From Classroom to Career


By Patty Park '91

Published Mar 14, 2018 2:45 PM

Expanded alumni programs help grads make the leap.

Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg.

Congrats, grad. You’ve made it. You’ve taken all the required classes for your major, passed your exams and earned your degree. Now all you have to do is research a few companies, mail in your résumé, go for an interview and land a job in your field — where you’ll happily stay for the rest of your career.

Not exactly.

There once was a time when the career transition was quite simple. But we now live in the digitally enabled 21st century, in which job applications are one click away, jobs are changing as rapidly as technology is advancing and we must reinvent ourselves many times over in the course of a career lifespan.

How is UCLA responding to the changing needs of its graduates? With a dramatically expanded career program whose breadth and depth are considered among the most impressive in the country. Here are just a few of the many innovative programs helping Bruins make a successful classroom-to-career transition.

While Bruins are some of the most academically accomplished individuals in the world, alumni and employers shared that graduates sometimes struggled to translate that academic knowledge into career skills. In fact, according to a 2016 Workforce-Skills Preparedness Report from PayScale, a compensation data firm, 90 percent of new college graduates believed they were prepared for the job market, yet only half of the nation’s hiring managers agreed.

Enter Partnership UCLA and Alumni Career Programs — experiential learning programs that harness the power of one of the university’s richest resources: its alumni.

“Our alumni were critical in helping us understand what we need to do during the undergraduate experience to help students apply theoretical concepts to solve problems in the real world,” says Katie Ward, director of strategic outreach and engagement for Partnership UCLA/Alumni Career Programs. As a result, each of Partnership UCLA’s programs shares one common goal: to engage alumni in bridging the gap between academia and industry.

Take, for example, the Social Enterprise Academy (Econ 173), one of Partnership UCLA’s collaborative instruction courses. During the six-month program — led by UCLA faculty, alumni, industry professionals, and external partner Academies of Social Entrepreneurship — teams of students work with different not-for-profits to learn how to launch a revenue-generating venture.

“I had no idea what a minimal viable product was or what it meant to build a business,” says international development studies alumna Ann Wang ’13. “I wanted to understand social entrepreneurship better, and the academy taught me how to take an idea and create a viable business pitch around it.” As a senior, Wang started her own company, Enrou — an online global marketplace supporting the economic growth of people in developing communities — which went on to win the top prize of $400,000 at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in 2014.

“Our students learn a lot of theory, but they need practice implementing the idea,” says Andy Atkeson, economics professor and director of the business economics program, who helped launch Partnership UCLA. “If you teach entrepreneurship in a classroom, it’s kind of dry and academic. This is real-life application, like the econ version of dissecting the frog in a science lab.”

Co-curricular programs like the Bruin Development Academy also offer students industry exposure from successful alumni like Om Marwah ’12, a Forbes 30 Under 30 winner who invented his own six-week series called the Self-Innovation Lab.

“The ability to creatively apply your academic skills to unlock industry innovation is a massive differentiator in the marketplace, as well as deeply fulfilling,” says Marwah, now global head of behavioral science at Walmart, who invites fellow 30 Under 30 awardees into the classroom. “The course equips students with the skills to rethink their academic knowledge and acquire information in a way that enables them to transform their field, industry and careers. The world needs this from students.”

Last year, Partnership UCLA joined with the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science to launch WE@UCLA Academy, aimed at empowering female engineering students through peer and alumnae mentorship, leadership training, professional development and early internship experiences.

“Hearing stories from other women who are already doing what I want to do really helps me to understand what it’ll be like to work as an engineer in a male-dominated industry,” says Julienne Bernal ’19, a mechanical engineering major who has already secured a summer internship at Chevron.

WE@UCLA Academy is only one of many new initiatives being launched by Partnership UCLA. Others include the Bruin Edge, which provides job and internship opportunities to students unable to participate in in-person programs, including 50 percent who speak English as a second language, 30 percent who are transfer students and 20 percent who are first-generation college students. Bruin Edge also offers professional development forums and the Bruin Career Insights digital series.

It’s 8 a.m. in Westwood, and physics major Yhoshua Wug ’19 is sitting on a bench in the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden. His mentor, Gil Travish M.S. ’91, Ph.D. ’96, is in his living room more than 5,000 miles away in the U.K. For the next hour, the two Skype about career options, graduate school, research opportunities and more. For Wug, a transfer student and the first in his family to attend a university, the mentorship is invaluable.

“He helped me figure out a career path that best fits my interests,” says Wug of Travish, chief science officer of Adaptix, author of more than 150 publications and patents and founder of four start-ups. “I really believe the advice he gives me is going to help me have a better UCLA experience.”

While nearly 80,000 alumni live within six miles of UCLA, 177,000 in Los Angeles County and another 80,000 in Northern California, the reach of the university’s career programs is anything but California-centric. Last year, the university began to integrate guest lectures digitally so students could learn from alumni across the world. And UCLA ONE (uclaone.com), launched in October 2015, has been a game-changer.

“We were one of the first in the country to launch a global digital network,” says Ward of UCLA ONE, which connects nearly 23,000 alumni, students, staff, faculty and parents. UCLA ONE (Opportunity, Network and Experience) is a career nexus for all in the Bruin community, providing a portal for information and resources on everything from networking opportunities to advice when exploring a career change to finding or offering a job. The site serves as a valuable point of connection, not just for a Bruin’s first job search, but throughout the full span of one’s career.

Last year alone, more than 11,000 alumni and 18,000 students participated in Partnership UCLA programs in virtually every area of discipline in the humanities, life sciences, physical sciences and social sciences. And there are more exciting plans in the works, with alumni like Wang working to find more strategic ways to bring alumni at the top of their industry together with students to bridge the gap between the classroom and the workplace.

“It’s rare to have a holistic program to influence not just the co-curricular, but the curricular experience,” says Julie Sina, associate vice chancellor for alumni affairs and CFO of The UCLA Foundation. “It’s intentional and mapped out because we’re committed to preparing our graduates for the real world.”

Visit partnership.ucla.edu for information about more programs.