And then, her senior year, the phone rang. It was Google.

“A recruiter reached out to me for an interview. I couldn’t believe it, although, I still didn’t think I would make it through the interview process,” recalls Watt, an Altoona, Pennsylvania native whose Program of Emphasis (POE) was information technology (IT) with a secondary emphasis in business management.

But her uncertainty about her qualifications would be short-lived.

Google was impressed. In fact, they let her leapfrog to the final round, and she landed a position in the company’s IT Residency Program—a 26-month stint where one learns how to support and scale Google’s technology from the corporate infrastructure through to end users.

“They offered me a job in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I was ecstatic,” Brianna says. “By March of my senior year, I knew I would be at Google after graduation.”

Brianna was among just 10 percent of applicants accepted into Google’s IT Residency Program. How’d she do it? Her success was thanks, in part, to a challenging, intense professional development program for students who take on the role of Juniata Associates— a.k.a. JAs. The College designed this unique initiative to offer students advanced opportunities to gain marketable work experience before they graduate. While in the program, Brianna built significant IT skills and management experience—as well as a professional network—that gave her an edge.

“The experience I had in the JA position demonstrated that I could already take on responsibilities while still learning. I was able to point to the opportunities I had as a JA during the interview process with Google.”Brianna Watt '16, Altoona, Pa.

A jobs program that opens more doors

Launched in 2010, the JA program helps students work their way into positions within various departments of the College such as the accounting, human resources, and marketing offices. More than an internship, each paid position comes with training and management responsibilities. The program invites students to contribute meaningfully to the conversations and the work being done across many professional areas of the College.

Brianna was a JA in the Technology Solutions Center, in the position of student training manager, after having worked at the center’s help desk her sophomore and junior years.

“The training manager position stuck out to me because I enjoy teaching other people. It’s satisfying to see people be able to use a skill that I taught them,” says Watt, whose senior research investigated how to get more women into the information technology field, and how to make technology more accessible.

“The experience I had in the JA position demonstrated that I could already take on responsibilities while still learning,” she says. “I was able to point to the opportunities I had as a JA during the interview process with Google.”

“We saw the JA program as a resource that could touch every department on campus. And one that would encourage staff and faculty to think about students in a different way.”Gail Leiby Ulrich ’81, director of human resources

Designing an education and a career path

Getting real-world experience before graduating from college is more important than ever. It’s something students need to compete for that first job. But Juniata has always been committed to experiential learning, according to Gail Leiby Ulrich ’81, director of human resources at Juniata—and one of the creators of Juniata Associates.

“We saw the JA program as a resource that could touch every department on campus,” Ulrich says. “And one that would encourage staff and faculty to think about students in a different way.”

Ulrich explains that a JA in her office switched her POE to human resource management and was able to get a job right off the bat in higher education human resources thanks to her experience.

“She went on to pursue her master’s degree, which put her career on a pretty fast trajectory,” Ulrich says. “Once JA participants get into the workplace, they find they’re much better prepared for their responsibilities.”

Better prepared for the professional pressure

Since its inception, the JA program has grown from 35 students to 60. Each year, participants go through an interview process in their chosen department, set goals for the skills they want to acquire, and experience a performance review like they’ll encounter as working professionals.

“Teaching students how to assess their own skills prepares them to handle performance evaluations in their first job after graduation,” says Darwin Kysor, Juniata’s director of career services.

In that sense, the JA program helps students graduate with more than a degree in hand. They head into the workforce better prepared. Intellectually dexterous. At ease with collaboration.

“In the fall, I offer an activity they can use the rest of the academic year,” Kysor says. “In the spring, since many of the JAs are seniors, I offer something more targeted toward preparation for the workforce.”

Another interview, aced

A JA experience in the College’s accounting office also gave Brandon Felus ’14 a major edge his senior year. As a JA, this Columbia, Pennsylvania native had direct interaction with the College’s Board of Trustees—a professional opportunity Juniata students enjoyed well before other colleges began to consider it.

Brandon’s JA position also provided him with hands-on practice in auditing, which helped him rise above other job candidates when he applied for a position as staff accountant at IREX Corporation in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

“He wasn’t just waiting to graduate,” Delgado says of Brandon. “His decision to become a JA ‘laid the real groundwork’ of becoming a professional.”

Stars in her eyes, but grounded with skills

Emily Angeline ’18 has been interested in technology and video since high school. At Juniata, she chose digital media arts as her POE, and in her sophomore year, cut her teeth as a junior video producer in the Digital Media Studio, where videos are produced and edited, including the series, “This Week at Juniata.”

Today, Emily helps lead a production team of her peers on the series. Her boss at the studio, Luke Fragello, director of new media communication, has helped her take on more responsibility—and made sure she’s current on the latest developments in the field when she graduates.

“He’s taught me a lot I never would have known if I wasn’t a JA. I’m learning a lot of technologies that are changing,” Angeline says.

Emily hasn’t started to look for a fulltime job yet, but she has landed a coveted internship at J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, this spring, where she’ll help the organization market itself online through social media and video content.

“When we say that we are a community of educators, we mean that students are learning also from people outside of the faculty ranks.”Lauren Bowen, provost

The road less traveled leads to the right experience

While an emphasis on experiential learning is more common among colleges these days, the Juniata Associates program takes the trend a step further. Extending the program to include the College’s own inner workings introduces students to a larger community of professionals all around them. Everyone can be a teacher, in some shape or form.

“When we say that we are a community of educators, we mean that students are learning also from people outside of the faculty ranks,” says Juniata Provost Lauren Bowen.

For Emily, that means making professional contacts with marketing pros at Juniata that will be valuable for years to come.

That community can be a student’s cheering squad, too. Just ask Brianna.

After Brianna’s first nervewracking interview with Google, she found her emotional center back at her JA position with her colleagues.

“I had my head down and they were like ‘what’s wrong?’” she recalls. “‘Look at all these awesome things you’ve done!’ they told me. I used to undermine my own accomplishments all the time. Their support—and the confidence of having grown through the JA program—helped get me into a better frame of mind. And those last couple interviews? I nailed them.”