Raising the Bar

The University officially dedicated its new state-of-the-art Patricia and Harold Toppel Career Center last week, setting a new standard for helping students prepare for employment.

By Robert C. Jones
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 07, 2014) — University of Miami senior Jasmine Holmes likes to call it the Genius Bar—a reference to the tech support station located inside Apple retail stores. “It makes me want to come back,” said Holmes.

The 21-year-old accounting major was talking about a career technology lab on the UM campus. The lab includes a row of computer workstations, attracting students who like to use its PCs and Macs to create job-winning resumes and cover letters.

The lab is just one of the many high-tech features located inside UM’s new Patricia and Harold Toppel Career Center, which the University officially dedicated on Friday by heralding the building’s amenities and honoring the donor and trustee who made it possible.

“It’s our new public face on the most visible side of campus,” said UM President Donna E. Shalala, referring to the center’s unobstructed location on Ponce de Leon Boulevard.

Watch a UM-produced video on the new center.

With the center’s January opening, UM has completed a “journey of designing a unique and dynamic building that would set the bar high for career centers across the country,” said the facility’s executive director, Christian Garcia. “I believe we’ve [surpassed] that bar. We’ve incorporated technology into every inch of this building, allowing us to reach students and alumni here and anywhere else in the world.”

Indeed, the Toppel Center’s spacious, conference-style Career Loft is ready to host a Peace Corps outreach event on February 25, bridging the distance between volunteers stationed in far-flung countries and bringing them together for a videoconference attended by students. Only a year ago, the Toppel Center, which since 1995 had been housed at the site of a former bowling alley on the UM campus, lacked such technology, using the videoconferencing capabilities of other entities such as the School of Communication.

But now, said Garcia, the center boasts “flexible spaces that accommodate the needs of all of our audiences.” Among those flexible spaces: interview suites with ceiling-mounted miniature cameras that record job interviews.

The center and its technologically advanced touches are “a means, not an end” for students, said William Scott Green, UM’s senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, who founded an entrepreneurial initiative, the Launch Pad, for students. The Toppel Center, he said “is a place for reflection, it’s a place for inspiration, it’s a place for planning, it’s a place in which our students can envision the multiple possible trajectories for their lives after college.”

At the dedication, President Shalala honored UM alumna and trustee Patricia Toppel for her lead gift that made the building a reality, likening her to a “fairy godmother” who, along with her late husband, Harold, helped turn a campus bowling alley into “a bustling and beloved career planning center” that changed the way students prepared for employment.

“Like all great fairy godmothers, when the Toppel Career Center outgrew its home, Pat’s unconditional generosity made magic again with this amazing center before us,” President Shalala said. “The Patricia and Harold Toppel Career Center is now front and center.”

Shalala also thanked Marjorie Stone and Rick Rodriguez, who made a leadership gift and spearheaded the Parents Council fundraising campaign in support of the center.

Speaking to dozens of trustees, administrators, and students, Patricia Toppel called it “a great privilege to have a presence on this campus.”

“We all have the same goal here at the University—to provide an excellent education, a wonderful campus life, and the opportunity to plan for our students’ future,” she said. “With this beautiful facility and its very professional staff, the Toppel family and the University have come together to make this possibility a reality.”

Holmes, the UM student who has used the Toppel Career Center’s services to build a better resume, hone her interviewing skills, and secure internships, called the new digs “awesome.”

“Early on, students focus so much on transitioning to college, and that’s understandable,” said Holmes, who graduates in May and will immediately start a job as a risk assurance associate with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Miami. “The great thing about Toppel is that it gets students thinking about transitioning away from college, preparing for a career.”


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Along with Sebastian the Ibis, from left, UM trustee Patricia Toppel, Board of Trustees Chairman Leonard Abess, and UM President Donna E. Shalala cut the ribbon to dedicate UM’s new Toppel Career Center.

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