Virtual career fair connects UNK students, employers from afar

Ashley Einspahr participates in Thursday’s virtual Career and Internship Fair from her residence hall room on the UNK campus. The senior from Arcadia met with employers from across the state. (Photos by Erika Pritchard, UNK Communications)
Ashley Einspahr participates in Thursday’s virtual Career and Internship Fair from her residence hall room on the UNK campus. The senior from Arcadia met with employers from across the state. (Photos by Erika Pritchard, UNK Communications)

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – Ashley Einspahr connected with employers from across the state Thursday, and she didn’t have to leave her residence hall room.

The organizational and relational communication major was among the approximately 250 University of Nebraska at Kearney students who participated in the spring Career and Internship Fair, a virtual event that featured nearly 100 businesses and organizations from a variety of industries.

Offered twice a year, the Career and Internship Fair gives students from any academic program a chance to network with professionals, practice their interview skills and take the first step toward landing a full- or part-time job or internship.

John Gibbs
John Gibbs

“It’s really important for students to start building these professional connections, no matter what grade they’re in. You never know what one conversation may lead to,” said John Gibbs, an assistant director with UNK Academic Advising and Career Development, which organizes the event.

“A lot of jobs are found through word of mouth,” Gibbs added. “The more people you can speak with and showcase your skills, the better off you’ll be post-graduation.”

Einspahr is a perfect example.

She started attending UNK career fairs as a freshman and obtained an internship with Sandhills Global in Lincoln thanks to that company’s partnership with the College of Business and Technology Career Center.

The senior from Arcadia said these events are “crucial” for students as they prepare for their future careers.

“You need to sell yourself and make yourself the best candidate out there,” Einspahr said. “Opportunities like this really help students develop professionally.”

On Thursday, Einspahr was focused on developing relationships with employers looking to fill positions in her field in the near future.

Seated at a desk next to her microwave and minifridge, she spent three hours attending group and one-on-one sessions with representatives from Grand Island Regional Medical Center, Kearney Regional Medical Center, Northwestern Mutual, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, University of Nebraska Medical Center, GIX Logistics and Boys Town.

“This really helps me get my name out there to these companies and let them know, ‘Hey, I’m available come May,’” Einspahr said.

Typically, these student-employer interactions occur at booths set up inside UNK’s Health and Sports Center. However, the Career and Internship Fair moved to an online format last fall because of COVID-19.

This opened the door to new opportunities.

“Some students may not be able to make it to an in-person career fair, especially those who take all of their courses online,” Gibbs said. “The virtual format allows students from anywhere in the world to attend the event.”

The same can be said about employers.

Adam Geffre, a recruiter with Sioux Falls-based LifeScape, was able to participate in the UNK event without making the 10-hour round trip from South Dakota.

“I would say I’m enjoying the virtual side of things,” he said. “There are a lot of different options to recruit now, and that’s amazing.”

LifeScape provides a range of services for children and adults with disabilities and medical rehabilitation needs through its locations in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa. Geffre said the nonprofit organization has “a number of openings” for health care professionals, educators and other positions.

“There are always opportunities,” he said. “The one thing I would tell students is attend events like this, because that’s the most important thing. There are thousands of businesses out there that are trying to find amazing, young talent who will come in and make a difference.”

Geffre views a student’s willingness to adapt to online learning – or a virtual career fair – as a selling point that demonstrates their flexibility, teamwork and ability to utilize technology in the workplace.

“And that’s exactly what we’re looking for when it comes to a new hire within LifeScape,” he said.

About 280 students and 120 employers participated in UNK’s Career and Internship Fair last fall. Because of this success, Gibbs and his colleagues are already thinking about offering both in-person and virtual events in the future.

“It’s definitely something that kind of opened our eyes,” Gibbs said.