The future is bright for NYU Abu Dhabi class of 2016
When NYU Abu Dhabi graduates its third cohort of students next week, young people from nearly 60 countries will walk across the stage, shake the hands of assembled dignitaries and either head off to graduate school or ceremoniously enter the workforce. If history is a guide, rather than returning to their home countries, up to a third of those 134 graduates will be staying in this country to begin their careers.
More than six years ago I moved here to head up the Career Development Center at NYU Abu Dhabi and to pioneer a programme to ensure our students are employable upon graduation.
Six years on, 94 per cent of our graduates are employed or pursuing graduate studies within six months of graduation. Our alumni have gone on to study at Oxford as Rhodes Scholars, to start new ventures as entrepreneurs, to study medicine and law and to join some of the best professional firms around the world. Our Emirati graduates are serving in the military, running businesses, advising their government (and in one case, heading a ministry of it – 2014 graduate Shamma Al Mazrui is now the Minister of State for Youth Affairs).
Almost 30 per cent of our first two graduating classes are employed in some 37 companies in four emirates.
It’s incredible to witness students from all over the world come to study, live, and learn in Abu Dhabi. For many of them it is their first time in the Middle East, and it’s inspiring to see them grow to care deeply about this country, and to choose to stay and contribute to the vision and economic growth of the UAE. Class of 2015 graduate, Lan Duong, a water engineer at AECOM, is proud that “in 30 years, entire cities will stand on what are now my project zones.” I hear a similar sense of passion from graduates at just about every event we hold on campus, whether it’s the young man composing music for film, TV, and theatre, in Mexico, the young man managing wealth funds, or the standout young woman now developing business strategies across the GCC and Mena.
When I first arrived in Abu Dhabi, I quickly learnt that it would be no easy task to create a culture of career development to help our students gain the necessary professional skills, and employers to adapt to a new model of employer relations better suited to a liberal arts institution.
For our students we adopted a specific advising model. One size does not fit all at a liberal arts university filled with students from more than 100 nationalities and speaking more than 100 languages. We build relationships with each student, helping them develop their career goals and professional lives. We urge students to incorporate their skills and interests as they gain commercial awareness through internship experience and our services.
With employers we have worked to create a new internship model for the region. While NYU was well-known, the NYUAD brand was untested in those first few years. And unlike many universities, NYUAD does not award academic credit for internships, nor do we use a placement model to help match students to opportunities.
We worked with our students and local organisations to design an internship programme that builds skills and allows students to gain experience, rather than a direct means to employment. I think we can safely say that this new model is working. In the past two years our students have held over 300 internships off-campus with 140 different companies.
To be sure, the employment and internship market in the UAE is still developing.
Students, as guest residents when they study, have precious little time to find work once they graduate; immigration rules allow for a grace-period of just 30 days once visas are cancelled. Moreover, employers utilise something called a “just in time” hiring model, meaning that jobs are often advertised and filled at the last possible moment. Both pose challenges to graduates that those of us in the career services field must work to address.
But through partnerships and conversations with employers, NYUAD is working hard to ensure that graduates are well-positioned to negotiate the competitive job market.
This academic year, NYUAD hosted more than 20 employer information sessions to help educate students on employment opportunities and industry trends in the UAE. Nineteen organisations held recruitment activities on our campus for internships and full-time jobs, conducting more than 160 interviews. And in March, more than 25 start-ups from Abu Dhabi and Dubai were on campus recruiting NYUAD and non-NYUAD students for internships and full-time work.
Helping students gain practical skills by connecting them with internship and employment opportunities is just one step in the lengthy process to career success for alumni anywhere. But it’s a process that’s working, as evidenced by the successful graduates who are engaged in meaningful employment.
I cannot wait to see where the next steps of our graduates, the Class of 2016, take them. But one thing I am certain of: many will find themselves right here in the UAE.
Hazel Raja is assistant dean of students and director of the Career Development Center at NYU Abu Dhabi