How Ensign College’s new employment center is hoping to bless both students and businesses

Data engineer Joseph Mueras is a prime example of an Ensign College student success story.

The alumnus from Lima, Peru, was able to take knowledge and skills he had learned in his college classes and serve an internship in the Church’s Information and Communication Services Department.

That internship, in turn, motivated him to work harder in his courses, he said, and focus not just on passing a class but also on how what he was learning could help him solve actual problems. “It changed my experience at school,” he told the Church News.

As a result, Mueras entered the workforce upon graduation feeling well prepared and with several job offers, which is just what Ensign College wants for its students.

The college, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, seeks to supply students with practical, job-ready skills. The launch of a new employment center — the Ensign Center for Employer Connection, nicknamed EC2 — marked another important step in that quest.

With many college, community and business leaders in attendance, the school hosted a “grand opening” at its downtown Salt Lake City campus on Thursday, Dec. 2.

The employment center is both a space and a method for connecting students and alumni with employers. Administrators are hopeful the center can provide a symbiotic relationship between businesses and students in coming years where businesses gain access to a steady supply of capable interns and would-be employees, and students get exposed to real-world problems, projects and processes.

In conjunction with the event, the building known as the Carriage House located adjacent to the Triad Center campus was also dedicated by Elder Richard Holpzapfel, an Area Seventy, in preparation for renovations to repurpose it into a space as part of the center.

Elder Richard Holpzapfel, an Area Seventy, speaks at the grand opening of the Ensign Center for Employer Connections (EC2) at Ensign College in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021.
Elder Richard Holpzapfel, an Area Seventy, speaks at the grand opening of the Ensign Center for Employer Connections (EC2) at Ensign College in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. Credit: Laura Seitz, Deseret News

During the dedication, Elder Holpzapfel prayed that “creative thinking, connections and hopes and dreams will begin to flourish in this building. And that truly as students leave here, and as faculty and staff and employers and business people meet here, that the spirit of this place, its purpose and its work that has been given will flood, truly, around the world.”

Founded in 1886, Ensign College has been known by many names, including the Salt Lake Academy, LDS College and, most recently, LDS Business College. With a student body of roughly 2,200 students, Ensign College is “tiny but mighty,” college President Bruce C. Kusch said. Students come from more than 60 countries and all over the United States. 

Read more: LDS Business College becomes Ensign College — Why it’s about more than just the name change

The school specializes in offering an applied education, which simply means taking information learned in the classroom and applying it, or doing something with it, Rob Bagley, director of internship and career services, told the Church News. “We want students to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to real-world situations.”

And the new Ensign Center helps facilitate those type of opportunities. A computing class, for example, can reach out to one of the Ensign Center business partners and for a class project that semester write computer code for that business. 

“Students aren’t just learning theoretically ‘This is what you do.’ No, they’re going to actually write some computer code for a real business, for a real product,” Bagley said.

In his brief remarks during the grand opening, President Kusch acknowledged that EC2 is the culmination of the research and efforts of many people over many years. The center has been running informally for about three semesters prior to Thursday’s grand opening. 

These pilot semesters have included about 150 students and four employer partners, Bagley said. With the official launch they are eager to see both of those numbers grow.

Thursday’s events mark a small beginning “but with the potential like a mustard seed,” Elder Holpzapfel said. 

Alumnus Mueras knows firsthand the blessings the center can provide to students.

After Mueras graduated last spring, the Ensign Center was able to arrange an interview for him with Synergy Science, where he now works as a data analyst. “I love it,” Mueras said of his job. At some point he plans to go back to the college to earn his bachelor’s degree. His whole educational experience “changed my life,” he said.

The Carriage House, located adjacent to the Triad Center campus of Ensign College, is dedicated by Elder Richard Holpzapfel, an Area Seventy, as part of the new Ensign Center for Employer Connections on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021.
The Carriage House, located adjacent to the Triad Center campus of Ensign College, is dedicated by Elder Richard Holpzapfel, an Area Seventy, as part of the new Ensign Center for Employer Connections on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. Credit: Philip Volmar, Ensign College

But the center is also benefiting employers. Jacob Rogers is the chief operating officer of Synergy Science, one of the current business partners with the employment center. The company has hired 19 Ensign College alumni, many of whom started as interns. The immersive learning experience provided by the school is unique, Rogers said. Their company has found Ensign College interns to be “scrappy and hardworking.”

“One of the trademark attributes I’ve found from Ensign students is that they figure things out,” he said.

Which is important for a business start-up like their company, added Anthony Raitani, an Ensign College alumni who now works as the director of operations at Synergy Science. “We need people that can just be given some tasks without real guidance because we’re a start up. We’re making new departments and new teams, and they’ve got to figure it out.” 

Ensign College students are often both humble and ambitious, Raitani said, which means they are teachable yet eager to progress.

As an added perk for employer partners, the Ensign Center is also providing office space at the center. 

Having a satellite office located at the college has enabled Synergy to hire interns it couldn’t otherwise, Rogers explained. With its headquarters located roughly 36 miles away in Pleasant Grove, Utah, many Ensign College students are without vehicles and wouldn’t be able to commute. Through the satellite office, however, a student can pop in, work for a few hours and still make it to classes.

The purpose of the employment center is threefold, President Kusch said. “It is a gathering place, it is a place of preparation. It is a place where students will come and make these connections with employers that will be a blessing for them for all of their lives.”

The influence and experience of students at the Ensign Center for Employer Connections will not be limited to the physical boundaries of a building, he said. “Their influence will be felt far and wide as they go to make their mark [upon the world].”