By Whitney Baxter
The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Career Services office has been serving students and families for almost five decades, building a community of relationships that represent generations of success and stories.
“Working here has been all about building relationships,” said Mike Gaul, director of the CALS Career Services office, recently as he sat at a table with other current and past representatives of his office at Iowa State University.
The group – who reminisced about the many changes and impacts the office has witnessed – included the office’s former director, Roger Bruene; current administrative assistant, Lois Benning; and four members of the Campbell family, Dennis, Claire, Julia and Jack – all of whom have worked for CALS Career Services as Iowa State students.
They marveled at the fact that in the office’s nearly 50 years, it has only had two directors and has been a place of student employment for two generations of the Campbell family. Among the seven of them, as well as Bruene’s former administrative assistants, the group collectively has 100 years of experience working in the office.
A storied history
The CALS Career Services office was established in 1975 when Bruene was hired as its first full-time director. Until then, career-related guidance had been offered to students on a part-time basis by a graduate student.
Bruene, who earned his agronomy degree from Iowa State in 1956, was working as professor-in-charge of the farm operation program when he was approached by former CALS Dean Floyd Andre about becoming the career services director.
“I met with the dean for an interview that lasted five minutes. I was hired and started that same day,” Bruene said with a laugh.
That hiring process is very different than when current director Gaul, a 1986 horticulture graduate, applied for the position in 1998 at Bruene’s recommendation. Gaul’s day-long interview process included several interview sessions, a seminar presentation and an evening meal with several search committee members.
Throughout his time with the Career Services office, Bruene saw expanding enrollment in the college, the evolution of summer internships and an increase in the number of female students enrolling in CALS.
He remembers the 1980s when jobs were scarce and the number of students looking for post-graduation employment was high.
While some of today's students camp outside Hilton Coliseum to get good basketball seats, CALS students in the late 1970s and early 1980s camped outside Curtiss Hall, hoping to get one of the dozen job interview slots with a company coming to campus. Bruene explained that a sheet of paper would be hung on the wall first thing in the morning with limited spaces where students could sign their names to participate in an interview.
Dennis Campbell, a 1989 agricultural and life sciences education graduate, recalls attending evening sessions during which companies would give presentations and talk about positions they had open.
“There would be a room full of upper-level students, all vying for jobs,” he said.
Career fair’s humble beginnings
What is now known as the nation’s largest agriculture and life sciences career fair started in Curtiss Hall. Employers would set up booths in the rotunda and the north and south hallways on all the building’s floors. Bruene said they had to think strategically about where to place each company to avoid having companies that would attract large crowds of students too close together.
Before long, the career fair grew so much it needed to be moved to Iowa State’s Memorial Union, and, now, to its location at the Lied Recreation Athletic Center.
Back in the day, students would visit the Career Services office to peruse the list of companies set to attend and learn more about them in preparation for the career fair.
“We collected a library of information for each of the companies, which students could look at to learn about them to decide which ones they were interested in,” Dennis Campbell said. Part of his responsibilities as a Career Services student employee was to help maintain that library of information.
A new generation
Claire Campbell, who graduated from Iowa State in 2020 with a degree in biology, remembers her dad introducing her to Gaul when they visited the Career Services office the summer before she began her freshman year of college. Not long after, she became the first of the Campbell siblings to become a student worker in the office.
“Being able to help science majors in the college learn what you can do and telling them the career fair is not just for ag-related employment opportunities was something I enjoyed doing,” Claire Campbell said.
Younger sister, Julia Campbell, who graduated this spring with degrees in agricultural business and economics, enjoyed welcoming students and interacting with visitors when she worked in the office during the lunch hour.
“I really learned to appreciate the role of gratitude in everyday interactions,” Julia Campbell said.
Younger brother Jack Campbell, a junior in agricultural business at Iowa State, has become more sure of his future pathway through his involvement as a CALS Career Services office student worker. His favorite memory thus far has been early morning coffee gatherings with Career Services staff and student volunteers before they head to Lied to ensure the career fair runs smoothly.
“That first sip of coffee before the Career Fair in the Starbucks parking lot is like no other,” Jack Campbell said.
Grateful for the lifelong connections made
The relationships students form with the CALS Career Services office don’t end when they graduate. Former students continually turn to Bruene or Gaul for job suggestions. Many come back to the CALS Career Fair representing their current employer.
“It’s been a pleasure for me to watch the many successes of the former students I interacted with,” Bruene said.
“It’s a two-way street – Roger has been a great mentor and a true friend,” Gaul added.
Dennis Campbell sees the impact the office has had on him and his children, as well as other alumni.
“The continuity of the transition from Roger to Mike has helped two or three generations of senior leaders do well,” he said. “Employers know when they hire a CALS student, they are getting a quality employee.”