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Resources from Daniels Career Services help set all students up for postgrad success

This is the second in a series of articles commemorating National Mentoring Month. Each Friday in January, the Daniels Newsroom will share the stories of students, faculty and alumni benefitting from mentorship. Read part one on the Daniels Blog.

Headshot of Derik Csatillo

Derik Castillo

The assignment seemed simple enough. Interview someone about their career—a family member, a friend, a friend of a friend—anyone who could lend some insight into life with a college diploma in hand.

“I feel like a lot of my classmates knew right away [who to talk to],” said Derik Castillo, a second-year accounting student at the Daniels College of Business. “They mentioned [you could talk to] friends or a family member. That’s not something I had.”

Castillo grew up in Denver and, from a young age, dreamed of attending the University of Denver. But arriving on campus as a first-generation college student was a big transition. No one else in his family had navigated higher education before, which made things like applying to schools, searching for scholarships and even building a professional network that much more challenging.

“I think it’s just a lack of exposure,” said Jessica Bontrager, a first-gen student herself, who now serves as assistant director and career coach at Daniels Career Services. “A lot of our students whose parents have college degrees and whose grandparents have college degrees, they know how the system works. They know the basics of what they need to do to get a job or to connect with people. And if you don’t have someone in your life saying, ‘Hey, you need to make time to network, to connect with companies, to connect with people who are older than you and more successful than you or are already in your field,’ they just don’t know where to start and can get really overwhelmed.”

That’s where an array of Daniels resources comes in.

All Daniels students are required to take a three-part, pass/fail, zero-credit course sequence, known as the Daniels Professional Development Program (DPDP). Students learn how to prepare for the postgrad life through resume development, interview coaching, job search prep and networking advice.

Jessica Bontrager

“We talk about who’s in your network,” Bontrager said. “It starts with the people you already know—friends, family, professors—and then anyone else in the community, whether you’re involved with a community organization or nonprofit, church, anything else that extends beyond family and friends, essentially, and then we build on it.”

For those who don’t know where to start, Bontrager points to DU Firsthand. It’s a networking platform, similar to LinkedIn, that connects any DU student to alumni and friends of the University.

It can also be a good way to explore niche industries, Bontrager said, like the accounting student who wants to work in sustainability or the management major who is interested in the fashion industry.

“It’s just another way to get your foot in the door somewhere,” she said. “Utilizing DU Firsthand, and then any sort of professional development offering on campus, is a great way to build a support network.”

For Castillo, connecting with a recent alumnus proved both easy and enlightening. After setting up an account with his personal information, major and long-term career goals, he was matched with someone who had experiences similar to his.

In their informational interview, they talked about the field of accounting, navigating business school, the accounting 4+1 program, life after graduation and a typical day on the job.

“It’s definitely going to impact me in a positive way,” Castillo said. “Now I’m aware of one resource that I have found to be very helpful. It’s something I plan on using if I have to conduct another informational interview for another class or if I need an internship or simply need advice in a field or if I’m curious about a different field.”

Bontrager loves hearing feedback like that. Introducing students to these simple, free resources is one of the things Daniels Career Services is designed to do. They ensure that everyone has a chance to succeed in college and beyond.

“A lot of our students at Daniels come in with a lot of privilege, and there’s a lot of students that come into Daniels that don’t have those same privileges,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons we do DPDP, to ensure that all of our students have that same basic knowledge and understanding of career development and what’s important to grow their career.”