Two freshmen nursing majors at Villanova neared table 16, where Mary Agnes Ostick, a university health center administrator, waited.

“I’m Susan, and I’m from… ,” one student began.

Ostick stopped her: “Wait, wait… When you’re interviewing, don’t just say ‘I’m Susan.’ You want to give me your whole name.”

You’ve heard of speed dating. This was speed networking.

The nearly 100 nursing majors spent the next hour, moving from table to table in 10-minute increments, learning to network with Villanova staff and alumni. It’s part of the nursing college’s professional development program to prepare students for careers — from freshman year.

“This program puts the polish on the professional,” explained Ann Barrow McKenzie, director of college relations.

That’s something colleges are focusing on more as competition for jobs increases and schools are under pressure to show the worth of a degree.

HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

The recently redesigned career center inside Temple University’s Mitten Hall.

Colleges are working with students earlier and even decades after graduation. They’re employing technologies to connect alumni with alumni and students with alumni. Their career centers are fostering relationships with employers, leading to internships and jobs.

“Colleges and universities are starting to understand how the nature of recruiting and career development is shifting,” said Kevin Grubb, executive director of Villanova’s center. “Competition is higher and fiercer. The way organizations think about hiring students is different. It is in its own right a skill to be developed.”

Alumni focus

Allison Iacullo, a 2006 Villanova graduate, tired of working in finance in New York City. She moved to the Jersey Shore and wanted to find something else. She worked in retail, graphic design and finally on a golf course, where she coincidentally met the president of the board of directors of Villanova’s alumni association.

He suggested she call Villanova’s career center. Iacullo, 34, of Ocean Grove, hadn’t considered the school would help an alumna more than a decade later.

A career coach talked her through options and helped her figure out she’d be suited to a smaller company that liked her creativity and design skills and could utilize her finance knowledge. Through the center’s career management system, she found options. She’s now happily working for a retirement planning firm in Red Bank, N.J. — and telling fellow alumni about the career center.

“It’s free, and they can help you,” she says.

Some colleges, such as the University of Pennsylvania, provide career services for free to alumni for life. At Penn, which has nearly 300,000 alumni worldwide, 15 percent of the career center’s appointments last year involved alumni, said Barbara Hewitt, its executive director. About 90 percent of students use career services while at Penn, she said.

Muhlenberg College in Allentown in 2017 began sending career center employees to New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington (they’ve added Baltimore and Chicago) to meet with alumni. They offer advice on using Linked In, interview preparation and career changes