University is set to further strengthen its role in the college-to-career pipeline

Research shows around 60% of jobs in Tennessee require some form of postsecondary education.

Tennessee Tech University students have an extra tool at their disposal to secure those competitive opportunities through the university’s Center for Career Development. Led by Director Russ Coughenour, a 32-year higher education and career services veteran, Career Development is the university’s centralized career planning and student recruitment hub.

Coughenour and his team connect students and alumni with employers through one-on-one meetings, career fairs, workshops and more.

“We have these very strong degree programs at Tennessee Tech – engineering, education, nursing, business and so forth – that are very directly related to employment and to workforce needs,” Coughenour explained. “That’s great for us, because it brings a lot of employers to campus.”

Career Development set a record at its fall 2023 career fair with 1,582 students and 180 employers in attendance. The center has also held college-specific career fairs, including its spring 2024 College of Engineering fair that brought in 169 employers.

Coughenour credits the events’ success to three factors: the talents of Tech students, turnout for recruitment events and Career Development’s efforts to provide employers a top-notch experience. 

“The recruiting experience on a college campus is important,” said Coughenour. “We want every employer to have a first-class experience from the moment they register for the job fair until they leave campus.”

Coughenour says this strategy helps ensure that, even in the case of economic shifts or downturns in recruiting, employers continue to make Tech students and graduates a priority.

“If things get rocky in the job market, you want employers to say, ‘the one job fair we can’t miss is Tennessee Tech’s,’” added Coughenour.

To meet the needs of students and employers alike, Coughenour relies on a team that includes assistant directors Sonja Higgenbotham and Alex Callis and administrative associate Sharon Stevenson.

Higgenbotham, a Tech alumna whose service to the university dates back more than 20 years, spearheads Career Development’s experiential education portfolio while Callis, a two-time Tech graduate who has spent the past decade working in higher education, leads employer relations.

Stevenson has served the Tech community for more than 12 years. 

“Another way Career Development helps students find their passions – both in the classroom and the workforce – is through its use of TypeFocus, an online career development program that assesses users’ personalities, interests and values to help identify satisfying careers that match their strengths,” according to a release by Tennessee Tech. 

While such assessment tools are not hard to find online, Coughenour says the difference at Tech is that students can meet individually with Career Development staff to have their results interpreted and discuss a path forward.

“The success of those assessments really hinges on the quality of the interpretation,” said Coughenour. “Because I bring over 30 years of interpreting Typefocus assessments to students, our office is able to do high-quality assessments with each student who comes through our doors.” 

Career Development’s work, in tandem with Tech’s academic departments, is paying off. Earlier this year, Payscale reported that Tech graduates have the highest early career pay of any public university in the state. 

The university is set to further strengthen its role in the college-to-career pipeline this fall with the expected launch of its nuclear engineering degree program – only the second of its kind in the state. 

As Tech students consider their futures, Coughenour encourages them to engage with Career Development early on to set themselves up for post-graduation success.

“Work with us from the time you get here, and I guarantee you’ll stay on track,” Coughenour concluded.

Tech’s Center for Career Development is in room 328 of the Roaden University Center. Learn more at

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Tech.

Other stories you may want to check out:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.