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USF provides model, training for first Algerian career center

USF’s Career Center assists more than just students on the Tampa campus in finding a job.

The University’s center also served as the model for Algeria’s first career center and provided training for its staff members earlier this semester.

“The (Algerian) career center is the first in the country,” said USF Career Center Director Drema Howard. “It will serve as a model for others … and is of interest to both the U.S. Embassy and the Algerian government.”

Howard said USF’s involvement with the project began when she got a call over the summer from Lakhdar Boukerrou, senior field coordinator for The William Davidson Institute, a nonprofit research and educational institute established at the University of Michigan, asking how much career training the University could provide the Algerian center’s employees over a two-week span.

The center was opened in November 2009 at the University Mentouri Constantine (UMC) in Algeria, but was still in the process of setting up operations, buying equipment and hiring and training staff members. The staff for the center had already gone through a year of training. However, they wished to come to America to receive in-person, on-the-job experience.

Boukerrou, who had worked with both UMC and USF and oversaw the center’s creation, said he was impressed by the USF Career Center and had been “looking for an opportunity to bring the two countries together.”

Five students from the UMC career center traveled to Florida from July 30 to Aug. 13 to be trained by the USF Career Center’s 20-person staff. UMC’s program was modeled after USF’s before members even stepped foot on campus, all the way down to hiring students.

Career Center Director Mohamed Salah Boulahilb, Assistant Director of Employer Relations Faycal Kahli, Career Counselors Imene Bakiri and Imene Khali and Administrative Assistant Rym Sebihi make up the first student staff at a university in Algeria, Howard said.

“They have been really impressed by how much students can bring to that environment,” Howard said. “So now they’ve got the student staff.”

To equip the students with the skills they would need to run the center, Howard’s staff created exercises to instruct them in career center operations, career assessments and career development processes, she said.

Daily student-led meetings were held to help the students gain a better understanding of how student and faculty members should interact and ask questions of one another, Howard said. Students were also asked to share what they learned at the end of each day.

“I tried to create it not just as lecture and workshops, it was also very experiential,” Howard said. “It was almost like a professional internship.”

The students sat in on Career Center meetings, talked about how to obtain sponsorships and learned to set up job fairs, she said. They were also asked to design a manual for navigating O*NET online, an American job-search database that can be replicated in an Algerian version.

“It was just such an eye-opener to them about what could be done,” Howard said.

To help fund the career center, UMC was given a three-year grant of about $600,000 from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of the Higher Education for Development and the U.S. Embassy in Algeria. UMC also helped to provide funding for the center.

Because of USF’s involvement with the UMC career center, other organizations have begun to show interest in creating a similar center. Howard said discussions about the USF staff attending the first career fair in Algeria this spring are in the works.

The Algerian students were not the only ones who learned something during their two weeks in America. Terrence Dowling, an alumni career coach at USF who assisted in the training session, said he took away new friendships and understandings from his experience.

“Working with our Algerian visitors provided both sides with an opportunity to meet, work with and ultimately befriend individuals and gain a true understanding of one another and our cultures,” Dowling said. “This experience also made me realize that the bridge between us and our visitors was the genuine desire and dedication to help students and alumni in the career development process.”