Student being given nametag

Despite distance, Career Connections Center helped new students kick-start their paths at UF

The Career Connections Center on Level 1 of the Reitz Union is the heart of many of its services. But, at the start of the pandemic, identifying where students were – and then meeting them there – became the key focus.

That challenge rang especially true for first-year students, who can struggle to get connected to resources and build support networks, said Alison Noonan, senior assistant director for career engagement at the Career Connections Center. Helping students get their footing drives her work.

“I love this generation – it’s just that openness, that exploration, that valuing of diversity. They want to be connected and they’re looking for ways to be engaged,” she said.

Noonan’s message to new students? It’s never too early to start planning for a career. She encourages students to visit the Career Connections Center early and often to begin exploring their options.

“I try to tell them you define your success – none of us can define what success looks like for you,” she said. “And so, through the power of experience through exploration, you’re going to start to figure out and define that success for yourself and what your potential is.”

As part of the Division of Student Life, specialists at the Career Connections Center partnered with the Brown Center for Leadership & Service, the University Multicultural Mentor Program and First Year Florida, UF’s signature course for new students, to cultivate virtual opportunities for career development aimed at first-year students.

“We tried to be strategic about our partnerships to get in front of students,” said Alison Noonan. “Especially when it was so virtual, we were striving for that personalized connection piece.”

Some offerings – such as the CHOMP assessment, which is an online quiz that helps students identify their interests and fields that might suit them – grew in popularity. Last year, 3,100 students – roughly 75% of which were incoming students – took CHOMP, many during their orientation sessions, Noonan said.

“Incoming students are individuals that, for the first time, many of them are away from home,” she said. “Looking at what’s really important to them using their values and interests to see how that impacts their major and how that leads into career decision-making in the future is a big piece.”

Reaching first-year students can help them develop their identities, illuminating how their interests, personalities and strengths can shape their career paths. Some events, such as two events Noonan has hosted to connect first-year students with UF alumni, are designed to shed light on how others have achieved their career goals.

For many students, the Career Connections Center also helps them find their place on campus.

“We give them that space and let them feel like, ‘Hey, this is a place where they’re not only worried about me getting a job. They’re worried about me as a person,” Noonan said. “They’re free to come in when they need support and free to go out when they feel like they’re ready. That’s just one of the things I love, is that they’re looking for that and we can give them that here.”

Learn more about the Career Connections Center.

Source: Alison Noonan,

Writer: Halle Marchese,