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September 14, 2000

Marvin Roth, University's new Placement and Career Services director

When Marvin J. "Marv" Roth heard that Pitt was searching for a new director of Placement and Career Services, he wasn't interested in the job at first.

That's because he incorrectly assumed that placement/career services at Pitt was a "traditional" (i.e., stodgy) operation that basically just brought recruiters to campus and served undergraduates during their senior years only.

"Then, I read the job description and heard about the new philosophy toward Placement and Career Services at Pitt," Roth recalls. "It sounded like an exciting opportunity."

Roth was hired as Pitt's new placement and career services director effective June 1, succeeding long-time director Robert R. Perkoski.

Since 1979, Roth had been director of career services at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. There, he'd led a comprehensive career center with programs for freshmen through alumni.

"That didn't seem to be the way the University of Pittsburgh did business," said Roth, who based his assumption on what he had learned peripherally about Pitt's placement unit through his professional activities and contacts — and his five-month stint in 1977 as assistant director of the Pitt-Johnstown campus's career services office.

In the last few years, however, Pitt has initiated, among other things:

* The Pitt Pathway, a four-stage process designed to help students make informed choices about their careers as well as the courses, internships and other experiences they should consider in pursuing those careers. Alumni Relations, the Counseling Center and academic advisers throughout the University also participate.

* PantherTRACS (Panther Tools for Recruiting and Career Services), a new on-line registration and job search system through which Pitt students and alumni can create and submit resumes and cover letters on-line; submit information about their career interests, geographic preferences and work experience to a central source for employers; and check a calendar of job interview dates and times, among other services. (Only Pitt students and alumni may view on-line job postings, and only students may submit resumes electronically for jobs through the University's on-campus recruiting program.) Information on these and other services is available at 648-7130 and on the Web at: In addition to directing career services at Lafayette College for nearly 21 years and working briefly at Pitt-Johnstown, Roth was assistant director of career development at Brown University from 1977 to 1979. He earned an M.A. in counselor education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in sociology from Thiel College.

Roth, 51, grew up in Spring Hill and McKeesport. He and wife Vicki, an elementary education teacher, live in Wexford with their 13-year-old twin sons, Luke and Mike.

Last week, University Times Assistant Editor Bruce Steele interviewed Roth at his William Pitt Union office.

University Times: What new programs are you working on?

Roth: The new things we're doing right now are, in a sense, iterations of older things. We're enhancing, improving, expanding. For instance, PantherTRACS. We had a similar system in the past, but this new one we launched on Aug. 1 is an improvement. It gives students and alumni complete control over their career development processes. For example, it provides access to job listings and other employer information 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Other new things that we're hoping to launch this year are more vehicles to bring students and alumni together. I'm working closely with Alumni Relations to allow students to match up with alumni who would act as mentors and information sources, so students can learn what a career field is like from a person doing it. The advantage there is that, many times, alumni love to talk to students because it gives them a sense of what's happening on campus, while students get the benefit of the alumni's knowledge and advice.

We're also looking at the possibility of a job-shadowing program, through which students could spend a few days at the workplace of an alum, observing and shadowing them through a typical day to get a sense of what their work is like. That's a bigger program, so it's going to take a little bit longer to get that up and running.

We're also doing much more in the way of employer outreach, to either bring employers to campus or at least get them to let us know about job opportunities for our students.

How we treat employers when they come to campus also will be enhanced. We're planning to have lunch meetings available for them, so they can meet with faculty and staff who work in areas related to those that the employer represents.

With the Pitt Pathway, we're working on giving it a little more identity, a little more sense of structure so students can understand what the pathway's all about and where they fit into it. The pathway itself has been around for about three years, but it's been a slow process of getting the word out and getting student understanding of it. We're working now with various departments — the Counseling Center, academic advisers and the like — on getting the pathway moving.

What is Placement and Career Services doing well now, and where do you need to improve?

When I came on board, one of the things that impressed me immediately was the staff who work in this department. They're enthusiastic, dedicated to what we're about and to helping students. Also, the on-campus recruiting program is strong here. We bring approximately 400 different employers each year to campus.

Something that I value about the Pitt Pathway program is that it wasn't designated as one specific department's program. It's a University-wide program. It involves internship departments, the Counseling Center, our department, academic advisers in all the schools. At one point or another, it engages everyone in the University who works with students.

In terms of improvements, one thing we need to do is clear up misunderstandings about our department. Until about three years ago, we were the "placement office." As such, we were primarily responsible for on-campus recruiting. It was a senior-oriented program. Today, we're saying: Okay, now we do a full, four-year career development process, we work with freshmen through senior year. That's one of the big challenges, to let the campus community know the broad range of resources we have to help students, whether it's in helping them to decide on a career or find opportunities to test out their interest in a career field, or eventually to get into grad school or employment.

Over the years, there's been grumbling that the University hasn't taken advantage of the fact that a high percentage of Pitt students are from western Pennsylvania, and many of them remain in this region after earning their degrees.

You've hit on something that's a goldmine waiting to be drilled. We're working with Alumni Relations to try to tap into that alumni network. One of my primary goals for this year and beyond is outreach to employers around the region and the country, including companies that already employ people who graduated from this University.

If an employer says to you, essentially, "Look, I've got a pile of resumes on my desk from graduates of Ivy League schools and other elite universities. Why should I consider Pitt graduates?" How do you and your staff reply to that?

First, you want to get a sense of what employers are looking for. For example, if they're looking to hire people with leadership skills, you tout things like the opportunities that Pitt students have through extracurricular activities to hold leadership roles — also, leadership development programs like in the College of Business Administration or in the Emerging Leaders Program through Student Activities. There are all kinds of experiences and qualifications that can address specific needs that employers value and which a Pitt graduate can bring into the situation.

Are there graduates of certain Pitt schools like business and engineering who are comparatively easy sells, and others that present more of a challenge?

There are certain departments whose graduates are, in a sense, pre-packaged. Computer science majors or electrical engineering majors, for example. Some employers will say: We need computer science people. Or, we need electrical engineers.

But increasingly, employers are finding that there aren't enough graduates of certain programs out there — computer science graduates, for example. So, many employers are saying: "I'm just looking for a strong candidate with a solid computing background." Well, that could come from any department. An English literature major who's developed a strong computer background, either in the classroom or on their own, would qualify.

We try to market Pitt students in the context of everything they bring with them as potential employees, not just the label of their major. We tell students all of the time: "When you graduate from Pitt, you're graduating with the sum total of your life experience. You're not just a history major or an English major or an electrical engineering major. You have also studied other things, held internships and part-time jobs, done volunteering, and the like."

When an employer tells me, "I'm looking for X or Y," I'll say, "Let's talk about the skills you're looking for rather than the labels, and figure out what kind of people might have those skills."

What should Pitt faculty know about your department?

Time and again, students will come to faculty members after class or in the course of advising with questions. Questions as specific as: What kinds of jobs am I likely to get with this educational background? Some faculty may be more comfortable than others answering such questions. If a student wants more information than a faculty member feels he or she can provide, faculty should feel free to refer students to us.

I would also love to hear from faculty about things like: Do your students seem particularly interested in certain job fields? That alerts us that we should include employers from those fields in our job fairs and job postings. Faculty are out there in the front lines, day after day, with students who share career-related concerns. We see students too, but not every day like faculty do.

Many Pitt staff members take classes at the University, and many are Pitt alumni. What can those staff get through your office?

For alumni, we provide career and job change counseling, access to our database of jobs, and user-name access to our PantherTRACS system. Those are free services to alumni.

In terms of non-traditional students, we have a full-time career counselor in the College of General Studies who works with students there. Our department works with the full age range of students, whether they are full-time day students or part-timers taking classes at night.

Do you serve staff who take classes, but who can't get to your office between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.?

Absolutely. We have extended hours on certain days of the week, so staff can call and set up an appointment to meet with an adviser after hours. The general phone number is 648-7130. Our web address is:

So, you'll give career help to Pitt staff even if it leads to them getting better jobs outside the University?

We're here to serve our students and alumni. If those students and alumni also happen to be Pitt staff members, so be it.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 33 Issue 2

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