New career options emerge out of the shadows

University of Southern Maine Career and Employment Hub Job Shadow Program logo

Shadows change their shape depending on the angle of the sun at different times of day. By allowing students to see their professional ambitions in a new light, the Job Shadow Program allows for a similar change in perspective.

First-year student Sofia Oliveri is a case in point. In addition to pursuing a degree in Sociology, she is also on the accelerated track to get into the UMaine School of Law. She always saw herself becoming a defense attorney and arguing cases in court. After her experience as a job shadow at Unum, she’s now weighing options she never considered before.

“They gave me so much information that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” Oliveri said. “Hearing from personal experience is a lot better than looking up, ‘What does a day in corporate law look like?’”

Oliveri was one of ten students who gave the new program a try. During the second week of February, each participant spent a single day embedded with a local business to see how it operates. The Career and Employment Hub designed and facilitated the program but then stepped back to allow students to work directly with their hosts to customize their itinerary.

“That is something that fills me with extreme pride, seeing those students taking that step, making that development,” said USM Career Liaison Peter Hofmann. “I think that’s a pretty satisfying thing to see.”

Sociology student Sofia Oliveri takes a break during her job shadow experience at Unum.
Sofia Oliveri sat in with the legal team at Unum for her job shadow experience.

Unum is a Fortune 250 company and a giant in the insurance industry, with an operation extending into multiple countries. With such a huge corporate structure at her disposal, Oliveri asked for access to the legal team and Unum made it happen.

Oliveri held court at a table that Unum set up for her in the heart of its Portland offices. Members of the legal team joined her to explain their typical work day, offer tips on law school, and answer whatever questions were put to them.

“She really impressed our leaders,” said Holly Jo Haynes, Assistant Vice President of Talent Acquisition for Unum. “Several leaders from the organization reached out to me after connecting with her and were like, ‘Let me know what we can do to help get her at Unum.’ They were really impressed with how professional she was.”

That relationship is already moving into its next phase. Oliveri followed up her visit to Unum by accepting an offer to join the company’s Scholars Program. Starting March 21, she’ll begin part-time work at a paid internship.

“We need and rely on fresh new talent that has these skills,” Haynes said. “We’ve got deep partnerships with universities like USM. And it’s just critical to our longer-term talent strategies to build deep relationships and have a pipeline of early talent from these schools that we partner with coming in to our work environment and growing careers with us.”

Sociology student Sofia Oliveri chats about career opportunities over lunch during her job shadow experience at Unum.
As a job shadow at Unum, Oliveri saw other uses for a law degree outside of the courtroom.

Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have reshaped the job market. The new dynamics have made recruitment and retention more difficult across a wide range of industries. The Maine Beer Company has pushed back by developing internships and scholarship programs with USM. Its participation in the Job Shadow Program is the latest link in that chain of opportunities.

“We’re looking for people. You guys [USM] have them,” said Anne Marisic, the company’s Marketing and Communications Manager. “If we can help make that entrance into the beer world easier, we’re excited to do it.”

Emma Nassif accepted that invitation. As a fourth-year Biology major, she may not have been the most obvious match. Nassif has a part-time job at the NorDx medical laboratory and her training was geared primarily toward work in a hospital setting. Her only previous experience with brewing had been helping her father whip up his homemade hard cider.

Her Biology background made Nassif a natural fit for the company’s scientific wing. She spent most of her job shadow experience at the lab in Freeport, where the beer is tested under various conditions to ensure its freshness.

“If you go off the beaten path, you never know what you could learn,” Nassif said about the experience. “There’s a ton out there and I would absolutely recommend it and do something that’s not completely related to your field.”

Emma Nassif supplements her Biology studies as a job shadow at Maine Beer Company.
Emma Nassif supplemented her Biology studies as a job shadow at Maine Beer Company.

Nassif was surrounded by women at all levels of Maine Beer Company. Decades of TV commercials geared toward men perpetuated the image of a boys’ club across the entire industry. A new generation is creating a new image of greater diversity.

“Seeing women in the beer industry is always exciting,” Marisic said. “When you see other people like yourself engaged in this business, it gives women the confidence to move forward in the industry.”

In addition to showcasing the versatility of her Biology degree, Nassif’s visit to Maine Beer Company also yielded valuable contacts from several senior staff members, including CEO Steve Mills. All of that was accomplished in a single day.

The program’s short timeframe gave Nassif the freedom to be more adventurous in choosing her host business without fear of being locked into a bad fit for weeks. That flexibility was just as beneficial to the businesses.

“It’s really cool that it’s one day and then you can say, okay, I want to do this again,” said Lilia Taggersell, Human Resources Manager for Maine Beer Company. “And now I know for next time, we might tweak this or tweak that to give them the best experience possible.”

There will be a next time for the Job Shadow Program. The Career Hub collected evaluations from participating students and all of them reported a positive experience. To give more students that opportunity, another round is being planned for next fall, and then continuing onward each semester.

The Hub is seeking more businesses to serve as hosts with a goal of expanding the roster from 10 to 20. The expansion is also geographic by seeking more placements within a short distance of the Lewiston-Auburn College. Along with the new partners, both Maine Beer Company and Unum plan to continue with the program.

“We’re just really excited about this partnership,” Haynes said. “We want to continue to expand and grow our partnership with USM. And so, we will be participating and are very interested in doing whatever we can to deepen our relationship.”

Sociology student Sofia Oliveri learns about career opportunities at Unum as a job shadow.
After her job shadow experience, Oliveri returned to Unum as a paid intern.

Some businesses were so eager to build on the program’s success that they offered to take on more students at once. The Career Hub turned them down in favor of preserving the one-on-one relationship between student and host.

“What we want to avoid is a big group where the students feel like they get lost in it because then they’re not getting the same opportunity to network, and learn more about things, and ask their questions,” said USM Career Liaison Whitney Duchaine.

Students of any year or major are welcome in the Job Shadow Program. The application process begins with a visit to the Career Hub’s online Jobs and Internship Board, which is accessible through the MyUSM Campus Portal. 

“I think that this is probably one of the better programs that USM offers for students,” said Oliveri. “Even if it’s not necessarily your path to want to go into some type of corporate job, having that experience of going through the interview process and talking with people, it gives you so many skills that you can use later on in life through anything you do.”