Huntsville, Ala. ---- Over the span of a decade or two, it is not uncommon for universities to adopt or retire a catchy phrase aimed at luring a share of the competitive market of prospective students. Alabama A&M University’s most recent billboard foray beams “Start Here, Go Anywhere.”
Now, the new director of Career Development Services hopes to make good on that claim by building on her unit’s existing strengths and by making CDS visits as common and natural among students as texting.
Chicago native Yvette S. Clayton earned her undergraduate degree in marketing from Illinois State University but thirsted for a historically black college experience eventually quenched by Clark Atlanta University, where she later completed the MBA.
In her most recent role as director of experiential programs at Chicago State University, a predominantly African-American institution of about 6,500 students, she performed significant career-oriented functions for CSU’s College of Business. Her other passion was in serving the business college as an adjunct professor. “I found teaching very rewarding,” she says.
No stranger to the South, Clayton points to her mother’s birthplace in the iota of a village called Seale, Ala., and to a cluster of other relatives in the Columbus, Ga.-Phenix City, Ala. area. Therefore, the move to the Heart of Dixie hasn’t been necessarily a culture shock. And, the occasional jolting images of a post-Reconstruction South were allayed by her perceptions of Huntsville as a more progressive city, as well as the sober realization that some areas of the Midwest are behind the times, too.
“I saw my coming to A&M as a phenomenal opportunity to expand upon the successful practices I had achieved at Chicago State,” explains Clayton. “I have no doubt that A&M students can do what any other students can do.”
Clayton says the impressive volume of industry and opportunities in Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley are sure reasons for excitement, along with the diversity of the student body and its commendable willingness “to travel and pursue opportunities” wherever they exist.
The director says she will rely heavily on the familiarity and comfort with which she engages corporate recruiters, and her inherent ability to help market the CDS unit. “I am not afraid to speak up on behalf of the University,” says the former IBM team member and executive management school graduate.
Additionally, in an earnest effort to gain some idea of CDS’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT), Clayton admits she already has met with AAMU President Andrew Hugine, Jr.; Dr. Kevin A. Rolle, executive vice president; and Dr. Jeffrey Burgin, vice president for student affairs. Future meetings, she says, will be held to secure input from deans, faculty, students, alumni, staffers and industry.
Clayton is encouraged by what she deems as a committed CDS staff and the hard-won but proud legacy of the Youth Motivation Task Force. Change can create challenges, she notes, but openness and communication can overcome those challenges. However, Clayton also believes that working closer with AAMU’s various colleges and tailoring programs specifically to their needs could net even better results. She will also reach out to her previous corporate contacts in the Chicago area.
Better relationships with senior students, Clayton continues, might yield opportunities to record the quality and scope of their job offers, to advise them on job suitability and important considerations, and other matters related to the overall collegiate experience. Still, she readily acknowledges that students should become engaged with CDS as early as their freshman year.
“We want to be viewed by students as that office where people are open, friendly and committed to helping them achieve professional success,” says Clayton. “In addition to seeing CDS as a great resource for resume preparation, improving interviewing and networking skills, learning the nuances that make or break a career, monitoring their virtual presence, and providing meaningful communications, we want students to feel comfortable enough to ask for help.”
Within a span of five years, Clayton envisions a CDS that will be known by prospective employers for students that are not only prepared academically, but have the soft skills that are critical for workplace success.
Says Clayton, “So far, most are supportive of what we are trying to do. We are expecting great things from ourselves and from our students.”
- Jerome Saintjones