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Career builders

Memorial advisors help students and alumni realize their potential

special feature: Student success

Part of a special feature celebrating the success of Memorial's graduates. This feature coincides with spring convocation 2017.

By Laura Barron

Sienna Wagg has always been interested in helping people.

Growing up in Deer Lake, she dreamed of becoming a psychologist, so she moved to St. John’s to pursue a bachelor of science degree, with a major in psychology, at Memorial University. Ms. Wagg graduated in May 2014 and was uncertain about whether she was ready to begin a master’s degree in counselling psychology.

Real-world applications

“I felt I didn’t have enough life experience or work experience at that time, and needed to get out into the work world and see how I could apply my studies to real life scenarios,” she said.

Sienna Wagg, a Memorial alumna, at the Canadian Red Cross offices in St. John's
Sienna Wagg, a Memorial alumna, at the Canadian Red Cross offices in St. John’s.
Photo: Deena Riggs

For many new graduates, getting a start in the work world can be challenging. Ms. Wagg sought support from Memorial’s Career Development and Experiential Learning (CDEL) team. Danielle Jackson, employer development co-ordinator at Memorial, helped Ms. Wagg with her cover letter and resumé and urged her to apply for the Graduate Transition to Employment Program (GTEP).

GTEP is co-ordinated through Memorial and is funded by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The program is an incentive for not-for-profit and private sector employers in the province to hire Memorial University graduates, and includes a wage subsidy to help support a portion of the graduate’s salary.

‘More and more proud’

A few months after graduation, Ms. Wagg began working with the Canadian Red Cross as a marketing co-ordinator on a 52-week GTEP contract. In her role, she helped lead a violence and abuse prevention program, conducted school and community outreach and worked on fund development and event planning.

“I’m working with the largest humanitarian organization in the world!” — Sienna Wagg

As the GTEP contract drew to a close, Ms. Wagg was hired by the Canadian Red Cross as a full-time employee and now serves as its community development project co-ordinator. She oversees a three-year youth leadership project, which includes providing schools with training in bullying and harassment prevention.

“I love working for the Canadian Red Cross,” said Ms. Wagg. “The more I learn about the work we do, I become more and more proud to be associated with this organization. I’m working with the largest humanitarian organization in the world! I’m focused on educating youth and inspiring them to be leaders in their communities. Having this as a priority is enough to make me feel proud of what I do.”

As university students graduate this spring, Ms. Wagg advises them to use the resources available at CDEL to help them plan their careers.

“Your degree has given you the opportunity to develop a skill set and knowledge base that will help you along the way. Talk to the career advisors at Memorial. They will look at your credentials and pull out the skills and experiences that are attractive to employers.”

Start planning early

Qihua Xu, an international student from China, also recognizes the importance of career planning, and recommends that students start their career development as early as possible.

Throughout his bachelor of business administration program, Mr. Xu built connections with the faculty and staff in the Faculty of Business Administration and with Dan Dillon, employer development co-ordinator at Memorial, to help him develop his communication skills, interview skills and his resumé and cover letter writing.

Qihua Xu, a Memorial alumnus, credits the career supports at Memorial for helping him find employment in the province
Alumnus Qihua Xu credits the career supports at Memorial for helping him find employment in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Photo: Deena Riggs

“As I was approaching graduation, and was starting to shift my focus into finding a job, I connected with Dan and he helped me revise and polish my resumé, helped me with mock interviews and helped me look for opportunities in my field,” said Mr. Xu.

His preparatory work paid off. He soon began working with RBC as a client advisor, dealing with clients’ daily banking needs. Mr. Xu is now a banking advisor, focusing on lending and investments. He hopes to have a bright future with RBC.

“The knowledge and the skills I learned from school really helped me a lot with my job, and RBC also has a really fabulous training program. I’m learning a lot every day, and my manager, Pamela Preston, and my co-workers are very supportive and we work great together.”

Recognizing and translating

It’s clear Mr. Dillon and Ms. Jackson love their work and the people they meet with each day.

“Our work is all about helping students and alumni pursue their career goals and helping them recognize their skills and potential,” said Mr. Dillon. “We help them learn how to promote the skills they’ve gained through volunteer work, academia, part-time jobs and experiences they’ve had. Many students and alumni don’t realize the transferable, valuable skills they have, so we help them recognize those skills and then translate them into their resumés, cover letters and interview preparedness. That makes a big difference.”

Mr. Dillon, Ms. Jackson and the career development team at Memorial focus on making linkages between students, alumni and employers. Through events such as the Alumni Job Fair each spring, and the Career and Graduate School Fair each fall, they bring employers on campus so students and alumni have the opportunity to connect with them and to see which career paths may be available.

“Most of us do not have linear careers.” — Danielle Jackson

Ms. Jackson says it’s important for students to think outside of the expected careers that may be linked to their degrees.

“Most of us do not have linear careers,” she said. “We might plan to do one thing, and then end up doing something different. It’s important to think broadly about what your degree can do for you.”

For employers looking to share information about their organizations and to discuss potential job opportunities, Memorial’s career-oriented events provide environments designed to connect new graduates, alumni and employers.

“Diversity and inclusion is one of RBC’s core values and it is important to us that we reflect all the communities that we serve, bringing in different perspectives and creating better ideas and better ways to serve our clients,” said Deborah Bowering, manager, RBC. “These events also give students a chance to get to know RBC as a potential employer, our values as a company, what we stand for and the career opportunities that we can provide.”


Mr. Dillon stresses the importance of meeting potential employers in person.

“Let employers know what you have to offer. You have a lot of knowledge to share. Employers would be fortunate to connect with you, so feel confident about your education, skills and capabilities.”

Ms. Jackson emphasizes that the supports available at Memorial are not just for current students. She says alumni can and should come back to Memorial for career advice. Even if you’ve been out of your program for a few months, 10 years or 20 years and you’re thinking about a career change, looking for a new job, need your resumé reviewed or looking for some professional development, you are welcome to make an appointment with one of the career advisors.

“We’re here to help.”

A condensed version of this article appeared in The Newfoundland Herald.

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