On Monday, rather than teeming with the buzz of networking engineers trying to make contacts and good impressions for recruiters and potential employers, Barton Hall was void of any unusual activity.
This year’s Engineering Career Fair that was scheduled to take place on Monday was cancelled in December.
“Planning hadn’t proceeded to a point where we all felt comfortable that we could put on an event that would represent the quality and excellence of our students and the college,” Assistant Dean for Student Services Betsy East said, explaining the College of Engineering’s decision to cancel the event.
Since its conception seven years ago, the Engineering Student Council has organized, funded and operated the career fair with an adviser from the Engineering Learning Initiative.
The career fair has a “tradition of being a student-run event for students,” according to a source close to the events who requested to remain anonymous due to his involvement in planning the event.
For this year’s career fair, however, the ESC worked with Engineering Career Services in planning and making preparations for the event.
According to the ESC Interim President Cathy Chen ’09, Career Services became involved in the planning of this year’s career fair because of several complaints from recruiters following last year’s fair. She heard that there were complaints about the minimal number of volunteers as well as the incidental double booking of multiple recruiters at the same table.
The ESC and representatives from Career Services met weekly last semester discussing plans that had been made for the career fair as well as future plans that were in the works. These meetings lasted until the beginning of December when the career fair’s cancellation was announced.
Chen said that the lack of communication between the ESC and Career Services was provided as an additional explanation regarding the cancellation of the career fair. She said that at the weekly meetings, the ESC would give the career services representatives updates about what had been done the previous week as well as plans for the upcoming week, but nothing official was ever recorded.
According to the anonymous source, one of the communication issues was the lack of official documentation provided to Career Services representatives by the ESC. The representatives had set up a means of recording the progression of the plans for the career fair that the ESC was not using. By the time they had officially documented in an Excel spreadsheet all the plans that were already made and sent it to the representatives, the conclusion to cancel the career fair had already been decided.
East said that the career fair was a “collaborative effort between the ESC and the College and it just didn’t work out this year.”
Considering the progress of the planning around the time the cancellation was announced, East felt there was not enough time to put together an event that would have adequately represented the University itself, the engineering college and the engineering students.
Chen believed that the planning for the career fair was progressing well, even ahead of the pace of previous years. The ESC had booked Barton Hall in May 2008. In addition, it had booked Statler for receptions and lodging for the recruiters, had 20 to 30 volunteers willing to help out during the career fair, and had already gotten agreements from 42 companies who were sending recruiters to the career fair, almost half the desired total number of companies.
She also said that the time the cancellation was announced, shortly before classes ended and finals began, did not afford the ESC an opportunity to organize a rebuttal against the cancellation.
“The pieces were clearly coming together,” the anonymous source said.
While East claimed that a poorly organized and operated career fair would look bad for more than just the ESC, Chen noted that the ESC is a student-run group not technically affiliated with the engineering college or the University. If the event were to go badly, she believed the onus would fall on the ESC.
East still maintained that companies and recruiters do not distinguish who is officially sponsoring the event. If the event is run at Cornell, then any perceptions of the event they might have would be associated with Cornell, the engineering college and engineering students, not just the ESC.
In addition to losing their main event for the year, the ESC will incur $2,475 in losses because of the cancellation, according to Chen.
She said that the cancellation of the career fair forced them to cancel their reservations in Statler Hall, and the ESC will have to pay for canceling those reservations.
While the ESC might suffer financially, the anonymous source noted that the ones who will truly suffer from the cancellation are the engineering students, especially the seniors already struggling to find employment in the present economy.
“I’m disappointed in [the engineering college for] taking away this great opportunity for me to look for a job,” Ethan Richenberg ’11 said. “I think it’s really bad for seniors looking for a job now.”
In response to the question of the possible impact on students, East said that there are many additional opportunities for engineering students to network and make contact with employers. She said there was another career fair on Cornell’s campus in September 2008. The first day of that career fair featured over 200 recruiters from fields of engineering and technology.
In light of the cancellation, the engineering college has elected to open up the last portion of its weekly co-op employer receptions to seniors. There is also an Ivy League environmental career fair at Columbia to which the engineering college is sending two busloads of students. There is also a Government and Non-Profit Career Fair on Feb. 26. There are also employer information sessions throughout the year, including one hosted by the Society of Women Engineers who sponsors information sessions on campus each year for similar recruiting. Furthermore, Career Services holds employer information sessions for engineers and brings hundreds of employers to campus for interviews.
In addition, East said in an e-mail, “From what the college sees in Career Services, it appears that more students than ever are choosing to apply to graduate school, and not applying for jobs this year even though many are available. There are positions advertised in the Cornell CareerNet system for Engineers and University students with very few resumes submitted.”
Chen still maintained while these other options are beneficial for students, “none of these are actual alternatives to a career fair.” She cited that especially in today’s economy with jobs being so hard to come by, canceling the career fair was a “missed opportunity” for students.