The Bobcat Network

Bobcat network people
(from left) Lauren Stotler, Gerald Hill, Katie Fore, Gage Sears

The Bobcat Network

by Mark Wangrin

Maroon and Gold connection can make a big difference when it comes to careers

Opportunity doesn’t always announce itself. Sometimes it sneaks by. Sometimes it lurks. Sometimes it just shows up, cloaked in maroon  and gold, at the right place and right time.

Lauren Stotler was the 2015-2016 Student Government president at Texas State. One Saturday morning she was sitting at the front desk in the LBJ Student Center, working on her homework when the door opened. Brett Baker was a former student body president who stopped by to see how the office had changed in the years since his 2009 graduation.

They chatted, and he told her about his career at SWBC Insurance Services. He gave her a business card. She lost it. But later she was talking to her career advisor, who mentioned Baker’s name. That’s when she remembered it, and their meeting. And when she contacted Baker, he remembered her, too.  A connection was made and, ultimately, a job was landed.

Clayton Bynum was shooting the breeze with a teammate on the Bobcat track and field team one day when the talk turned to majors. Bynum, a freshman hurdler, didn’t have one yet but mentioned his interest in computers and technology. The teammate suggested he might want to look into computer information systems. Bynum did. The teammate also mentioned he had an internship at USAA, and his father worked there. Connections were made; a job landed.

It is called the Bobcat network, that connection between job-seeking Texas State students and alumni — often loosely organized but with the tight bonds that sharing the same college experiences and degrees can provide. Mostly informal, often by chance, it’s that innate bond that surfaces when a Bobcat crosses paths with another Bobcat and makes a connection  that leads to a job opportunity  — or even to a career.

Stotler believes there was an unspoken understanding between her and Baker. “He understood why I wanted to join (SWBC) because he was in the same place I was,” she says. “He had experience with that, knew where I was coming from, how hard it was to be a graduating senior trying to figure it all out, so he was very helpful. I didn't expect that to come from one little conversation in passing. 

Networking is something that Bobcat students learn early. Career Services at Texas State starts with outreach to first-year students to entice them to use the array of resources at the PACE (Personalized Academic and Career Exploration) Center, named a 2016 Outstanding Institutional Advising Program by the National Academic Advising Association.

Started in 2012, the PACE program provides one-on-one resume critiques, mock job interviews, internship opportunities, social media engagement, virtual job searches, advice on how to work a room, and career counseling. Career Services hosts about 25 job fairs a year. Students can even borrow a suit and tie, or a nice dress, to look sharp for interviews. Employers are encouraged to send alums to the job fair. The alums are given special Texas State Alumni badges to encourage networking.

All this just scratches the surface of what Career Services does, but the bottom line is this: Career Services gets students prepared and sends them out with some sage advice.

“If you go to any of our events, don’t hang out in the corner talking to your friends,” says Norma Guerra Gaier, director of Career Services. “Go out and meet somebody and always, always be ready to tell them what it is you’re looking for, what are your interests professionally. It’s as simple as that. Have your 30-second ‘elevator pitch’ ready to go. Who you are, what your major is, what you’re interested in pursuing. Most always that person will say, ‘I know someone you should meet.’  Very rarely will that professional just say, ‘Oh, that’s nice. Good luck.’ ”

Katie Bauersfeld is a May 2017 graduate who utilized alumni connections to get a position as an international adoption counselor with Children of All Nations, a nonprofit based in Austin. She used Career Services and paid it forward by mentoring fellow students in the PACE program.

“I think what Texas State offers is invaluable,” Bauersfeld says. “That’s one thing I absolutely loved about Texas State. It’s not about numbers. They genuinely take the time to make sure every student has their resume read over, or their cover letter edited. I wish more people would take advantage of it.”

Gerald Hill, a former state legislator and a former vice president for university advancement, says internships are another vital tool in networking. Hill says the internships he’s nurtured at his various career stops, most recently with the Seton Family of Hospitals, ends with a directive — don’t forget those coming up behind you. “If you get a chance to open that door for a Texas State alum, do it and at least allow them to have a chance. Give them a foothold. Then it’s up to them.”

“If you get a chance to open that door for a Texas State alum, do it and at least allow them to have a chance. Give them a foothold. Then it’s up to them.” – Gerald Hill

Many employers say the changing culture at Texas State has turned a once sleepy, double-directional commuter school into a place with a reputation for producing bright and earnest employees who don’t come wrapped in entitlement.

Hill earned his bachelor’s degree in education in 1970 and was named a Distinguished Alumni in 1987. He says many Bobcats are first-generation college students and often have to work during the school year to support themselves. Coupled with a steady increase in academic requirements, Texas State molds job candidates who are smart and hardworking and more connected to their fellow alumni.

“Maybe that’s why students feel more engaged and dedicated to the school when they leave,” Hill says. “In many cases, it was a struggle, and they feel an obligation and a dedication to helping make that next generation successful.”

Gage Sears, who as a PACE mentor worked with as many as 60 students in a semester, sees that the university’s emphasis on getting students interested in each other’s success has led to a growth of pride.

“I think there’s really a Texas State tradition starting to spread, from getting your class ring to jumping in the river when you get your degree,” he says. “Texas State is really big on inclusion. When the university takes that stance, the students do too.

“It’s really neat to see the steps they have taken to ensure students’ all-around success. Not just getting you those contacts, but making sure you’re prepared holistically for that interview or whatever job you apply for.”

Building those networks isn’t just asking a former classmate if they can help. Vanessa Cortez Tanner, president of the Austin Alumni Chapter, says the chapter holds events where students mingle with alumni and don’t stop at small talk. They insist the attendees don’t sit with their friends and engage in exercises that promote commonality. One activity has attendees pair up and talk until they come up with a unique common experience. Another activity has alumni sitting in a circle and listing three things to define themselves.

“That’s a lot different than just, ‘What’s your major?’ ” Cortez Tanner says.

At San Antonio-based USAA, the company culture encourages bonding among college hires with the Nexus program, which includes regular meetings, work and social events and guest speakers. Bynum, an IT technical manager who earned bachelor’s (’07) and master’s degrees (’09) from Texas State, recruits part-time with a team made up entirely of Bobcats. He says the program is invaluable for networking at a company that recruits heavily from Texas State and UT-San Antonio.

“They stay in a group, kind of a club if you will, for a year,” Bynum says. “Within that club, there’s the Texas State pocket, the UTSA pocket — all the schools have their own little pocket. I’ve seen a lot of good networking and relationships built. We try to keep them feeding off each other because those relationships pay off. We all have that common bond of the school we love.”

Once that network is established, it flourishes.

Katie Fore, tops in sales with clothing direct retailer Tom James Co., also has a role in recruiting new employees. The 2007 Texas State graduate’s territory also includes Baylor and UT-Dallas.

While Baylor and UT-Dallas has been a challenge, Fore says Texas State is a breeze. “At Texas State, it’s word of mouth,” she says. “It spreads like wildfire. I’ve had great experiences with students talking about our internships, former students talking with someone still in school about what we’re doing. In eight years I’ve been recruiting I’ve hired 55 people — probably 45 of them from Texas State.”

De’Quad Binder ran track for the Bobcats, and says he was much more nervous walking into an on-campus job fair than he was running the 800 in the NCAA Championships — but he felt just as prepared. What he learned from Career Services paid off when he got the interview that landed him a sales analyst job at  J.C. Penney. And it probably didn’t hurt that Binder wore a Bobcat pin on  his lapel that he’d earned for his academic and athletic achievement. It was a good conversation starter.

Binder has only been working at the retailer’s Plano headquarters since his December 2016 graduation, so he’s still establishing himself in his job, but his long-term goals include working in human resources, particularly recruiting.

And he won’t forget where he  comes from.

“Helping in the Bobcat network would be something I’d be excited to do because one thing I’ve learned working in the corporate field now is that networks are everything, school networks are the biggest thing, on who has the influence in the company,” he says.

“It would be my goal to have the same effect for Texas State and someday have a lot of Bobcats in the company. Looking out for each other and giving each other opportunities is just something Bobcats do.”