It’s about students: Teresa Balestreri receives Excellence in Service Award

by | Feb 3, 2020

Balestreri helps incorporate career readiness into all areas of the university, so students are confident and prepared for the workforce when they graduate.
Teresa Balestreri, Career Services director

Teresa Balestreri heads Career Services with a focus on ensuring University of Missouri-St. Louis students have the skills they need for career success, beginning with an assessment in first year experience courses. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Judging by Career Services’ location in a nook on the second floor of the Millennium Student Center, it would be easy to assume not much happens there. But that couldn’t be more wrong.

What has been termed “a small but mighty staff” is tasked with guiding nearly 10,000 University of Missouri—St. Louis students toward achieving their career goals.

Director Teresa Balestreri stands at the department’s helm. Through her 22 years at UMSL, she’s focused on doing all she can to help students succeed. On Dec. 6, that dedication earned her an Excellence in Service to Students Award from The National Society of Leadership and Success.

“Recognition regarding student success is the most meaningful,” Balestreri said. “I do want students to feel successful. When I found out I was getting this, I was a little embarrassed because I was just doing my job and being authentically who I am.”

Balestreri’s job encompasses a lot of roles – all designed to connect students with potential employers. Career Services offers job and internship search strategies, resume writing assistance and interview tips. Even before students reach the job-hunting stage, the department provides guidance on possible career paths within each major.

Teresa Balestreri, Career Services director

Career Services Director Teresa Balestreri (right) poses with a Lowe’s representative, who was on campus to connect with potential summer interns. Throughout each semester, Career Services provides opportunities for students to network with companies looking for employees.

Balestreri and her team work with companies as well, providing them access to potential interns and employees. Students network with businesses during two career fairs organized by Balestreri’s department each year, usually in March and September.

“We help students look critically at their own job search to determine how they can better themselves and not be so overwhelmed,” Balestreri said. “We help them break it into micro-goals of what to achieve next. I want them to understand that every individual and industry is a bit different in the way to approach an opportunity. It needs to be intentional and targeted. While it takes some extra time and work, it’s worth the investment.”

Balestreri knows firsthand about investing in a career. The St. Louis native completed her undergraduate degree in San Antonio, Texas, before returning to Missouri to pursue an MEd in counseling from UMSL. Work took her to Maryville University, then to Kansas City. Twenty-two years ago, she returned to UMSL, taking on a variety of positions before joining Career Services and moving into the director role in 2003.

“We have such diversity in our student population and in our degree programs,” she said. “Students tend to come to UMSL because they want to increase their options for their professional goals. They can go to any college for that, but there is so much commitment from so many people at UMSL regarding the success of students. We want to empower them.”

That mission has become prominent recently due to Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s initiative to strengthen the state’s workforce.

“Workforce development has been slowly infused into all areas of the university – academics, co-curricular activities, advancement and development,” Balestreri said. “We have a committed campus community where everybody’s interested in the success of our students. They’re academically prepared to enter the workforce.”

The first step for many students is the inclusion of career development in first year experience courses through the FOCUS 2 assessment. The online program examines students’ skills, personality, values and interests to offer suggestions for their career path. Balestreri points out that students shouldn’t wait until graduation to take advantage of the resources offered by Career Services.

Ultimately, she doesn’t measure success through awards but instead by the impact she’s making on students.

“Getting them to walk through the door their freshman year is, to me, a huge accomplishment,” she said. “I think students in general are afraid of Career Services, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re here to help you get through that nervousness and feel more confident.”

Karen Holman

Karen Holman