David Fitzgerald reflects on 25 years as a UI career advisor

BY JOE HITCHON | JULY 09, 2012 6:30 AM

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Despite spending his early years in agriculture, David Fitzgerald wound up working as a career adviser at the University of Iowa for the last 25 years — a position he will leave this week.

During that time, he has witnessed many changes, from students using hard-copy résumés prepared by professional typists to today's electronic portfolios as well as changes in student attitudes about the value of their degrees and their outlook on job prospects after graduation.

"Two goals of mine for going into counseling were to help others get the kind of valuable advice that had been offered to me by a guidance counselor but also do something good with my life," Fitzgerald said.

He grew up on a farm in central Iowa, the youngest of six brothers. Although he briefly toyed with the idea of driving a truck after high school as a means of traveling the country, he opted to enroll at Iowa State University to study landscape architecture.

After graduating from ISU, he worked in the Chicago metropolitan area but found his agricultural background conflicted with the land-development work.

He took some classes at a local community college, where a guidance counselor inspired him to go back to school, eventually leading him to the UI graduate program in counselor education.

One of the biggest changes Fitzgerald has seen during his career has been the amount of pressure facing students today.

"Part of my job, especially in more recent years, has been for me to tell these students that it's OK if they don't know what they are going to do," he said. "I try to tell students that no matter what they are studying, they are gaining and learning skills that are valuable to employers."

Fitzgerald strives to show students their degrees have prepared them for many different fields and wants them to know each major has characteristics that are unique in preparing them for the essence of all work: problem solving.

"Whether they studied history or the arts, their approach to finding solutions in a company could be more creative and lead to fresh ideas," he said.

Fitzgerald has served as administrator of the Washington Center internship program for the last 20 years. While almost every occupational field today encourages internships for everyone from high-school seniors to graduates, this wasn't at the forefront 25 years ago, and it took some selling.

"He has really done a lot to build the program and has earned a lot of respect for himself as well as the university with the Washington Center staff in D.C. for his dedication and the quality of his recruiting," said James Seyfer, UI career adviser.

Fitzgerald has also been the facilitator of a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Recruitment Program and students with disabilities for the last 20 years.

"I am very happy to fill a day of interviews with very capable students who may otherwise not have had the opportunity," he said.

Fitzgerald's students and colleagues will be sad to see him leave the university after so many years.

"He is a very caring adviser and has influenced more students than can be counted," said colleague Jane Schildroth, the director of the Career Center. "He loves to expand student's thinking about the huge world of jobs before they start to narrow down their choices."

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