Inside Denison Edge, Denison University's newest career hub
In a historic building in Downtown Columbus, a new energy buzzes. The one-time paint factory on Marconi Boulevard, across the street from Nationwide Arena, has hardwood floors and exposed-brick walls that hold funky art. In one room, a full wall features a decal of an Airstream camper. It looks like a startup venture, or maybe a trendy coworking space.
Denison Edge, the latest career development effort by Denison University, is a little bit of both—and then some.
The center, which launched in January 2021, gives Columbus-based young professionals and area students practical training, skills and professional development opportunities aimed at helping them succeed in the workforce.
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The new effort also works to connect area businesses with upskill programs for their employees and offers coworking for Columbusites.
“It’s really about closing skills gaps,” says Denison President Adam Weinberg, “and making sure that every one of our students, when they show up for an internship or job, has the skills they need to be able to, first, get the job or internship, and second, be able to add value to wherever they decide to work from day one.”
Career development has been a core focus of Weinberg’s since 2013 when he joined Denison. The campus is located just 30 minutes from Columbus.
In 2016, armed with a grant from the Knowlton Foundation, the school beefed up its Granville-based career center and moved it to a more central location where the Knowlton Center for Career Exploration stands today. There, students learn about careers through workshops, find internships, explore graduate school work and build skills necessary for the workforce.
“Denison Edge is really just a logical extension of that,” Weinberg says. “We’re located in the idyllic village of Granville, but we are also part of the fastest growing, most dynamic and vibrant, healthiest city in the country. The Edge is a way for us to better connect to the city … and an attempt by Denison to contribute to Columbus.”
Programs take place both in-person and virtually, and are led by industry experts locally and across the country. Bite-sized “accelerators” range from Excel tips to the history and future of cryptocurrency, plus lessons in how to thrive in a new working environment.
Longer, more in-depth examinations, called “credentials,” include things like understanding financial and managerial accounting. Other programs provide participants with industry-recognized certificates that help them keep up with the pace of the job market.
The longer summer immersive is a six-week student program much like an internship.
“In this country, we force college students to make a false choice between getting a life-shaping liberal arts education that will launch them into successful, meaningful lives, and a pre-professional education that will give them the skills to launch quickly,” says Weinberg. “That’s a false choice. … We’re going to give students a life-shaping liberal arts-education and close the skills gap so they’re ready to launch quickly and successfully into their careers.”
The new hub comes at the confluence of opportunity and workforce evolution. While companies are choosing to invest in Columbus and the Midwest–the recent $20 billion Intel announcement of two new chip factories in New Albany being just one—many companies struggle with employees voluntarily resigning from their jobs en masse as part of the Great Resignation.
Once Denison launched its original curriculum, an unexpected thing started happening: companies began looking to the Edge as a way to invest in their own people.
“They’ve started asking us, ‘Can you come into my workforce? I need to now invest in my people,’” Executive Director Laurie Kamerer says. They want to rescale or upskill their companies, she adds. “So that’s not just revenue generation, but it’s providing a service for our partner employers in the region.”
As Kamerer calls it, the Denison Edge “ecosystem” is made up of area corporate partners, students of not only Denison but nine other area schools, plus alumni. Program fees range accordingly.
“I spent a lot of my time in the beginning speaking with employers about what they are missing when they see students apply, particularly liberal arts students,” says Kamerer, who spent the last 14 years of her career in corporate communications at Victoria’s Secret.
“The refrain has been pretty common amongst most of them, which is, we love liberal arts students because they have great communication skills and are good at critical thinking. They’re great at collaboration ... And some of the employers say, look, we can train them, that’s the easy part. But there are others that just don’t have staff or budgets for training. Denison Edge gives students those last-mile skills so they can hit the ground running.”
Weinberg, who has been a member of the Columbus Partnership for nine years, says the Denison Edge mission is bigger than helping students find and be prepared for fulfilling careers.
“We’re just trying to do more to be part of the talent pipeline—identifying really great people, giving them a great education at Denison and watching them go back into Columbus companies,” he says.
“That’s not just the right thing to do, it’s a part of what you’re expected to do when you become part of the partnership. I want businesses to say in 10 years that Denison Edge moved the talent needle in Columbus.”
Virginia Brown is a freelance writer.