Developing Career Services at HNC

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SAIS students and Robert Shields stand together at the Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai during the January 2013 Career Trek. (Courtesy of Robert Shields)
SAIS students and Robert Shields stand together at the Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai during the January 2013 Career Trek. (Courtesy of Robert Shields)

Associate Editor at SAIS Nanjing

Robert “Robbie” Shields, the latest addition to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center faculty and staff, is the first career services specialist to join the HNC. Within the last year he has worked tirelessly to bring new services, events, and resources to HNC students.

According to him, “It’s a brand new position that has a lot of complexity to it,” and requires a lot of collaboration between career services at all three SAIS locations to ascertain “what are things that we can do across all three locations, and what are things that are unique to China.”

In the past year, the career services office implemented a host of different events and opportunities at HNC. Among established events is an annual alumni weekend held at the end of October. This year’s alumni weekend saw a 300 percent increase in attendance.

Another event planned for the upcoming weekend is a three-day mini-course on “Doing Business China” taught by Omario S. Kanji, HNC alum and partner at Beijing-based law firm Price Cao.

Additionally, Shields works with his SAIS colleagues to plan and implement the Asia Career Trek. During the trek, ten HNC students and ten SAIS students join Shields and SAIS Career Services Director Ron Lambert to visit institutions based in Shanghai and Hong Kong to learn about different sectors and careers in China. The Asia Trek gives students access to specialists in fields such as law, finance, and media among other industries.

In addition to the trek to Shanghai and Hong Kong, Shields worked with his China-based colleague Niu Xiaohu to launch a career trek to Beijing, featuring visits to the American embassy, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pearson, and Price Cao.

During these employer visits, students meet with employers for roughly 60-90 minutes to hear about “their operations in Asia, their hiring practices and needs, their personal career insights, and then they open up for Q and A where students can pick their brains,” said Shields.

Apart from organizing and coordinating these events Shields also routinely holds career service workshops on campus. When he is not hosting workshops on campus, he meets with students during appointment and drop-in office hours. These one-on-one meetings have given him insight into the different career service needs of international and Chinese students, and their goals and attitudes during the job-hunting process.

When asked about some of the differences between Chinese and international students, he spoke in particular about the sources of external pressure.

“[With] American students, there is the expectation of having part-time jobs when they are in university, generating their own source of income…[with] Chinese students, maybe their system is one where you see that families take a greater role in paying for the students’ education, but because of that there’s a different sense of pressure, a different sense of obligation to the family,” said Shields.

Shields also offered a fresh perspective on the challenges facing students.

“When it comes to a workforce that stretches across all countries and is continuing to become more globally connected, even small businesses now in the US, China and Europe etc.., you can pretty much count on…some global component, even if you’re just a small shop,” he said.

He believes that HNC prepares students to overcome these challenges because of its bicultural environment.

“It is not just bilingual it is bicultural, and there’s a distinction…The ability to speak the language isn’t in and of itself the only asset that you’re going to need to succeed. You have to understand the perspectives and backgrounds of your partners, of the people you’re going be working with,” said Shields.

Lastly, Shields encouraged students to appreciate the uniqueness of their educational community. When, “you look at the alumni, the people who come from the HNC, from the SAIS community in general, it’s a very unique educational background, and one that has really created a very professionally successful group of alums. Students that are here are part of a community, a family so to speak, of remarkable and cool people,” said Shields.

This experience, “will ultimately serve you well when it comes to your career whether that career is in management, consulting, law, banking, human rights, government service, or other. People in the Hopkins community are leaders in numerous industries across the globe,” said Shields.

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