New leader to offer career guidance

As part of the ongoing effort to expand Career Services, USF has named Russ Coughenour as the university’s first assistant vice president for Career Services.

While most universities have offices dedicated to making students employable, on July 21, Coughenour will begin working as one of the first at a state university to be given an assistant vice president title for students’ career development.

“When I see (USF has) gone in and reorganized the upper level positions in the Career Services office, I think that’s exactly the type of organization structure that’s needed,” Coughenour said. “It will help USF with its visibility across the country and certainly with its visibility within the state of Florida.”

Previously, Director Drema Howard, who retired in June, headed USF Careeer Services. Now, Career Services will be restructured with an AVP and three directors leading a larger office with the goal of increasing student employment after graduation.

Coughenour, who served as the director of Career Services at the University of Tennessee, said he knows from experience the impact a career services office can have on students and aims to continue advancing student development by building relationships with employers, organizations and universities across the state.

As a college grad, he worked as a sales representative for three and a half years. Unfulfilled with his work, he decided to rethink his career. 

“I didn’t feel that I had really examined my career as well as I maybe should have,” Coughenour said.

After visiting the Career Services office of a nearby university, Coughenour began to have frequent conversations with the office’s director. 

“The more I got working with him and the more I understood what people in Career Services did and how they impacted people … the more interested I got,” Coughenour said. “The last meeting I had with the director I told him that I wanted to do what he did.”

Coughenour said he knows how to talk to alumni who want to make a career change and undergraduate students who have yet to choose a career path. 

“I know what that feels like to be in the wrong thing,” Coughenour said.

Career Services is a tool Coughenour said students should take advantage of as early as freshman year and continuously visit as they progress through school, moving ever closer to entering the work force.

“You don’t want to throw too much at them in that freshman year,” Coughenour said. “But at the same time the student has a responsibility to start thinking about what comes at the end of the four years.” 

From freshman year forward, Coughenour said students should think about getting experience outside the classroom to increase their marketability to future employers. 

“What a career services office does is help a student with polish, making them look like the very best professional they can as they’re exiting USF and going into the world of work,” Coughenour said. 

For Coughenour, making students marketable includes everything from assisting them with cover letters to teaching interview processes and how to dress for success.

As for the job market, Coughenour said the entry-level market has been healthier than the overall job market. Coughenour said STEM fields are excellent places for students to be, as these fields have great demand.

Coughenour said some majors, such as political science and language, should make more use of Career Services.

“There is not necessarily an occupation attached to those (majors) at the entry level after a four-year degree,” he said. “What Career Services hopes to accomplish is for the student to understand that certain occupations may have to obtain a master’s degree.”

As the state pushes universities for more performance-based funding, universities are being assessed on the percentage of graduates who gain employment or continue education within a year of graduation. Last year, the Board of Governors awarded USF the second-highest amount of funding in the state for having a 69 percent rate of students who gained employment or continued their education and had a median average full-time salary of $34,600 within their first year after graduation.

Nationally, the unemployment rate for college graduates between the ages of 22 to 27 was 6.4 percent, but according to Bloomberg News, the percentage dropped to 5.6 last year. 

Coughenour will begin as USF’s AVP of Career Services at on July 21, and in addition to the new AVP of Career Services position and three new directors, the office will add two full-time career counselors and six student career peers. 

Career Services previously had a budget of just more than $1 million, but has a proposed increase of $605,000, USF Vice President for Student Affairs Tom Miller said in an interview with The Oracle in May.

“We want to expand the opportunities for students, to have practical real-world experiences and develop skills that make them more ready for the job market,” Miller said.