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Pendergraph helps students transition from college to career

Julie Pendergraph, 2014 Massey Award winner, at University Career Services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Julie Pendergraph, 2014 Massey Award winner, at University Career Services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


A career that spans 42 years of service to one of Carolina’s most essential offices started before Julie Pendergraph left high school.

“I’m from Chapel Hill, so it was a logical thing for me to find work at UNC,” she said. “My senior year, I wanted a part-time job, so I came to work at University Career Services.”

When she graduated that year, 1972, the director offered her a permanent position.

Her first responsibilities were to manage the office’s reference letters, helping them get to the employers and organizations where students were seeking jobs. Back then, she didn’t know that serving as a friendly face for students during one of the most important transitions of their lives, a pillar of trust for her coworkers and the window to the University for the nation’s biggest employers would become the work of her life.

University Career Services has only had three directors, and Pendergraph has served every one. In addition to supporting the director, she has managed the on-campus recruiting program since 1990, juggling as many as 600 schedules each year as employers visit campus for interviews with job-seeking students.

That adds up to more than 100,000 student-employer encounters over the years and countless students who have successfully left that interview with a foot in the door to a possible job.

“I think it’s pretty rare that someone with this much time at the University would only work in one place, but career services is pretty special. It’s one of the only places on campus where you get to serve every kind of student, and from every kind of major,” she said.

Creating happy encounters

“A happy employer means a happy student,” said Pendergraph.

Her job is to help them find one another by building long-term relationships with the employers that recruit on campus and trying to align their schedules with the scores of busy students looking for a job.

Pendergraph isn’t matchmaking – it’s up to the students and the employers to find the right fit – but she takes seriously a mission to make the experience as pleasant and smooth as possible. She knows that for many of these companies, she is their window to Carolina’s world, and she wants them to keep coming back.

“She is so reliable, so conscientious and responsible, that I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our employers wanted to hire her away,” said Ray Angle, director of University Career Services. “I have been doing this for 25 years, and at most universities, two or three people are doing what she does alone.”

In a letter nominating Pendergraph for the University’s prestigious C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award, a representative of a noted national company wrote that Pendergraph was more than a contact at a university: she’d become a friend.

“I work with career centers across the country and none of them come close to the level of service that Julie provides,” the letter explained. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

A bird’s-eye view

From her spot in Hanes Hall, Pendergraph has seen major changes at Carolina in the past four decades. Buildings have sprouted in parking lots, paper has been replaced by email, Hanes Hall has undergone numerous renovations and forms are now filled out online.

There’s one trend for which she’s had a particular bird’s-eye view: the job market.

“1999 to 2000 was just a booming year. We’d sometimes have 22 interview schedules a day with more than 200 student interviews, all over campus,” she said. “We’d never been so busy.”

Soon after that, the attacks of 9/11 left a nation shocked. Recruiters curbed travel and major corporations were recalibrating instead of growing their offices. Rather than setting up interviews, Pendergraph was sending resumes through the mail.

Hard times came again in 2008 with a struggling economy. Once again, the number of available jobs plummeted, and Pendergraph adapted. She maintained her relationships with employers as she served students who were unsure what the future held.

“My heart just went out to those students. You knew they were wonderful, and they wanted to be out there, but the jobs just weren’t going to be there,” she said.

Pendergraph has found joy in watching generations grow up and change with the times. Where she once typed an envelope to mail a student’s job references, she now walks them through Careerolina, an online career services toolkit for students. Each year she sees juniors excited about their internships and watches as those same students secure jobs as seniors.

“After each recruiting season, the seniors move on and the juniors come up. You watch one set leave the nest, and then you come back, and again you’ve got baby birds,” she said.

A family at work

There’s another reason Pendergraph has stayed in one place so long: her co-workers are more than friends. They are like brothers and sisters to her.

“I’ve got the best co-workers, and this office has the most dedicated support staff. Over the years, people have come and gone, but a lot of them have stayed, like I did,” she said. “I’ve got a work family.”

This fall, when she received a letter from Chancellor Carol L. Folt about winning a Massey Award, it was gratifying to learn that all her hard work had not gone unnoticed.

That lesson, from someone with four decades of job experience, is invaluable for students who are just starting theirs.

“What I want for them most is to make their mark on the world, and to do so well in their professions that it does good for the entire population. I want them to create and invent and find what they’re passionate about,” said Pendergraph.

“If they love what they are doing, they can spend many, many years doing it.”

By Courtney Mitchell, University Gazette
Originally published by University Gazette: June 3, 2014 – 9:23 am
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