Career Services Leaders Provide Innovation and Inspiration
Stefany Fattor, director of career services, and Bernard Stratford, director of experiential education.
by Jennifer Spencer
You would be hard pressed to find two people who love Fordham students—or serving them—more than Stefany Fattor and Bernard Stratford. As director of career services and director of experiential education, respectively, they work together to lead Fordham's initiatives to help prepare students for successful, fulfilling careers.
From the start, Stefany Fattor's career has been driven by a profound sense of justice. As a teen, she grew frustrated when her five adopted siblings failed to receive the services they deserved in school. She decided to become an elementary school teacher to advocate for other children experiencing the same type of challenges.
After teaching in Texas for three years, she realized she was unable to leave the burdens of her urban classroom behind at the end of the day. She took a summer job in data entry at a food brokerage company, where she planned to figure out her next step.
But it soon became clear she had a knack for business. As her boss added responsibilities to her portfolio, Fattor realized she loved the challenge of a dynamic corporate environment.
"I learned that wherever I was working, I was going to be happy. But I didn't know what job I actually wanted," she said. In 2008, Fattor moved with her husband to Ithaca, N.Y., where she started working as the internship program director and trading room manager at Ithaca College's School of Business.
Two months after she started, the stock market crash caused a drastic shift in the career development field. Suddenly, jobs were scarce. Fattor said the quickly evolving economic situation required career development professionals to rethink their strategies for helping students secure positions.
"Just as I was learning how things used to work in career development, things started changing rapidly. I learned how to pay attention and to move fast," she said.
But she also saw that a lack of resources limited her ability to serve students—and she decided to do something about it.
"I recognized right away that my program wasn't properly funded and that students were underserved. That has been a theme throughout my entire career—or life, really—being passionate when students weren't receiving the services I knew they deserved," she said.
Fattor responded by developing a Business-Link Professions Program, a systematic approach to helping students network with professionals in their field and secure relevant internships. She partnered with the Institutional Advancement Office to raise more than $250,000 from alumni to fund the initiative.
By the time she prepared for a move to New York City in 2010, Fattor knew that career development was the perfect field for her.
"The way I think and function is like a business person. I focus on doing things as efficiently as possible and delivering as much as I can at the smallest expense," she said. "But I am also so passionate about serving people."
As she applied to career development jobs in New York, she went on student-led tours to learn about the campuses to which she was applying.
"I fell in love with Fordham on that campus tour. I could tell the students took care of each other, that they were ambitious but not cutthroat," Fattor said.
Fattor was offered the opportunity to work with the students she loved. She started what she calls her "dream job" as the director of career services in August 2010.
Stratford started at Fordham in 1981 as the assistant director of career planning and placement. Trained as a psychotherapist, Stratford said the career counseling systems he encountered when he started working in higher education left him feeling something was missing.
"I decided to use my therapeutic skills to find a way to create a more introspective career counseling model," he said.
Stratford began work on a "nonlinear" career development model, one that includes not just retrospection and projection, but also aspects of self-awareness that focus on helping students identify their skills and how they apply to the world of work. He launched Fordham's first interview-training program in 1982.
Stratford eventually transitioned into leadership roles at Fordham, serving as the dean of students first at Lincoln Center, later at Rose Hill, and finally at Marymount College during its final two years in operation.
In 2008, Stratford accepted the newly created post of director of experiential education—back to his old stomping grounds in career development—more than 25 years after he had first arrived at Fordham.
Stratford began reviewing developments in the field since he had left, sure that there would be new, nonlinear career development models that encouraged students to use their liberal arts skills.
When he realized that very little had changed in 25 years, he set about making the change himself. He said the timing couldn't have been better.
"The world of work is ready for it for an introspective model. Employers today are looking for system, or big-picture, thinkers who are creative, strategic, and analytical—exactly the kind of skills students develop at Fordham through the ancient liberal arts of listening, thinking, speaking, writing, reading, reflecting, measuring, calculating, estimating, and dreaming." Stratford said.
With these skills in mind, Stratford and his team developed the Fordham Futures program, an eight-semester career planning and professional development program focused on awareness, preparation, and presentation that challenges students to embrace the world with a restless curiosity in their everyday life. It also helps students become aware of the value of their liberal arts education and how it connects to the career world.
"All this boils down to the Jesuit educational model: caring for the students first, then watching the transformation of our students occur as they are challenged," he said.
This nonlinear approach, the foundation for the Fordham Futures program, guides everything Fordham's Career Services office does.
Fattor and Stratford are unabashedly enthusiastic about the impact it is having on students. Quantitatively, the numbers are hard to argue with. Since 2010, student participation in career fairs has increased by 70 percent, the number of internships available to students has doubled from 2,000 to more than 4,000, and career cervices counselors conduct 56 percent more counseling sessions than they did three years ago.
But there is also something that's a little harder to measure: an enhanced readiness for the future and all it might bring.
"Because students understand the job search process, they know what they need to do to control the change in their life and can make decisions about where they want to work based not on what people have told them, but on the awareness they've spent four years cultivating," Fattor said.
Fattor and Stratford both say that they are thankful every day for their working partnership that makes it all possible.
"It was very clear right away that we had the only two things that mattered in common—we loved Fordham students and wanted to serve them the best we could each day, and we were both willing to take risks to do things right," Fattor said of her first meeting with Stratford.
Stratford said that though Fattor had never worked in Jesuit education before she accepted her post at Fordham, it was clear from day one that she grasped its most important tenets.
"She understood that you need to care and challenge at the same time, but first you need to care," he said. "If you challenge first, you're playing catch-up. You can't challenge somebody effectively unless you know them."
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