The Alverno Edge

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Alverno’s post-graduation job placement rates continue to soar above national averages. What makes these graduates so employable? What is the Alverno Edge?

by Judith Berger ‘98

In this job market, some may consider Katie Heino lucky. After graduating from Alverno with honors in May 2011, Heino received two job offers within three months of graduation. Heino, who graduated with a double major in professional communications and business and management is the marketing coordinator for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. She works with 14 high schools and 105 elementary schools throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

Learning by doing: real-world work experience

Julie Wolf, communications director for the Archdiocese, said luck had nothing to do with Heino securing the job. “She came highly prepared for this position. Her internship experience was the deciding factor when choosing the right person for this job.” Wolf also noted that it was important to have someone in the position who came from a Catholic school environment. When it comes to the mission of the Archdiocese, “She just gets it,” Wolf said.

Heino interned in the marketing department of Today’s TMJ4 in the fall of 2010. Interested in a permanent position, she crafted a proposal giving evidence supporting a full-time permanent position.

Although impressed with her initiative, they were unable to add a spot for her. Undaunted, Heino pursued positions at the United Way, Northwestern Mutual and Feeding America Milwaukee. The United Way offered her a job in fundraising–but they were too late. She had already accepted the position with the Archdiocese.

Understanding through talking: effective communication

Alverno graduates have that something special that area companies have come to recognize and seek out. Some call it “The Alverno Edge.”

Mary Staten, science curriculum specialist K-12 for Milwaukee Public Schools, is not involved in hiring teachers for the district’s science program. But it’s not unusual for her to get calls from school principals asking if she knows an Alverno teacher who would be interested in a teaching position.

She hears about the Alverno Edge all the time from area educators. “I think it’s the strong liberal arts background that strengthens a student’s development, along with the College’s ability-based approach to learning,” she said.

Alverno-educated teachers have a highly developed sense of the child/teacher relationship, Staten said. They know that in order to effectively teach, they must understand the child. For the teacher, understanding how the child thinks and develops will structure their teaching approach, she said. “If a child is inquisitive and an explorer, a good teacher develops opportunities for learning to occur. Alverno graduates diagnose, conceptualize and implement tools and strategies so their students can learn.”

Alverno teachers, Staten said, understand the issues in education, such as budget constraints, multiple district mandates, large class sizes, achievement gaps and diverse learners and abilities, but don’t use those as excuses to not teach. “They do what they need to do for students,” she said. “They use the appropriate instructional strategies and resources to work through and address these issues.”

They are keen observers and good communicators. “Alverno grads teach students how to learn, communicate and participate in groups,” she said of a social interaction skill that benefits students in and out of the classroom throughout their lives.

In the more than 15 years Staten has worked with Alverno-educated teachers, she has observed their leadership skills. “They chair committees, coordinate resources and are involved in curriculum development. They take the initiative,” she said. “They question and self-assess their performance to continually improve. They are professionals. They are committed to being educators.”

Adapting according to circumstances: critical thinking

Health care organizations also benefit from the Alverno Edge as the College is a major resource for nurses, too. “Over the last few years, Aurora Health Care has employed more than 75 (Alverno) graduates. Alverno nursing students have quickly transitioned into not only our extern program, but then practicing nurses,” said Mary Cieslak-Duchek, director of system nursing integration for Aurora Health Care. “Alverno provides our health care system with uniquely educated nurses who also demonstrate a solid foundation of critical business skills.”

Ann Devine, executive director of Pi Sigma Epsilon, knows what an Alverno graduate brings to the job. She’s not only an alumna, she taught at the College too.

As the head of the professional fraternal organization with 70 chapters offering programs to develop sales, marketing and management skills, Devine has worked with Alverno College every year for the past eight years to secure interns for Pi Sigma Epsilon. “We’ve had students with various majors–from English and pre-law to business. We are always confident about them. We just know how good they will be here,” she said. “We give them a task, expected outcomes and the resources. We are always impressed with the results. We don’t need to micro-manage them. They’re smart and can work autonomously.”

Devine said Alverno students have an intangible not typically seen. “There is a confidence and an initiative that they bring to their work.” Even at the internship stage, Devine said that they have a highly developed skill for critical thinking and problem solving.

Chris Sharrow, the managing editor of Footlights at Marcus Promotions, agreed. “We employ interns from Alverno every semester, including summers, to work on our website and do copywriting and editing,” she said.

The reason Sharrow seeks out Alverno students is simple, she said. “We’ve never been disappointed. They have a level of maturity you don’t typically find. They look at their internship as an opportunity to learn – not just to fulfill some criteria to graduate.”

The Alverno Edge is evident once a graduate has the job. But it’s the interviewing process where a snapshot of skills and initiative needs to be in sharp focus.

Working with an open heart: compassion

Dr. William Hughes, superintendent, Greendale School District, has been interviewing prospective candidates for teaching, administrative and leadership positions for 16 years. “I have been involved with hiring about 80 percent of our faculty and staff, and I can recognize an Alverno graduate immediately in an interview,” he said.

Hughes only asks about four or five questions during the interview process, but it’s enough to find out if the candidate has what he is looking for. “I feel the major impact I have on my tenure here is to hire quality people with outstanding training for the classroom and in leadership positions.”

Alverno graduates have a keen sense of who they are, Hughes said. “They are very grounded and have a sense of their core values. They are confident and understand service. They know and value the teacher/student relationship.”

Time and again, Alverno graduates come before Hughes with a story to tell. “It’s part of who they are. They have life experiences,” he said. “Many have faced challenges and adversity. They are very focused and understand the mission of teaching.” The Greendale School District has hired a number of Alverno graduates for its leadership teams–as classroom teachers and administrative support–and the rewards are evident in student achievement.

Benefiting from an Alverno education: Win Win!

According to data provided by Alverno’s Career Education Center, “Over the past three years, 91 percent of Alverno undergraduate alumnae were employed six months after graduation, and 82 percent report that their jobs were directly related to their study at Alverno.” This is due in no small part to the extensive preparation students go through to face the application and interviewing process.

Heino said she could not overstate how well the College prepared her for the challenge of securing a job. “Professors helped me to refine my portfolio. Debra Chomicka in the Career Education Center worked with me to re-work my resume. I went through a number of mock interviews with professors and professionals in the community.”

Heino loves her job. And her employer, recognizing the Alverno Edge in Heino, is reaping the benefits.