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Jennifer Cunningham stands amongst bookshelves in the Career Center

Jennifer Cunningham

Making Careers

Career Center's Jennifer Cunningham Guides Students Toward Future Paths

July 22, 2008

By Pamela McLaren

With the state of the current state and national economy, many Cal State Fullerton students — especially those considering careers in education and nonprofit organizations — are concerned about whether they will be able to find jobs when they graduate.

Helping those students develop career objectives and providing advice on how to prepare is the job of Jennifer Cunningham, industry specialist for nonprofit and education in Cal State Fullerton's Career Center.

The center currently has five industry specialists, an internship specialist and a general career counselor, working with students and industry officials to make the connection between the future workforce and where they will be getting jobs. The model for industry specialists to help students was created on campus by James Case, director of the Career Center, in 1999.

A member of the campus community for nearly eight years, Cunningham works with students who are planning to work in the nonprofit and education industries and is the career center liaison to the colleges of Education and Health and Human Development.

Cunningham recently completed her second master's degree, this time in counseling, from Cal State Fullerton. Her first graduate degree was awarded in negotiation and conflict management from Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Q: What are the usual challenges you face and how has that changed in the current economic situation?

We are starting to see more alumni who are facing layoffs and new grads becoming frustrated because they are not finding employment as quickly or starting salaries as high as they had hoped. Also, new teacher candidates are finding that teaching jobs are very difficult to come by.

Q: What advice are you giving graduating students, particularly in education and nonprofits?

Teacher candidates need to consider moving or commuting in order to find opportunities. They also need to take on substitute positions, apply at multiple districts and make sure all of their documentation (resumes, letters of reference, applications) are stellar.

The competition is fierce and they must set themselves apart. However, statistics on those in the teaching field who are due to retire, indicate that the market for teachers in California will improve in the coming years.

For those considering nonprofit, the best advice is to network, volunteer and intern at organizations where they want to work. Nonprofits are often small with limited budgets and paid positions often go to those who already have their foot in the door.

Q: How did you get into the career counseling field?

I had 15 years experience in business and government. Usually career counselors are hired because they have an educational background in career counseling, but our career center is unique in that we all have industry specialty areas. We either have had direct experience in the field and/or have developed knowledge during the course of our work.

Q: Is there a typical day in your work and if so, what is it?

What's typical is that every day is different. For instance, I do classroom presentations on resume writing, job search strategies, interviewing, etc., or I might have an individual appointment with a student to discuss career/academic options the student might want to consider. I also could be on the walk-in desk reviewing a student resume or off campus meeting with an employer to discuss how to hire Cal State Fullerton students.

The Career Center library has an excellent book, "The Nonprofit Career Guide - How to Land a Job That Makes a Difference" by Shelly Cryer, which is available for students to check out and read. Also, conduct informational interviews with those whose work you are curious about.

The Career Center has an excellent resource library and websites with links to valuable industry information at

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