Second annual CareerUP focuses on essential skills

KUEC’s networking event helped students develop professional confidence and connect with employers.

2nd annual Career Up - students networking

According to the World Economic Forum, 65 percent of children currently entering primary school will, once they enter the workforce, hold jobs that don’t currently exist. Professionals starting their careers now have to be flexible, ready to adapt with changing technology, markets and demands. But most importantly, according to Leigh Anne Taylor Knight, executive director and chief operating officer of Kansas City-based nonprofit The DeBruce Foundation, up-and-coming professionals need to equip themselves with skills that apply to a variety of careers.

“Young people have only considered one or two careers in their lifetime. However, in life, you’ll likely have as many as 12 different careers,” Taylor Knight said. “It’s your job to know what you do well and where you bring value.”

The theme of widely applicable skills, such as networking and critical thinking, was at the forefront of the second annual CareerUP event Nov. 13. Nearly 200 KU Edwards Campus students and more than 50 Kansas City-area employers came together at the event to network and discuss mentorship and career pathways, growing from last April’s 150 student participants and 30 local employers.

KU Edwards Campus Vice Chancellor David Cook said the event comes from a demonstrated need in Kansas City’s workforce for professionals with essential, or “soft” skills, which help organizations communicate ideas both internally and to the public.

“We’ve learned from employers we work with that soft skills and essential skills are what’s critical. They want to hire students who come out with great learning capabilities, who can write, who can read, who have critical thinking skills, who know how to network,” Cook said. “This event gives them the opportunity to communicate with employers in the field and test some of those skills, and to really get feedback so they can hone those skills and be better as a student, and then be more prepared for the workplace.”

This year’s CareerUP event was held in partnership with The DeBruce Foundation, which focuses on expanding access to economic growth and opportunity through education and professional development.

“The DeBruce Foundation truly is a world-class leader in this space where education and business come together. For that reason, we wanted to partner with them, and that’s why having them sponsor this event is critical for us,” Cook said.

In addition to meeting employers from around the region, student participants took advantage of The DeBruce Foundation’s Agile Work Profiler tool. The Agile Work Profiler measures what tasks a user enjoys doing and does well based on 10 core professional agilities that, Taylor Knight says, apply to every career in varying amounts.

“By knowing your agility, you can talk about how you bring value to a career, and you can expand your opportunities to look at careers in different sectors, including things you may not have thought about before,” Taylor Knight said.

Amanda Weck, a 2020 graduate in the Working MBA program, took the Agile Work Profiler in preparation for CareerUP, and said it helped direct her conversations with the employers she met.

“It really just validated what I thought my skillsets were,” Weck said. “I actually spoke with one of the business leaders about my agilities and how they merged into what I saw as my career path.”

Weck said she came to the event because it allowed her to connect with her classmates as well as local professionals. “I really have wanted to have an opportunity to socialize with more students at the KU Edwards Campus, and the fact that there were going to be so many business leaders here with opportunities to talk about their own career paths made it a can’t-miss event,” Weck said.

One of the business leaders present at CareerUP was Edwards Campus alumna Lesley Elwell, chief people officer at JE Dunn Construction. “I wanted to be part of CareerUP because I wanted to make sure that I was able to share with as many as I could, all the potential and all the opportunities that KU offers,” Elwell said. “The value of a KU Edwards education is nothing but remarkable, nationwide and globally.

During the event, Elwell said she had valuable conversations with new connections and familiar faces alike. “I ran into a student who was actually my intern 10 years ago, and now she’s doing her master’s here, and has had an amazing career,” Elwell said. “I talked to a group of amazing women who think they know what to do but are wrestling with articulating what it is they want. Being able to provide them clarity and guidance has just given them such joy.”

Terri Woodburn, program director for KUEC’s Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Assessment, said events like CareerUP help her students mentally plan for their professional future, as well as their immediate career goals.

“Most of our students come to us and they have a very nearsighted goal of ‘I want to get this degree, to go into this sector and get this job,’” Woodburn said. “But what they need to see is where they can go from there. They need to create their five year, 10 year and beyond plan of what they can do with their skills, and networking with these individuals really gives them an idea of what is out there for them, and what they can strive for.”

Taylor Knight echoed that sentiment, saying the event brings valuable, practical connections to what students learn in the classroom.

“One of the top reasons students actually do not complete their college degrees in this country is related to the fact that they don’t see a connection between their degree and the career that they’re going to have,” Taylor Knight said. “Events like CareerUP allow opportunities for those students to connect what they’re learning and what they’re getting their degree in to what opportunities are out there.”

Employers at the event included the following:

  • Ascend Hospice
  • Biodesix
  • BioNovus Innovation
  • BioKansas
  • Burns & McDonnell
  • Catalent
  • Central Bank of Midwest
  • Children’s Mercy Hospital
  • City of Merriam, KS
  • CN Medical Products
  • Cornerstones of Care
  • Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care
  • The DeBruce Foundation
  • Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • Department of Veteran’s Affairs
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • General Services Administration
  • GEHA
  • Greater Kansas City Federal Executive Board
  • HappyBottoms
  • Health Partnership Clinic
  • Honeywell FM&T
  • Integrity Home Care and Hospice
  • JE Dunn
  • Johnson County Department of Corrections
  • Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory
  • Kansas City VA
  • Kids TLC
  • Knightly Environmental Incorporated
  • KU Medical Center – Project Eagle
  • KU Health System
  • KVC Kansas
  • Larned State Hospital
  • L.E.A.F. Growth Ventures, LLC
  • Likarda, LLC
  • LKCommunications, LLC
  • Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA)
  • The Mission Project, Inc.
  • Oasis Healthcare Partners
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • Planned Parenthood Great Plains
  • PRA Health Sciences
  • Sprint
  • Stormont Vail Health
  • Swope Health
  • Syneos/AbbVie
  • UMB Bank
  • United Biosource Corporation
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • U.S. Federal Government
  • U.S. Justice Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • Vaughn-Trent Community Services
  • The Willow Domestic Violence Center
  • Workforce Partnership
  • Young Women on the Move
  • Youth Advocate Program

See how Valery Villarroel, Bachelor of Business Administration student, gained an internship and career opportunity through the first annual CareerUP event.

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