University Career Center Director Susan Story Retires
Joseph Testani will take her place as new director
Cassie Williams Jones
University Public Affairs
After 20 years, Susan Story will retire this month from VCU, where she has made a career out of finding careers for others.
Story, the director of the University Career Center, has helped countless students find their way as they transition to becoming real-world employees. Replacing her in the director's post is Joseph Testani, former associate director of the Office of Alumni and Career Services at the University of Richmond.
Story was not sure which career to pursue when it was her turn to enter the working world. So like many women at that time, she decided to teach. She specialized in elementary education, but quickly learned as a student-teacher that it was a role that did not fit her well.
She then moved into another sector, working at a bank as a trainer. She liked the work, but again was not confident this was the line of work she should be in. Unsure of what her future held, she decided to go back to school.
“I just didn’t want to make any more mistakes,” said Story. “I had already made two career choices, and they weren’t right for me.”
She began attending VCU’s School of Education to pursue her master’s degree. While in the program, she set up informational interviews with members of her cohort at their places of business to learn more about what each of them did in their jobs. She did not expect for one of those meetings to guide the direction of the rest of her career.
However, when Story met with then-classmate Cheryl Melton, who was, at the time, director of VCU’s Cooperative Education Program in the Division of University Outreach, she fell in love with what she did. Story eventually took a job working with Melton on a part-time basis, and eventually moved to a full-time status with the program. Story enjoyed working with students in this aspect because it was like teaching, except that she was working with older students who already knew what they wanted to do with their careers.
Six years later, after some reorganization within the university, the co-op program merged with the career center in 2001, and formed the current University Career Center. This required Story and the others to learn a new way of working with students, and now the students they helped did not necessarily know what they wanted to do in life.
“I had to learn new things then,” she said. “When you work with a co-op student, they know what major they want; you just help them find some real work experience. Now, working with students coming in, sometimes they’re in a major that’s not the one they like, so you do a lot more assessments.”
The University Career Center supports students and recent alumni by providing services such as professional job search resources, career counseling, leadership development and experiential learning opportunities. In addition to serving students, the center works with VCU faculty members to help mentor and recruit students, as well as with local businesses and employers by fostering relationships that help students with job placement.
Since Story’s time as director of the center, several critical programs and resources have been developed to further assist students seeking guidance. One of her proudest accomplishments is the Career Center Ambassadors (CCA) program. Created six years ago, the CCA selects upperclassmen students of all majors to serve as ambassadors in leadership roles to provide peer advising, facilitate presentations for classes and student organizations and assist with major Career Center events.
“I was involved in the CCA program for two years, and although I was acquainted with Sue, I did not really get to know her until she mentored me during my last semester,” said Sai Iyer, a recent VCU graduate and former participant in the CCA program. “We connected from the start, and it was an honor to be advised and challenged by such a warm, compassionate and caring member of the VCU community. I'll never forget the deep discussions we had in her office on a variety of issues and the lighthearted laughs we shared every time we met.”
Story feels she’s learned a great deal from students like Iyer, and she appreciates their willingness to work hard.
“VCU students are so unique because they’ve always been working students. They usually have their feet on the ground and know what they have to do,” she said. “Our employers really like VCU students because they’re not full of themselves or egotistical - they’re willing to learn and to try, and not afraid to work.”
Story not only made an impact on her students, she is also respected and well-liked by her colleagues. A strong advocate of face-to-face communications, Story has built lasting relationships with a team of people she credits with varied strengths and talents.
“As my past supervisor, Sue Story was a strong motivator and advocate of my career goals,” said Joseph Lyons, interim associate director of the center. “She made it policy to interact with the staff on a personal level, providing mentorship and support on a consistent basis.”
Now, with retirement at her doorstep, Story is ready to slow down for a while and spend time with her three grandchildren. In reflecting on her time, she thinks about the moments that meant the most.
“I don’t have any great shining moment,” she said when asked her biggest accomplishment at VCU. “When a student tells you, ‘Hey, I got the job!’ that’s a great day, because you’ve had some impact on a student, and then they will give it back to someone else.”
Testani can look forward to hearing that from the VCU students he’ll work with as the new director of the Career Center. With almost 15 years of experience working in career services for a variety of institutions and a belief in career development as an integral part of the success of students, graduates, the community and the university as a whole, he will bring new ideas and a range of expertise.
“I was excited about the opportunity at VCU and to be part of the change that is going on here,” he said. “With the leadership from President Rao and the Quest for Distinction, the momentum from Coach Smart and Athletics, and the role the university plays in the growth of the city of Richmond, in Virginia and nationally, I thought it would a great next step in my career and an opportunity to build upon the great work already being accomplished here.”
Testani began at VCU in June.