Scaling Career Services and Advancing Student Equity

By Michelle Okada & Ariya Bhutani

Universities with highly diverse populations, such as California State University, Sacramento, which is recognized as the fourth most diverse campus in the West (U.S. News and World Report, 2022), need to address diverse student needs and support university goals. Diverse students (e.g., first-generation students) who are undecided on a major, persisting to degree completion, unaware of in-demand and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) career paths, and seeking full-time employment upon graduation may not be aware of the resources and supports college career centers offer.

Positioned to work with students, the campus community, and employers, university career centers have a unique responsibility to help close opportunity and employment gaps through intentional student engagement and culturally inclusive approaches. Career centers have long faced the challenges of working independently to support students in preparing for the dynamic labor market while advancing equity. University career centers that engage with students and employ multicultural considerations can best support diverse students.

Student Engagement

To advance equity while scaling services, California State University, Sacramento Career Center engages with students prior to admission and through graduation. This approach includes directly meeting students where they are through early outreach, programmatic events geared towards diverse students, first-year seminars, courses for their major, and virtual or in-person services. Career service professionals hypothesized that they would be effective if they directed interactions with students (individually or in groups) to discuss assessments, conduct career exercises, and explore career paths (Brady-Amoon & Hammond, 2022).

California State University, Sacramento Career Center uses various methods to reach students based on where they are in their college and career development journey. Prospective students are exposed to career services and resources through educational equity fairs, resource fairs, interactive workshops, and hands-on activities. Likewise, undeclared first-year students participate in an interactive workshop through orientation and are invited to appointments for major and career exploration. The center proactively helps students who have not declared a major explore careers, identify in-demand and STEM careers, use career technology, engage in goal planning, and build social capital.

The center also partners with faculty to offer a career exploration workshop to students enrolled in first-year courses. As students learn about services, assessments, and resource tools, they participate in career exercises and learn how to seek further support from the career center team.

Students are encouraged to schedule appointments and attend events based on corresponding majors and industry career paths through referrals from departments, success centers, and equity programs. This format allows students to benefit from specialized industry knowledge, including in-demand careers and skillsets, to attain career goals.

Career centers have the opportunity and responsibility to meet students where they are by providing services, resources, and tools to prepare them for in-demand careers. Furthermore, it is equally important to consider counseling methods in advancing equity.

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Counseling and Multicultural Considerations

As career development professionals work to advance equity of diverse students, including low-income and first-generation college students, it is important to be mindful of multicultural practices, approaches, biases, and students’ intersectionality. Career services professionals can advance equity by employing a model that supports diverse students in overcoming opportunity and employment gaps.

The Culture Infused Career Counseling Model (Crucil & Amundson, 2017) highlights

  • self-awareness of the professional’s cultural lens
  • gaining insight from the client's lens
  • acknowledging social and political systems that impact the client
  • building the therapeutic alliance

Following this model, the career development professional will acknowledge their cultural identity and utilize multicultural competence to build rapport. They can also demonstrate to students how professionalism, cultural identity, and awareness of their values can be expressed through occupations and the workplace.

As career development professionals acknowledge their cultural identity, they also need to consider potential biases, such as Alpha vs. Beta Bias. In Alpha Bias, one might overemphasize differences between oneself and the student, whereas in Beta Bias, one might downplay the differences (Luke, 2018). For example, one career development professional might assume the student’s presenting concern over lack of job application response relates directly to the intersectionality of race and disability (i.e., Alpha Bias), whereas another might ignore the student’s intersectional identity and experience altogether (Beta Bias) and label the economy as the only factor.

Practitioners can support the therapeutic alliance by bringing in the career development professional’s cultural identity while being mindful of bias. A career center that puts cultural identity at the forefront can advance the equity of diverse students. Staff at the Career Center at California State University, Sacramento, are diverse, and with that comes unique perspectives and backgrounds based on cultural identity. Staff perceived this as an opportunity to lean into one’s identity and consider students’ own lived experiences. This may include teaching students how to navigate resources, imposter syndrome, and mentorship. Practitioners establish rapport when they determine where a student may be struggling and consider their own cultural identity.   

Activities to Support Diverse Students

As career development professionals work to support diverse students, they may consider the following recommendations:

  • Utilize NCDA member resources and opportunities, including diversity, equity and inclusion courses, webinars, and books
  • Participate in professional development opportunities, and training offered through campus and community for the unique needs of the student population
  • Stay current on the dynamic labor market and in-demand careers (e.g., Lightcast, O*Net Online)
  • Explore collaborations across campus divisions and programs to achieve mutual goals

Meeting students where they are while using best practices can help students gain awareness of the changing economy in a supportive environment while closing achievement and employment gaps.



Brady-Amoon, P., & Hammond, M. (2022). Best practices in engaging diverse college students in career development. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/436070/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false

Crucil, C., & Amundson, N. (2017). Throwing a wrench in the work(s): Using multicultural and social justice competency to develop a social justice-oriented employment counseling toolbox. Journal of Employment Counseling, 54, 2–11. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/joec.12046

Luke, C. (2018). Essentials of career-focused counseling. Cognella.

U.S. News and Report. (n.d.). The most ethnically diverse regional universities in the West. https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/regional-universities-west/campus-ethnic-diversity



Michelle OkadaMichelle Okada, M.S., is the Senior Career Counselor/Coordinator and Project Activity Director for DHSI Career Counseling Activities at California State University, Sacramento’s Career Center. She has over 10 years of combined experience in career counseling, program development and training. She recently co-presented at the National Career Development Association’s Global Conference. Michelle obtained a Master of Science in Counseling, Specializing in Career Counseling and Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from California State University, Sacramento. She can be reached at michelle.okada@csus.edu.


Ariya BhutaniAriya Bhutani is a Career Counselor at California State University, Sacramento. She believes that every student deserves to have their dreams become a reality through a collaborative career development approach. Ariya specializes in the Science, Engineering, & Technology industry. She has served previously as a MESA team advisor for Sacramento City College, Career Center Lead Intern at California State University, Sacramento & Workshop/Marketing Lead Mentor for Prospects Peer Mentoring at California State University, Sacramento. Ariya has her Master of Science in Counseling, Specializing in Career Counseling and Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from California State University, Sacramento. Having experienced College as a first-generation student herself, her passion for program planning led her to advocate for the needs of first-generation students from traditionally diverse backgrounds through creating a workshop series that focuses on resiliency, self-advocacy, career development, and providing support in areas of need. In 2023, she co-presented at the National Career Development Association’s Global Conference.

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1 Comment

Paul Timmins   on Saturday 03/09/2024 at 07:24 PM

This is such an impressive, intentional approach to your work, and I especially love the ways that you are engaging students early. Thank you for sharing your work with us!

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