ARE’s Professional Development Pro
When Robin Clements was an undergraduate in the 2000s, she didn’t pay much attention to professional development and networking opportunities. Now, as an advising coordinator with NC State University’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, she encourages students to take advantage of the department’s many door-opening opportunities, and she makes professional skill-building practice an integral part of her classes.
Clements joined NC State’s staff in 2007. She has worked directly with students ever since, first in university admissions, then in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ academic programs office and now in her current position working with students in the agricultural business management major.
Clements enjoys staying busy. Each semester, she teaches two courses: ARE 290, Professional Development in Agribusiness Management, and ARE 490, Career Seminar in Agriculture and Resource Economics. She also manages projects, advises 80 to 175 students, leads the ARE Student Ambassadors program and helps line up companies that participate in departmental job fairs and its job shadowing opportunities.
Clements shares some of those responsibilities with other members of her team – Undergraduate Coordinator John Russ and Undergraduate Program Specialist Jocelyn Valdez.
In a recent interview, Clements shared more about herself, her job and what she and her teammates do to help students prepare for professional success.
What do you think people would be surprised to know about you?
At the beginning of each semester, I like to introduce myself so my students know I’m a human being, not a robot up in an office – ‘I’m here to help you, and I was once a student like you.’
I’m into true crime. I have four or five podcasts about true crime I listen to when I’m driving to and from work, exercising, cleaning, traveling … I also love fishing. I’m no expert, but it’s really relaxing. And I’m an avid reader. I usually read at least one book a week, if not two.
Finally, I go to bed really early, and I get up really early. I tell my students, ‘You have my phone number, but if you text me after 9 o’clock at night, it’s not happening.’ But then we’re up at like 5:15, 5:30 a.m.. I ruined my sleep at college, but now I’m systematic about my schedule and sleep.
I believe in a good sleep schedule so much that one of the first things I say to students who tell me they’re struggling is, ‘Tell me your schedule.’ Sometimes the problem is in their sleeping schedule, so I encourage them to get on a sort of 9-to-5 plan with a full eight hours of sleep per night. We work up schedules that factor in their sleep, studying and classes as well as free time for socializing and fun.
How has the pandemic affected your students? And how has the department responded?
For some students, not much has changed. For others, there has been a difficulty in reaching out for help. We’ve always had an environment where if a student seems like they’re struggling, an instructor will reach out to Dr. Russ and me, and we’ll connect with the student to get to the root of the issue. We let the students know we’re here. They have my cell phone number; they have Dr. Russ’s cell phone number. And they can email us.
We purchased a service for texting students, so we can send reminders, because with some students, they weren’t doing emails, they weren’t doing work, but they were on their phones. When students are in need, we want to meet them where they are and make contact in the ways they are most likely to respond and engage.
I think there’s been more of a conscious effort across the entire department of being aware of when students are showing warning signs and letting us know really soon that there’s a problem so that we can help the students.
You started a job shadowing program. How are students benefiting from this and other professional development opportunities in ARE?
With job shadowing, I’ve seen students have aha moments when they come back from those experiences. I had one student come back who shadowed management saying, ‘I loved every second of it, but I don’t want to manage yet, I’m not ready.’ He realized the path he needed to take to prepare for management, but he realized, at 18, he wasn’t ready. That’s where our curriculum can help the student and job shadowing served one of its purposes — to encourage engagement and appreciation of the course content.
Another example is one student who was really unsure of what she wanted. Multiple employers came in to talk in our 490 class about their jobs.
Then she did exactly what my goal is for the students: She made a professional connection with the person from the company she was interested in, networked and met others at the organization. She shadowed with them to make sure she understood the work the company performed, and she got an internship. She figured out what she wanted from shadowing and classes. And in the end, she got it.
I saw this quote the other day, ‘It’s not job boards that get people jobs, it’s people that get people jobs.’ We’re trying to tell our students that it’s who you know. And, in many ways, job searching is pretty much the opposite of what we’ve ever been taught about being polite. It’s bragging on yourself a little bit. It’s asking people for help. It’s all these things that make us uncomfortable.
What other resources does the department provide to help students be workforce ready?
In January, we had a virtual career fair – our first one ever – and had roughly 50 employers. The feedback we got from employers that day in that moment was phenomenal: ‘Your students are so prepared. They’re so professional.’
To see that our students were taking what they were learning in the classroom and actually applying it made me proud. Because of the success, we’re planning another one in August, and we’re hoping to have 100 employers, just for agribusiness.
What makes you so passionate about your work?
What I love about what I’m doing is that I’m able to encourage the students to pursue professional development by just telling my story: ‘I didn’t use these opportunities, and it took me six months to find a job. You don’t have to be me, right? You can have a job right out of college. You can have great internships that will prepare you. You can have references. You can fill in the things I didn’t take advantage of and have an easier professional start.’ And it’s pretty cool to see the fantastic results of the hard work.