Bridges built

Jayhawk Career Network program connects students, employers


Facing a hard deadline for a big website redesign, Firesign Marketing, a small Kansas City agency that specializes in law and legal tech firms, needed a hand transferring data to its client’s new site. Because three of the four-member team are KU journalism graduates, they turned to a source they knew they could trust: their alma mater.

Firesign used the Alumni Association’s Bridges program, KU’s marketplace for connecting students and recent graduates to real-world projects, to enlist the help of students Grace Fisher and Kayla Hernandez for the precise, detail-oriented work the job required.

Grace Fisher worked on a project for Firesign Marketing
Grace Fisher

“What we got was extra hands, extra help to get the project done on time, which was extremely important” says Erin Curtis-Dierks, j’97, senior account director at Firesign. “We got not just work, but careful work, where they paid attention to detail and made sure everything was good.”

Part of the Association’s Jayhawk Career Network, Bridges enables employers with Jayhawk connections to list short-term virtual projects through the KU Mentoring hub, the Association’s online platform that matches students and alumni in mentorships. Students apply for and complete projects online. The smaller scope and condensed time frame of these “micro-internships” allows students to quickly add real-world experience to their résumés and gives businesses a chance to help future and new alumni while benefiting from their talent.

“Right now, because of the pandemic, the world of business and work is changing rapidly,” says Howard Graham, g’09, PhD’20, director of the Jayhawk Career Network. “With their experiences in the virtual world, with social media and online classes, students and recent graduates really can be valuable to a business that needs to adjust to this rapidly changing work environment. So employers who use Bridges not only are providing opportunities for personal and professional growth, but also they could be getting some immediate help with a strategic priority or a project that needs to advance faster because of this rapidly changing environment.”

Curtis-Dierks says Firesign looks to KU students to fill more traditional, long-term internships, so it seemed a natural fit when they needed short-term help. Especially since the project required a high degree of accuracy.

“We like that KU connection because we feel like there’s a level of trust there, a synergy, with us being alumni and them being students,” she says. “We can count on them to do a really good job.”

A large applicant pool with many qualified candidates and the platform’s ease of use were also pluses, Curtis-Dierks says. And then there was the satisfaction contributing to her alma mater.

Always Jayhawks Erin Curtis-Dierks of Firesign Marketing

“What we got was extra hands, extra help to get the project done on time.”

—Erin Curtis-Dierks

“We were journalism students, so we know how important it is to have internships when you’re in college, how pivotal they were to us getting jobs after graduation,” she says. “To come full circle and have students helping us out benefits us all. They get to build their résumé and we get to give back to the University we all love. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Fisher, a sophomore in business from the Chicago suburb of Lombard, Illinois, is interested in branding and content creation and strategy; she envisions a career in marketing or advertising. Getting paid while putting her extended winter break to good use was “A-plus,” she says, but what she really values are the long-term benefits a micro-internship promises.

“The ability to put it on my résumé and be able to talk about it in future interviews is great,” Fisher says. “The importance of getting that real-life experience, working with a professional to hit a due date without having somebody guide you every step of the way, I feel that’s something that can only be learned by doing it.”

Moreover, she says résumé building at this early stage of her college career feels like a head start.

“Relevant experience is so hard to get when you’re an underclassman, because you’re not able to be a president of a club, you’re not able to be on the executive boards just yet,” Fisher says. “Little experiences like these can totally set you apart by a mile. It puts you on people’s radars.

“One reason why I came all the way to KU from Chicago was because I knew this is a huge alumni network; a lot of them come back to Chicago. Now I feel like I’m really seeing those opportunities and seeing that alumni network in action.”

Photo credits: Top photo by Steve Puppe. Bottom photo courtesy of Erin Curtis-Dierks and Firesign Marketing.