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“What I Love Best Is the Students” An Interview with Donna Goldfeder ’90G

Donna Goldfeder was a freshly minted College of Education grad, with a degree in counseling, when she landed an internship with Career Services at Lehigh. During her long career, she has personally changed the lives of thousands of Lehigh students through her work. Here, she looks back on 24 years of service – including 16 years as director – and what Career Services has meant to her, and to Lehigh.

What is the biggest change Career Services has seen since you first joined the team?

It has to be technology. We literally used to stand by a big bulletin board in Christmas-Saucon every night at 4 o’clock and staple up new job notices we received that day. Any student who wanted to apply for a job needed to come and stand in front of the board and read what was posted. In 1991, we had a major technological breakthrough! We started publishing a weekly newspaper we called “Lehigh Listings” which was published until 1997. But in that timeframe we also added an intranet and then an internet site – LUCIE – where we could post notices.

I always thought it was very cutting edge that Lehigh had jobs on the internet before most other universities did, and that we had designed our own system.

How has Career Services grown through the years?

The services we provide haven’t changed drastically, and the philosophy of serving students from every college with career planning has been in place since I started. The difference is really volume. In 1995, we had 2,012 appointments in the academic year. In 2012, we’ll top more than 6,000. We do a lot of our own marketing, and as you hear more about the economic downturn, hovering “helicopter” parents, and how hard it is to get a job, we see a lot more students seeking services, at a younger age.

What’s your philosophy on career services?

I hear a lot about high tech and high touch, and people seem to talk about doing one or the other. My philosophy is that you need both. You need to have the technology in place, but students want to sit across from a human being and have one-on-one assistance with their individual goals. You can take 20 students from the exact same major, and each one of those students will have a different goal. This is not something that can be handled by technology alone.

As director, do you meet individually with students?

I see students when a faculty member, staff member, or parent make a special request, and I had about 400 appointments this year. Some directors do it differently and designate a head counselor who handles those kinds of requests. But what I love best is the students. For me to designate someone else to meet those students isn’t the way I want to do the job. And in meeting them, I never lose my pulse on what’s going on with students. I know which majors are having difficulty finding jobs. I know the faculty because we turn to each other to help the students. So it has increased my ability to have a firsthand knowledge of what’s going on in the university, and to have a lot of contact with our alumni and employers.

How have the students changed through the years?

I think students are harder working now. I think the message in the media is, for better or worse, putting a huge amount of pressure on these students. They feel they have to work incredibly hard from the moment they step on campus, not only to get good grades, but to get internships already their first year. I find they come in to see the staff and ask, “What do I need to do to get an internship?” They don’t expect to have anything just handed to them.

Tell me about a favorite memory from your time here.

There was a fellow who was an engineer, and he was dreadfully, painfully shy. We flooded him with mock interviews until he finally got to the point where he could do a half decent interview, and he did get a job in his field. Several years later, I got a Mother’s Day card from him. He wrote, “You’re not my mom, but you had such a strong effect on my life that I wanted you to know that I love what I’m doing, I’m in a place where people value my work, and I owe you so much.” That was extremely touching.

I also have so many stories about our great alumni, and all the work I’ve done with them. Something like 60 percent of the recruiters who come on campus are alumni.

What brings so many employers to Lehigh?

Lehigh just has an incredible reputation for bright students who work hard and who are problem solvers. Employers will say to me, “We go to other schools, Ivy Leagues, where the students are supposed to be a little bit smarter, but they’re afraid to get their hands dirty. At Lehigh, they dig in and do what needs to be done.” It’s a combination of being really bright, having good analytical and problem-solving skills, and not being afraid to do what it takes to get the job.

You’ve been interviewed through the years by the New York Times, Businessweek, and other major media outlets on career topics. What’s your #1 piece of advice for students?

Make contact with alumni and keep them for life. They are any student’s secret weapon. An alum will give a student all of the information on what it is really like to work in a particular field and make contacts on behalf of an impressive student. I can’t imagine a place where alumni are as accessible and responsive to students as they are at Lehigh. I do a lot of outreach to alums to ask them to advise a Lehigh student, and they literally never say no. So make those connections, and keep them up for life. I tell students: Come back to the reunions, go to events in your hometown, join the Wall Street Council, or the Lehigh Lawyers Association, or your affinity group. Stay close to these people. It will be rewarding.

Posted on Thursday, April 25, 2013
-- Janet Norwood