Akio Lopez (BA ’20) took a deep breath and focused on what was about to happen in the Career Development and Experiential Learning Center at Fresno Pacific University.

He walked into the interview room and shook hands with the woman from the accounting firm. Lopez handed her a one-page resume and waited for the classic opening: “Tell me about yourself.”

Lopez spoke about his goal of becoming a certified public accountant. Yes, he said, he had setbacks in college, but persevered. Lopez’s confidence grew as he leaned into the university’s commitment to helping students navigate the journey from classroom to career. “Everything about my education began to feel real,” Lopez recalls. “College had been a long road, but that day I felt like things were finally falling into place. My hard work was finally paying off. That’s why the interview was so important to me.”

At FPU, business majors like Lopez benefit from classroom experiences, internships and career development services as they build their futures. “A key goal for the School of Business is to ensure graduates are prepared for the important roles they will play in their communities,” says Katie Fleener, Ph.D., dean of the school. “We stay true to the business principles we teach, while fostering innovation as we engage in new ways with students and employers.”

Testing career choices

Connecting students to professionals is a goal for Breck Harris, Ed.D., professor of business. “I want my students to see current, real-world applications,” he says. Harris’ strategy: guest speakers. “A speaker can give students an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, am I good fit for that?’ It’s a fantastic way for students to test their career choices,” he says.

Speakers have included a small-business owner discussing the four P’s of marketing success—product, price, place and promotion—and the owner of a media company discussing digital platforms and omni- channel marketing. Ken Neufeld, a broker associate at London Properties in Fresno and member of FPU’s Board of Trustees, has also spoken to Harris’ students. “They are quite engaging and ask good questions,” he says. Senior Erika Engvall says the speakers in Harris’ advertising and promotions course offered perspective, provided career tips and answered questions. “Having a real-life perspective allows students to grow in their understanding of an industry and be more prepared for life after college,” she says.

Career development

Starting in fall 2020, that preparation has included a required internship for all undergraduate business majors. “Faculty members believe that all students require a reasonably relevant and meaningful real- life exposure to the world of work before graduation,” says Ranjan George, Ph.D, associate professor of business. To assist students in finding internships and jobs, the Career Development and Experiential Learning Center runs the Career Achievement Program (CAP), open to all majors.

First step: a boot camp of sorts that helps students write resumes, use digital platforms to network with prospective employers and prepare for interviews.

The interview prep includes etiquette (don’t fidget) and salary tips (don’t talk money until after a job offer is made). “Every student encounters that moment of truth while facing the challenges of entering the world of work,” George says. “This enables them to face interviews with greater confidence and find rewarding and productive work soon after graduating.”

Second step: interviews with people in their fields of study.

The pandemic has made virtual interviews a necessity. Some interviews lead to offers of an internship or a job, but all are valuable, says Rose Winn, M.S., center director. “There may not be immediate results. That could come down the road, but the interviews certainly help students with branching out and building networks in their industries.” Moreover, interviews are opportunities for students to learn how they present themselves. Interviewers evaluate each student to “provide qualitative feedback on their strong points and areas for improvement,” Winn says. Faculty do a good job preparing students for interviews. “Our students are not walking in blind. They’ve had time to become polished and confident in how they articulate themselves,” she says.

Third step: networking opportunities.

The career center hosts a campus luncheon for interviewers and students where they can “mix and mingle,” Winn says. Students may feel more relaxed, and, as a result, establish a more personal connection with interviewers. This spring, the luncheon was also virtual.

Journeys to success

FPU business graduates connect across the Valley. Adjunct faculty Rich Mostert (BA ’01), director of the Valley Community Small Business Development Center, could be one point of contact. The center—funded by the Small Photo of Rich MostertBusiness Administration—provides no-cost consulting and no-cost to low-cost training to hundreds of entrepreneurs and small business owners in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties. “It’s always a great pleasure to work with clients who have graduated from Fresno Pacific,” Mostert says. “Their business acumen as well as their ethical standards are an excellent foundation for their entrepreneurial success.”

Each of those FPU entrepreneurs takes their first steps in building a career—as Lopez did on the morning of his interview in the career center. He credits Sylvia Kim, D.B.A, associate professor of accounting, for challenging him. “She pushed me, and I’m very grateful for that,” Lopez says.

His path to the interview took some detours. Lopez, 25, attended FPU briefly after high school, but left to work and then attend community college. He returned in 2018, and the following year had his interview. At that point, Lopez was seeking an internship, and the interview with the representative from the Moss Adams accounting firm went well. “I’m usually a little timid to start with, but once I’m able to gauge the other person, I settle in,” he says.

Remembering the advice on how to present himself professionally, Lopez wore dark dress pants, a light blue, long-sleeve shirt and a dark blue patterned tie. Lopez says he gave the interviewer his full attention and came prepared with appropriate questions: What do you look for in a job candidate? What are your grade point average requirements? The interview eventually led to a summer internship, then Lopez returned to FPU for his senior year. While completing his degree, he accepted an offer to work in Moss Adams’ Fresno office. He graduated in December 2020 and was named one of two Outstanding Graduates in the School of Business.

Lopez began his job in January. “I’m fortunate to be there, and grateful for all that Fresno Pacific has done to prepare me for this career. My journey with FPU has been pivotal in developing me personally and professionally.”