Executive Director Lyons connects students to careers

February 23, 2023


Javay Simms interviews Executive Director of Student Engagement and Career Services Joseph Lyons during the “I Have A Dream” Career Expo. Contributed photo.

The average Virginia State University student is much like any other college student. They enter as a freshman unable to think four years into the future and beyond. Therefore, it’s difficult to envision a future in the actual workforce, engaging in a career, and being a professional. But that is where Joseph Lyons comes in.

Lyons is the Executive Director of Student Engagement and Career Services at Virginia State University. It goes without saying that Lyons has a visible presence at the university and his reputation proceeds him.

As such, Lyons seeks every opportunity to interact with students and make them aware that his office is a vital resource.

“I have been in the career services field for 35 years, so I’ve had the opportunity to see employers, students, parents and their perspective of career readiness change,” Lyons said. “Initially when I came into the field it was just career planning and placement. But now  parents are looking for more  return on their investment. They are looking for students to translate their education, their interests, their values, and their educational experience into a career goal.”

“I think students come to college and concentrate those four, maybe five plus years and get their degree and then they begin to think about, ‘Ok, what am I going to do about a job?” Lyons said. “We are saying, what most institutions now are doing is developing a four-year strategic plan from their freshman year to their senior year and those activities, once they graduate, enable them to translate into a career field.”

Lyons went on to explain the four-year career development strategic plan. Students enter as freshmen, a time Lyons labeled the “discovery” period. It is an opportunity for new students to pay close attention to themselves and learn who they are as they get comfortable on campus. They get to speak with professors about classes and a potential major and the careers related to it. Lastly, they also partake in the host of organizations and social circles present at VSU.

The next step is moving beyond classroom work into real world situations. It is the “experience” phase of career development. Students need to actually have a practical journey in their discipline of choice. This can begin during the sophomore year and continue through senior year.

Often students think they will enjoy a profession and learn that there are little things about the job that they do not like. This is not to be mistaken for short term, temporary tasks that a person must face to ‘pay their dues’ on their way to their ultimate goal. There could be something fundamental about the end goal that ends up unappealing.

Internships or shadowing professionals in the field is critical to the identification of the career that best suits each student. Students need to build their contacts beyond the college campus & get a foothold out in the real world.

Creating a resume and social media profile on professional sites such as LinkedIn have become standard practices. Employers are using these sites to evaluate potential employees in the increasingly competitive job market. Students can also use sites like these to connect with professionals who are currently practicing the careers that interest them.

The Office of Student Engagement and Career Services is where VSU students can go to get the assistance they need to do all of these things and more. Lyons and his staff will set up a time to meet with any student to help develop a resume. Then the student can upload their resume to Handshake, an employer database on campus, and create a profile. Once registered into Handshake, employers will contact students to apply for specific jobs, & join webinars or information sessions.

“Students need to be well-rounded.” Lyons said. “We know that students who participate in internships, even from their junior year, come into their senior year,  for the most part, and they are being offered full time jobs. So they come to their senior year already with an offer.”

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