Advocate Aurora Health shows off Milwaukee’s assets to recruit college students

Cristy Garcia-Thomas, chief external affairs officer for Advocate Aurora Health, speaks to a group of students from Midwestern colleges who are touring the city this week.

Milwaukee hasn’t always been on Wayne State University senior Juhie Mehta’s radar.

Cristy Garcia-Thomas, chief external affairs officer for Advocate Aurora Health, speaks to a group of students from Midwestern colleges who are touring the city this week.

When it comes to finding a job after college, the 21-year-old Detroit area native said it’s easy to be drawn to larger metros.

“You think of bigger cities, Chicago, New York, San Francisco,” Mehta said. “Milwaukee, I think, is kind of an underdog. It’s not very recognized.”

But this week, Mehta is one of about 20 college students visiting the city, open to learning about what it can offer them professionally and recreationally.

Advocate Aurora Health is hosting the students, utilizing NEWaukee’s Make it in Milwaukee program, which provides college students from several Midwestern schools with a free, three-day trip to Milwaukee to tour the city and learn about Advocate Aurora’s career opportunities.

The program is based on the premise that employers need to sell their potential employees not only on their job opportunities, but also their city. It’s the second year that Aurora Health Care has employed the recruitment tool.

“For college graduates, a career is important to them, but also if you look at research, it’s really important that they understand what companies are doing around social responsibility and how we’re giving back to the community and what we’re engaged in as a company,” said Cristy Garcia-Thomas, chief external affairs officer of Advocate Aurora Health. “Even more important is what is life like outside of work. If employees can’t find a way to socialize outside of work, it’s hard for companies to retain college graduates.”

The program is aimed at showcasing Milwaukee’s social scene, with planned stops at several hotspots. Students arrived Tuesday, greeted with a reception on the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel’s rooftop. On Wednesday, they started their morning at Cafe Hollander on Downer Avenue for brunch, complete with a live musician and networking opportunities with Advocate Aurora executives.

Other destinations during their three-day visit include the Milwaukee Public Market, the Global Water Center in Walker’s Point, Screaming Tuna, Mazorca taco truck, Fuel Cafe, the former Pabst brewery complex, Brunch, among others. Students will also visit Aurora’s administrative office in Walker’s Point, Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center and Aurora Research Institute at Aurora Sinai Medical Center.

A particular focus for Advocate Aurora is recruiting a diverse pipeline of talent, Garcia-Thomas said. The student cohort includes a large representation of people of color and a roughly even split of male and female students.

The colleges represented in this year’s cohort include Wayne State University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, DePaul University in Chicago, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Marquette University and UW-Milwaukee.

“We did our research on universities with higher rates of health care students and those that had higher rates of diversity within that college,” Garcia-Thomas said. “Also, through our research, we know that they needed to be within the Midwest region. To go to Florida A&M, that’s a much more difficult recruitment effort than someone from Wayne State. It’s closer. It feels similar to what they’ve experienced. We were very strategic in how we picked the universities.”

Garcia-Thomas said it’s important for people of color to experience Milwaukee for themselves, given its longstanding reputation as a segregated city.

“When you’re a person of color and you walk into places and there aren’t many people that look like you, it doesn’t feel as comfortable,” she said. “We want to expose people who have not been here before to the breadth and depth and richness of what Milwaukee has to offer, versus letting some of the headlines in the news make decisions for people.”

Mehta, who studies public health and economics, heard about the opportunity after stumbling upon Advocate Aurora’s booth at a college career fair. She wants to pursue health care management in the future, but sees this trip as an opportunity to refine that idea.

“I don’t know if I want to work in a hospital, an insurance company, a corporate setting,” she said. “I think this will help me narrow down what I like and what I don’t like and the environment I’m looking for.”

Once she began researching Milwaukee in preparation for the trip, Mehta said she was surprised to discover the major companies that are headquartered here, like Fiserv and Northwestern Mutual. And since arriving in Milwaukee, Mehta said, she likes what she’s seen.

“It’s really developing,” she said. “Initially I didn’t think of at is as a huge metro area. But now that I’ve been walking around, it feels so friendly and cozy. It’s not an intimidating environment. It feels very comfortable and laid back, but still has a metropolitan feel that I like. It’s a really good mixture of those things.”

Garcia-Thomas said Advocate Aurora is tracking the effectiveness of the program based on how many students are offered, and accept, positions with the health care system. Last year, every student who received an offer accepted the position.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.