleet’s maintenance yard with helping her land a summer internship with bus manufacturer GILLIG in Livermore, California. She started the internship after graduating in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering and, within two weeks, translated it into her full-time position working on the design and integration of engines, transmissions and more.

Nguyen said GILLIG really liked that shop assistant experience on her resume. “It’s one of the things that separated me from other applicants,” she added. “Not too many graduating seniors can say they’ve worked on a natural gas engine or pulled out a bus transmission.”

Recent developments

As part of Aggie Launch, UC Davis is disbursing an additional $400,000 in work-study funds this academic year through a federal pilot program to expand work-study funded positions to small businesses and startups. The campus is recruiting employers to offer what could be an additional 100 part-time positions for students receiving this form of financial aid.

Through the College Corps program, over two years about 500 UC Davis students will serve in paid internships with community organizations and schools, take an experiential learning course, have professional development support and participate in financial literacy workshops. Special efforts are being planned to reach low-income and undocumented students.

The Koret Foundation of San Francisco has already provided $4 million for career-preparation programs including:

  • a progressive four-year career development program including course work, mentoring and experiential learning for College of Biological Sciences students through BioLaunch
  • scholarships and career preparation services for low-resource transfer students in engineering and computer science who are participating in AvenueE
  • support for underrepresented communities and funding for a position to develop networking with alumni through Aggie EVO

Other plans

Aggie Launch also plans to:

  • train interested staff, faculty and student leaders as Career Champions to assist students with career development and planning
  • engage staff and recent alumni in groups to help students explore an area of professional interest
  • expand the resources and services of the Internship and Career Center
  • seek private funding to pay students participating in unpaid experiential learning (internships, research and volunteer work)
  • provide grants for faculty developing career-specific curriculum
  • expand partnerships with student community centers
  • articulate pathways to career positions at UC Davis

Student and alumni input

Results from a fall 2021 survey of more than 17,000 alumni who earned undergraduate degrees in 2011 and 2016 will inform the further development of Aggie Launch.

To amplify the voices of students, the initiative will hire nine Aggie Launch Fellows to participate on each of its implementation teams. The positions will be posted on Handshake, the job listing and search platform for campus.

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