Reaching Out to Alumni

By Mary Beth Erskine

TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 25, 2010) – When David Corcoran graduated from USF with a degree in business administration in 1981, the United States was in a severe recession with unemployment at historically high levels. With private lenders laying people off, his entrée into the real estate appraisal industry was through the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office.


After Corcoran had spent 27 years in the industry, which included his own appraisal office, the real estate meltdown hit, and economic and unemployment history began to repeat itself. Corcoran was laid off from his position at Bank of America and had to begin seeking new employment.


“My employment search was not successful since my work experience consisted mostly of real estate appraising, which was not in demand,” he said. “Therefore, I considered a career change. However, I found that difficult to do since real estate had been my profession for many years.”


Last fall, Corcoran read an article in the local newspaper about USF’s new Alumni CareerQuest program. An idea initiated by USF Provost and Senior Vice President Ralph Wilcox, the program is a collaborative effort between USF’s Career Center and the USF Alumni Association to provide career and job search assistance services to all USF alumni for the 2009-2010 academic year free of charge. The program kicked off last October with a job search strategies workshop for alumni focused on the practicalities and methodologies for navigating today’s job market and conducting an effective job search.


By re-connecting with his alma mater through Alumni CareerQuest, Corcoran found not only information about careers where he could transfer his work experience and how to prepare a resume to apply for these positions in other fields, but encouragement and support, as well. His initiative and hard work paid off recently when his 14-month search landed him a position as a senior review appraiser with JP Morgan Chase and Co.


To date, more than 900 USF alumni have registered with the Alumni CareerQuest since its launch last fall. More than 400 of those registered are actively using the center’s online resources, and over 200 have come into the USF Career Center to meet individually with an alumni career coach.


According to Terry Dowling and Barbra Oliver, the two career coaches dedicated to working with alumni, while the majority of alumni using the services graduated from USF during the past 10 years, they also have seen many alumni who have been in the work force for more than 30 years. Some are looking for a career change, but most are unemployed due to the elimination of their position, forced relocation, or “their industry has simply disappeared,” said Dowling.


“For some alumni, the job search process is something they have not done in while, and for others, particularly recent graduates, it’s a brand new experience,” he said.


Jenny Gunberg, for example, who graduated from USF last May with a master’s degree in finance, is just starting her career and discerning the specific path she would like to follow. While she leans towards work as a finance manager, perhaps for a small, private company or a non-profit organization, she is also interested in supply chain management, general management and teaching.


After conducting a job search on her own for several months, she says she was “running out of ideas on how to find companies that might have a role for me,” so she contacted the USF Career Center.


“I knew from my time at USF that the Career Center was very involved in the community and had networks with a lot of local companies. I met with Barbra Oliver, and after following a few of her suggestions about additional avenues to try and other resources to consult, I was able to land a few interviews and make more connections, eventually landing an internship.” That internship as a financial analyst with Infinity Business Systems in Tampa, encompasses a wide variety of tasks. “It is a great learning experience because I am being exposed to so much,” she said.


Since alumni range in age, they come to the Career Center with different sets of needs. “The more recent grads are very tech savvy and use the online resources easily and comfortably,” said Dowling. The more seasoned workers, in many cases, prefer the ‘human factor’ – they want to talk to people and make face-to-face contact. So we help them find networking opportunities through professional associations and career fairs.”


Regardless of age, the goal of the program with all alumni is to educate and train, “to show them resources where they can find the answers to their questions,” said Oliver. “People will have multiple career changes and jobs in their lifetime. We want to equip them with the knowledge they need so they can ultimately do a job search on their own and do it with confidence.”


According to Career Center Director Drema Howard, Alumni CareerQuest is not intended to be a job placement or employment program. “However, alumni have access to a wide variety of on-site and virtual resources, professional career coaching, workshops, webinars and state-of-art job search preparation software systems. They are also eligible to participate in recruitment venues that will allow them to network and connect with organizations seeking to hire candidates from USF,” she said.


Nicole Webster, for example, a 1986 USF graduate who had majored in interdisciplinary social sciences, came to the Career Center seeking help with her resume, cover letters and interview skills. “I had not put together a resume or gone on interviews in over 30 years,” she said. “It was daunting and intimidating. Having Terry peruse my paperwork and make recommendations was a great help. In fact, right after signing up, I got a call for an interview. I wanted to practice and called Terry. He scheduled me immediately. We did a practice run and I went on the interview the following day. I did very well because I had well-thought out answers and felt well prepared.”


Hal Frank, a 1989 USF graduate who had majored in music composition, came to the Career Center seeking assistance with broadening his career search networking said, “It’s great to have a professional mentor to consult with regarding the current job market and talent acquisition processes.”


“It’s scary out there,” said Webster, “and just having someone you can bounce questions and ideas off of is a great asset.”


Alumni who would like to learn more about CareerQuest services or register may visit the Career Center website:



Photos by Aimee Blodgett


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.