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Spotlight – Debra Kelly, The College of New Jersey

Debra Kelly

Director of the Career Center, The College of New Jersey

kelly_debraDebra earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from East Stroudsburg University and a M.Ed. in Counseling from Kutztown University.  She has been with The College of New Jersey for 14 years and in her current role for approximately 2 years.

What was your career path to get your current role? Director of the Career Center at TCNJ ( Co-teach a career planning course with Faculty Fellow in Humanities and Social Sciences), Associate Director of Recruitment at TCNJ- Assistant Director of Career Services/Liaison to Schools of Business and Engineering at TCNJ; Assistant Director of Career and Academic Planning Center at Rowan University, First Year Student Instructor at Rowan University, Director of Continuing Education programs at Gloucester County College, Outplacement Consultant, Career Counselor at Stockton College, Coordinator of a Career Grant for Camden & Gloucester County areas, Area Coordinator for Residence Life at Lock Haven University with Career Counseling duties and Student Government Advisor.

What was your first job? My first position in Higher Education was as an Area Coordinator at Lock Haven University. This position allowed me to contribute to various areas of Student Affairs through residential education, career services as well as advise a major student group. Before I could articulate this, I truly valued the importance of experiential, community engagement and leadership components within college experience. On a lighter side, I always worked through high school and college as a fitness & sales instructor, part of wait staff, lifeguard, sales support for vacation lots/areas, and college union assistant allowing me to save money to travel throughout the United States, Europe, and islands. Traveling was life changing allowing me to gain an understanding of various perspectives and test out problem solving abilities.

Why did you choose this career? The leadership and community engagement were important components of my college life. My journey began as founding president of a local sorority, Lambda Iota, in undergraduate school (which is still in existence today). We developed an organization from the ground up taking a 1 ½ years to be recognized. We had an emphasis on community development projects, social events and traditions. It was a time to question priorities, learn work in teams and define and re-define success. As a part of my graduate experience I worked in student activities residence life and career services. Career services continue towards the fore- front acting as a bridge to the various academic and areas within student affairs. I enjoyed career services because it is an area where it is important to stay current in a variety of areas-college priorities, economic conditions, student development etc…College is an interesting atmosphere allowing so many choices at your fingertips. Where else can you work where there is learning in and out of the classroom, art, theater, athletics, speakers on various topics just to name a few…

What is the skill that is most important in your current role? As a director, I think there are two areas of importance – team building and embracing change. Most importantly articulate the direction which change can occur is something to build upon. I work with a talented staff that continues to place priorities on student development and provide creative opportunities for them to networking. Talk to me in another year.

How did you develop this skill and how do you fine-tune it regularly? Listening to other points of view; Expanding partnerships within and outside the institution; and getting their opinions. Looking forward to build an advisory group of college and employer personnel.

Did you have a mentor? I had a variety of mentors in undergraduate school- The Dean of Students and student group advisors, the Chair of the Geography Department and librarian. All three people were actively involved in committees and building a sense of community. In graduate school I had the opportunity to have an internship within the career center and a graduate assistantship in residence life with mentors in both areas.

Did you hold any EACE leadership roles?  I have served on a variety of committees in EACE such as Road Trips, Professional Exchange and Professional Development, which have assisted me professionally and personally. I continue to look forward to connecting with colleagues at the conferences and events.

What is your biggest career accomplishment? Taking an active role as treasurer in a local career and employer association. I was a part of a team that expanded the group; but the current leadership of the group continues to enhance services in a variety of areas. Creating a radio show, career talk.

What is your advice to students looking for their first job? When looking for your first position, understand it is not a destination but a process. It might take the weight off making the “perfect” decision but the best option. Before graduation, be curious and resourceful. These traits will assist you in identifying skills and experience you want to develop. And above all, be genuine. Do this by surrounding yourself and spending time with people you value, those in professional associations and experiential advisors. Once in your first position, start to identify where you can make a difference; and it does not hurt to understand what your supervisor values.

What is your advice to young professionals in the field who aspire to your current role? Get involved in professional and local organizations and embrace lifelong learning.

What was the best career advice you have ever received? There were three items a mentor shared…

  • Learn to work with people that you may not always agree.
  • Stay involved in your personal endeavors.
  • Your career is very personal, not business, but do not take yourself too seriously

What would you like colleagues to know about your organization? The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) is a highly selective institution that has earned national recognition for its commitment to excellence. Founded in 1855 as the New Jersey State Normal School, TCNJ has become an exemplar of the best in public higher education and is consistently acknowledged as one of the top comprehensive colleges in the nation. TCNJ currently is ranked as one of the 75 “Most Competitive” schools in the nation by Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges and is rated the No. 1 public institution in the northern region of the country by U.S. News & World Report. TCNJ was named the #10 value in public higher education by the Princeton Review in 2009 and, in 2006, was awarded a Phi Beta Kappa chapter—an honor shared by less than 10 percent of colleges and universities nationally. As far as the Career Center… The Career Center staff welcomes the opportunity to partner with a variety of constituents to build collaborative relationships benefiting TCNJ students. Whether it is working with graduate school representatives, employment partners or career/job search presentations all assist in the preparation of our students. In addition, the center houses student employment and completes the one-year out survey. Positions are advertised through our professional associations (NACE, EACE), and through the human resources website.

Deb visited her career center while in college.


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