VCU wins inaugural Career Spark Award from national platform Handshake

Only 31 schools were cited in program that honors excellence in campus career centers.

2023 Handshake Award Winner
Of more than 1,400 higher education institutions that use Handshake, VCU is among only 31 to be honored in the program.

In its inaugural awards program, the employment platform Handshake has selected Virginia Commonwealth University as a winner of its Career Spark Award, which recognizes the leading career centers on college campuses nationwide. Of more than 1,400 higher education institutions that use Handshake, VCU is among only 31 to be honored in the program.

Founded in 2014, Handshake aims to ensure that all college students have equal access to meaningful careers, and its network now includes more than 13 million active student users and 850,000 employers. Its new Career Spark Awards focus on three categories based on Handshake data — student engagement, employer engagement and reporting/analytics — and VCU was cited for achievement in student engagement and reporting/analytics from July 2022 through June 2023. VCU is one of only five schools to win in multiple categories.

For VCU Career Services, the award acknowledges strategic efforts to cultivate job and internship postings, host career events and employer engagement opportunities, create and market the university’s First Destination Survey on post-graduate outcomes, incorporate Handshake system into VCU’s Federal Work-Study program expansion, and collect and utilize data.

“VCU is increasing in national prominence and visibility for its efforts in career development,” said Samara Reynolds, executive director of VCU Career Services. “It is meaningful to receive official confirmation that what we are doing goes above and beyond — and that we can serve as thought leaders sharing best practices within the career development community nationwide.”

Danielle Pearles, senior associate director for employer and experiential development at VCU Career Services, has served as system expert and primary administrator for Handshake since it was implemented at VCU in 2018. She also has trained colleagues in the college-to-career system and engaged with vendor partners, and she has been invited to speak on a Nov. 1 virtual panel with other Career Spark Award winners to share best practices with peers in higher education and employer organizations nationwide.

“VCU’s campuswide commitment to student engagement is inspiring,” according to the Handshake relationship manager who works with VCU. “Their emphasis on reporting and positive outcomes enables their cross-functional team to innovate and grow year after year. Danielle and her team are such wonderful partners, and I am excited to honor their hard work!”

At VCU, Handshake is used and supported by the central VCU Career Services team as well as staff members in the School of Business Career Services, led by Executive Director Katybeth Lee, and College of Engineering Career Services, led by Director Laura Lemza. The three units collaborate year-round to make Handshake a robust career resource for students, faculty, staff, alumni and employers. Connie Peyton, director of Institutional Research and Decision Support, has also partnered intentionally with VCU Career Services to build and host the First Destination Survey on Handshake since 2019, which has doubled the university’s data collection rate on post-graduate outcomes in recent years.

“Becoming an award-winning Handshake institution has really been a campuswide effort,” Reynolds said. “We were selected to be recognized purely based on Handshake’s analysis of our engagement with the system and their organization, and we were pleasantly surprised to receive the news.”