Job Shadow: Investing in Vanguard University Students

One of the most valuable aspects of a Vanguard University undergraduate education for many students is the ability to pursue a career that inspires them to make a difference for Christ. Whether they are working toward a degree in business, nursing, or the arts, VU Lions are a part of a greater community of students and professionals—one that understands the importance of each contributor using their unique talents in the world. 
Vanguard’s Job Shadow program is expanding on this benefit. Through this program, undergraduate students can develop a deeper understanding of their career path while strengthening connections with VU alumni. In this program, students are connected with a mentor professional in the field they aspire to, and then can shadow them at their job for a single day. 
Kayli Hillebrand, D.Ld., Associate Dean of Career Development and Experiential Education at Vanguard, shares how the program gives students a broader context for their chosen career. “This high-impact program not only provides the benefit of meeting with an industry professional, but it also introduces them to potential businesses and organizations for internships and jobs while expanding their professional network.” 

Kayli Hillebrand, D.Ld., discusses Job Shadow with business administration major Samantha Esparza ’27.

While building connections with the potential for future work is an attractive feature of the program, the one-day time commitment can be just as much an asset for students. “I chose to participate because this isn’t like an internship where you are under a long-term contract,” shared Job Shadow participant and business administration major, Samantha Esparza ’27. “This is a one-day activity, making it a fast way of knowing whether you enjoy the career industry you are looking at.” 
For students seeking confirmation that they are on the right career path, getting real-world experience in the field provides invaluable insight that they would not get from the classroom. “I will often tell students that discovering you don’t like something is as much of the Lord shaping your path as identifying the things you do like,” explains Hillebrand. “At times, the perception of a professional role and the realities of it can differ—this program allows students to peek behind the curtain prior to committing at a vocational level and adjust if needed.” 
Students can participate in the program as often as they feel they need to. Those who change majors or shift their goals for the future can continue to reap the program’s benefits as they more clearly define their pursuits. For others who feel confident in their career path, revisiting the program can allow them to shadow several roles and develop a well-rounded industry context. Business Administration major Jonathan Tribble ’26, is a returning participant of the Job Shadow program. “I had the opportunity to shadow an employee at Boeing [last year]. It was an incredible and insightful day. [This year], I hope to confirm and correct my assumptions about the career path to help me better understand if this is something that I could see myself doing,” he says. 
One of the most advantageous aspects of Job Shadow is that many mentors offering shadowing opportunities are Vanguard alumni. With a deeper understanding of students’ experiences, they offer genuine guidance beyond simple career advice. Nicole Suydam ’95, president and CEO of Goodwill of Orange County and Job Shadow mentor, shares her heart for supporting Vanguard students in their career pursuits. “I see these opportunities as a game changer for students to network with business leaders and learn what it takes to start and grow their careers,” she says. “It’s such a joy to see the expressions on their faces as they are touring our operation and learning something new.” 

Nicole Suydam ’95, president and CEO of Goodwill of Orange County is a Job Shadow mentor (left) for Samantha Esparza ’27.

Building relationships with others in the Vanguard community who genuinely want to invest in their professional and academic development can also give students confidence in their academics. “As students connect to a future career or industry and truly begin to see their path toward that goal and calling, their intentionality with their academics and the broader community flourishes in a way it didn’t before,” shares Hillebrand. Despite its relatively recent establishment at Vanguard, the program has shown to be dually beneficial—encouraging students in their current academic studies while synonymously empowering them for a future career. 

The Job Shadow program thrives because of a community of professionals investing in the growth of the next generation of Vanguard graduates. “To be able to leverage the relationships in our local community and the expertise of our alumni network around the globe to partner in the development of the upcoming generation of professionals is nothing short of inspiring,” says Hillebrand.