Head of Career Services Kevin Donovan Recognized for Firming-Up Job Opportunities

For Kevin Donovan, forming individual relationships has been a model for success that he has handed down to students.

June 14, 2016

The legal market was unsteady. But Kevin Donovan, the senior assistant dean for career services at the University of Virginia School of Law, has kept job offers as solid as a handshake in his almost seven years at the Law School.

Donovan has been named a winner of the 2016 Leonard W. Sandridge Outstanding Contribution Award, the University's highest honor for staff, for his effectiveness in job placement and dedication to the students he serves.

Donovan joined the Law School in 2009, just as the legal job market was feeling the effects of the financial downturn of 2008.

"Had applicants ever doubted our ability to launch them on their chosen career path, our standing as a top 10 law school would have been in peril," Dean Paul Mahoney said. "That it never was is due to Kevin Donovan more than anyone else in the Law School administration. He has worked tirelessly with employers and students to ensure that the range and quality of professional opportunities available to our graduates are second to none."

Following his arrival from the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Philadelphia, where he was a litigation partner, Donovan transformed how the Office of Career Services approached advising students. With a focus on students as clients, deserving of personalized attention and crafted advice, Donovan built a model based on individual relationships. He then worked with his team to create a system that would teach each key aspect of obtaining a job before the main interview program at the start of the students’ second year. 

"This was a sea-change in how OCS functioned for the students," Donovan's Law School colleagues, including representatives of his staff and other administrative departments, said in their award nomination letter.

Statistics bear out his department's success. The school recently reported its fifth straight year of increases in the number of students obtaining jobs they most covet, including those at top law firms, federal clerkships, and positions with public sector employers such as the Justice Department. 

Donovan's nominators also stressed his commitment to teaching professionalism. Shortly after his arrival, Donovan created a non-credit, multi-week Professionalism Program for second-year students heading to private practice. It has had more than 100 participants each year. In addition, the office consciously includes professionalism training in all of its interactions with students. 

For Donovan, forming individual relationships and using proper etiquette are key.

"He starts almost literally at square one — by teaching students how to form a proper handshake," the nomination letter stated. "Kevin constantly models one-on-one communications with students and in his emails. Students learn to be responsive, timely, accurate and professional by virtue of their regular communications with Kevin."

A long list of students, many of whom affectionately refer to him as "KD" or "KDon," were eager to lend their voices to Donovan's nomination.

Samantha Seikkula '15 gave Donovan credit for helping her land her dream job on the West Coast, Jane Kutepova '14 gave Donovan points for being accessible from the first day of her orientation, and Kevin Palmer '17 said Donovan helped improve his resume — at 9 a.m. the day after Christmas.

The students all emphasized Donovan's personal touch.

"Kevin really takes the time to get know students as people," Maria Monaghan '17 said. "Every conversation has a personal element to it and is very comfortable. That is why so many people love to meet with him and attend events that he hosts or speaks at. Everybody in the room feels like they know him and that he is a friend."

Other students who praised Donovan's efforts on their behalf were Alex Aurisch '13, Joseph Daniel '15, Danielle Desaulniers '17, Alex Nemtzow '17 and Zach Nemtzow '17.

”I am very fortunate to work in a job that I love with such an impressive team of co-workers," Donovan said. "I am proud of what we have accomplished, and need to emphasize that although I was very moved to be recognized by my fellow administrators and students, the successes we have had in this office are very much the result of a great team, not of the efforts of one individual.”

Donovan, an avid reader when not working, said he recently drew inspiration from a Donald Justice poem, "Men at Forty," which characterizes middle age as the time when you learn to close softly the doors of rooms to which you will not be returning.

“It struck me on a lot of levels, including the way I think about student meetings," he said. "When I meet with a student I always try to remember that this may be the only or the last time that I will meet with that particular student. So I try to get the most out of every single interaction.”

Donovan wasn't the only Academic Division awardee associated with the Law School this year. He was joined by Gary W. Wood, the facilities zone manager for the Law School who helps keep the North Grounds building in top working order. Wood is a 40-year employee.

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