By: Valentina Palm & Victor Jorges/PantherNOW Staff
After the University’s American Society of Civil Engineers student chapter raised $18,000 in their spring 2018 career fair, the University forbade them from hosting another career fair on campus.
Now, the student organization is struggling to fund the chapter and participate in competitions representing FIU.
ASCE is the nation’s oldest civil engineering society, whose mission is to advance civil engineering and protect public health. FIU’s chapter has 270 members and is one of 300 chapters nationwide.
The organization expects chapters to host at least two events each year, according to their operating manual.
“[The FIU chapter] is a different case because they don’t have support from their university behind them,” said Judy Nichols, executive director of The Florida Section of ASCE.
For the last five years, FIU’s ASCE students organized their own on-campus career fair without any reaction from the University administration, according to ASCE Vice President and former career fair leader, Valerie Coloma.
The Career and Talent Development office claims to have reached out to previous ASCE student leaders concerning the development of the event. However, ASCE had never been threatened to be shut down until the spring 2018 career fair.
The spring 2018 fair was their most successful, according to Coloma.
It brought 17 employers to the Panther Pit at the Engineering Center, and more than 60 students attended.
The event raised around $18,000 for their chapter and provided employment opportunities to their members and other students from this field. The money was raised by charging $350 for companies to attend the career fair and additional donations.
The University’s ASCE chapter invested the funds in the projects like a concrete canoe, steel bridge, and geowalk, which they enter into competitions.
While last year’s career fair got recognition from the ASCE Florida section, the University threatened to close the chapter after learning about the event, according to Coloma and Julieta Vallejos, Program Coordinator of Undergraduate Education.
“We got recognition by our chapter, but we got nothing from the engineering center. I literally just got reprimanded,” said Coloma.
Because this event was not hosted by the Career and Talent Development office, they feared a student-run career fair could lead to a liability issue.
The office wants to ensure all the employers are legitimate and follow protocol when hiring FIU students. Employers are subject to background checks to ensure their legitimacy.
Additionally, by controlling all recruitment events the University assures there won’t be any career fairs competing with its bi-annual event.
“We want them to comply with the rules of Career and Talent Development so they don’t overlap the efforts that are being made for the University at large,” said Vallejos.
Aside from the career fair, the organization’s logo and their sponsorship package placed ASCE in danger of being shut down, said Vallejos.
“They told us that if we didn’t do everything the way that it should be, we would lose our chapter,” said Coloma.
After the career fair, Vallejos requested to meet with Coloma to discuss problems with the event. Following an initial meeting, the chapter was scheduled to deliver a presentation on the event’s purpose.
“She’s the one that reached out to me; I guess because we were doing everything very independently from the school,” said Coloma.
ASCE President Courtlyn Hisey, Fundraiser Director for FIU’s ASCE Ana Sicilia, Daniel Giraldo from the Miami Dade College ASCE Branch, and Coloma were present in order to represent the chapter’s interests in continuing to fundraise via career fairs.
The presentation was delivered to Vallejos, Emmanuela Stanislaus, director of Talent and Career Development office, and Carlton Ng, senior program coordinator for the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.
“The fact that the school wasn’t getting anything back from what we were doing was the problem. We were the ones just getting the funds, and not the school, it looks bad because we’re using their name but we’re getting everything,” said Coloma.
However, the administration saw the topics discussed differently.
“For their career fair, we weren’t expecting anything back from them when they did it, because, essentially they weren’t really supposed to do it,” said Vallejos. “But, if they were to do it correctly, we would be able to have feedback and a portion of it would go back to Career and Talent to help support the entire event. The other way, all the benefits would go to the civil engineering students.”
ASCE was told the chapter was not allowed to any more career fairs. Even though “they didn’t do anything particularly wrong,” said Stanislaus.
Although there’s no rule prohibiting students organizations from doing career fairs, the Career and Talent Development Office does not allow student organizations to independently host them.
Every semester, the office provides student organizations with an unofficial document providing guidelines for collaboration between organizations and the office.
“This is not an official document. It is something that I wrote out, just so that they knew the parameters of working with Career and Talent Development,” said Stanislaus. “There is no FIU logo on it, nothing.”
Stanislaus said that before the ASCE spring 2018 career fair, the office hadn’t had the chance to sit with the chapter to discuss collaboration efforts.
“What they were doing was not involving us in the process,” said Stanislaus. “We are trying to get a handle on the career events that are happening and so career fairs really should not be run by a student organization.”
The office aims to concentrate all career efforts for the University’s bi-annual event and their major concern is being able to manage the liability for any recruiting effort.
“There is no problem necessarily with what they already did, we just don’t want them to continue to do it,” said Vallejos. “If they want to do fundraising, they have to do it differently without the career fair component.”
The Career and Talent Development office is willing to collaborate with student organizations looking to host career fairs only by “folding” them into the University’s signature career fair.
ASCE was offered the following options:
The first was to have the chapter merge the employers attending their fair with the University’s large career fair, where the $350 fee would go to the University, and any remaining amount donated by the companies would go to the student organization. The second option was to host a networking event.
“We need the money to go to conference. If we get people here, and FIU gets a percentage, they are going to mess this up because we need the money,” said Coloma.
In order to attend competitions, Coloma said ASCE needs to continue hosting their signature career fair to fundraise and connect with their peers and employers.
“I know that resources are limited within the college but I feel that working together, I still think that they would be able to raise the funds that are needed for the competition. I think that’s important because it does bring notoriety to the University,” said Stanislaus.
After the university threatened to shut them down, the chapter resorted to hosting the event at the Hilton Miami Airport Blue Lagoon Hotel and Conference Center without using any the school’s resources. This venue is located 6.5 miles away from the Engineering Center.
Although it may be seen as an equal alternative, Coloma feels that neither employers or FIU students find the relocation beneficial.
“They don’t come because it’s not on campus. It’s not ideal,” said Coloma. “People have to pay for parking. It’s kind of far away, and we have to pay $750 just to book that thing. When I had to tell [companies] that I had to increase the price and that it was a different location, a lot of companies didn’t like that.”
Participating companies, like BCC Engineering, would rather go to the ASCE career fair rather than the official fair for two reasons, according to Coloma based on feedback she collected.
“We never want to go to the main campus because they want us to pay $650, and you guys get nothing. But when we come here you guys make us pay $350, And you guys get that – it’s all for you,” said Coloma in regards to BCC Engineering’s feedback gathered from Spring 2018.
ASCE hosted their spring 2019 career fair on Tuesday, April 9 at the Hilton. They raised about $4,000 through eight companies’ registration fee and additional donations, similar to previous years. 28 students attended.
The engineering school suggested the development of other fundraising activities to compensate for the loss of ASCE career fair.
“When it comes to fundraising, there are dozens of alternatives to make more money whether it might be something as simple as bake sales or car wash, there are dozens of alternatives – they just have to pursue them,” said Vallejos.
ASCE has engaged in other fundraising activities, however, they haven’t been able to make ends meet for its members.
“We need a lot of money to be at the top,” said Coloma. “Most of our funds come from sponsors and from doing the career fairs. Doing a bake sale or anything – it doesn’t work. With the bake sale, we raised five hundred dollars maybe less.”
The University’s ASCE chapter got 5th place at the 2019 ASCE Southeast Student Conference, but fear they won’t be able to participate in the upcoming national events because of insufficient funding.
The College of Engineering & Computing has supported the student chapter after their achievement in the competition and the organization is hoping the school will be able to financially assist their participation in nationals.
“We’re all praying we make it to nationals,” said Coloma.