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Q&A with Ryan Alcantara, USC Rossier’s career services manager

By Ellen Evaristo Published on

As USC Rossier’s career services manager, Ryan Alcantara shares his higher education experience and goals to help students navigate from their academic journey to their career path.

Tell us about yourself and your background in higher education.

I have worked in higher education for over 25 years now, almost all that time has been here in Southern California. I’m the first of my family to graduate from college. I attended UC Riverside and graduated with a BS in psychobiology, but my real major was student activities. I went to the University of Connecticut and got my master’s in education leadership/student affairs administration. I began working at Cal State Fullerton and spent many years there in a variety of roles. Most of my career has been in student affairs work but in close collaborations with faculty and other segments of the university.

I spent time at UC Riverside, Irvine, Valley College and most recently at Marymount California University (MCU), where I had the pleasure of serving as the vice president of student affairs. It was an incredible experience. I left following the closing of the institution, but am blessed to be serving on the board of trustees for the Marymount Education Foundation, which serves to extend the legacy of MCU. We are providing significant scholarships to “B” average students who are in need and wish to pursue an education at small private universities.

Along with my journey, I enrolled at USC Sol Price School of Public Policy and got my PhD in public administration. My emphasis was in policy implementation, and Adrianna Kezar was on my committee.

You have experience at private, public, large and small universities. What drew you to USC Rossier?

My alma mater is the connection. I’ve taught both at USC Rossier as well as Sol Price, and enjoy the activity of a large research institution. My wife, Suzanne Alcantara, works at USC and has been here for over 25 years and my son, Vincent, is a freshman at Viterbi in the civil engineering program. We are truly a Trojan Family. I have a sophomore in high school, Steven, and he is anxiously waiting to apply and be part of that as well. Because of the family ties, it’s a natural place to be.

USC Rossier’s mission and Dean Pedro Noguera had a strong appeal as well. Educational equity is a really important value to me. To be at a place where educational leadership, social justice and equity are such an important value, and that it has the ability to influence policy, seems like a natural fit. Finally, the opportunity to lead career services at the school, to be engaged in the rebranding of a program and to work alongside Jessica Gibson had a strong appeal as well. Career services plays an important role in the work of higher education, and coming on board at the point of transition in the area was exciting. Fundamentally, our duty as educators is to deliver successful alumni, and career readiness is central to that.

What do you have planned for career services?

I’ve got a mantra that I put out there: “Don’t forget career prep.” It’s an awareness campaign for students. In terms of my role, I meet and support students and recent alumni, do programming and coordinate with different units on campus, including the USC Career Center and folks within Rossier to be sure we are providing quality career resources and experiences to our students and they are aware of them.

One of my big directives over the past summer is to make sure I’m in all the immersion and orientation programs and that I’m meeting with our new students. I work with students on resumes and cover letters, the job search, interviews and networking. At the end of their degree program, we want them to be ready or have laid that groundwork before they complete their degree—that whole don’t forget career prep. If you’ve got a clear path, great. If you’ve got a more complicated situation that you want to do, then we can help manage that. We can give you those tools and you've got to start thinking about that now.

As far as community building, how can you build the community within USC Rossier and the USC Trojan Family?

I’ve being actively engaged in that process. My question for students is: What have you done to put yourself out there? The Trojan Network is lifelong and worldwide. But you’ve got to take an active role. If you ask a fellow Trojan for assistance, you’re going to get so much more support because of that USC connection. My job is to make sure students are proactive in accessing it and not waiting until they start their job search to do it. And this is particularly important if a student is considering a career pivot. If you are a Trojan, you are a part of the USC Family. You are a part of this dynamic and rich student experience here at USC. Take advantage of it.

I enjoy bringing programs together. An example is we’ve done a teacher career fair for many years, but only occasionally invited students outside of MAT to participate. If we have schools and districts on campus to meet with future teachers, why not introduce them to our school counselors and up and coming administrators. That’s one of the things that we’ll be looking to do. One of the lenses that I look through is programming: Are there ways to elevate this and connect students across programs? Certainly, our master students can learn a lot from our EdD students and vice versa.

I am working closely with Tom Arteaga, USC Rossier’s director of alumni engagement, on a number of projects, including to relaunch the USC Rossier Career Network, an online platform that is in some ways a mini LinkedIn. Alumni are there because they want to help our students and each other. I put out a note to see if we could have some alumni support special interest groups and the response was incredible. We have several groups: K–12 teaching, K–12 administration, organizational change and leadership, learning design and technology, higher ed administration, women’s leadership network among others. We have a lot out interest out there to support our students. We just need to look at creative ways to engage them. Students also need to participate in these opportunities to maximize their experience. One of the fun parts of my job is looking for those win-wins, connecting people across the school, the university and the Trojan Family to support our students.

Those connections are so important and I know I’ve really enjoyed becoming part of the community. I’m really looking for opportunities to connect and collaborate. We really, really want to serve our students well. At the end of the day we’re not just focused on getting students registered for the next semester, but really making sure we are empowering students to be those social justice warriors in the community. Providing those experiences, connecting them to alumni, making sure they’re making the most of their opportunity here at USC. For students interested in career prep are welcome to connect with me by email or LinkedIn

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