Indiana Connection Lounge Creates Unique Space for Students and Employers to Connect and Build Social Capital

Ball State University students and Indiana employers are connecting in new and exciting ways through the Indiana Connection Lounge, a relaxed space with a coffee shop vibe within the Ball State University Career Center.

“Students wanted more authentic conversations and employers wanted new ways to engage with the talent that they need,” said Jim McAtee, assistant vice president and executive director for career and professional development at Ball State. The Indiana Connection Lounge meets those needs.

Launched on the Ball State University campus in the fall of 2023, the Indiana Connection Lounge connected nearly 3,500 students directly with 49 employer representatives in the fall semester. The relaxed environment, which includes comfortable couches, a coffee bar with refreshments, and the latest technology, has been a welcomed alternative to traditional job fairs. In the fall 2023 semester alone, of the 3,500 connected students, 2,700 of them had never attended a job fair, allowing the lounge to reach a whole new population that had not been involved in prior social capital building.

It is a place where students can come, unencumbered by the stress of dressing in a suit, having a polished resume in hand or having rehearsed answers to anticipated questions.

“It’s a unique space where we invite students to come as they are and have a cup of coffee, have a snack and just learn more,” says Robert Tucker, Ball State University’s associate director of employer relations and recruitment programs. Students have the opportunity to speak with various hiring managers from many different departments and C-Suite representatives, which they may not get unless they work for that company and become interested in the company or industry. “But even if not, they’re working on their own social capital,” he said.

The lounge is part of a personalized approach to recruiting on campus. McAtee and Tucker say the lounge empowers the collaboration between industry and education and attracts more students to learn about career opportunities that they may not have pursued in a traditional career-fair setting.

“It’s important for us especially to be able to find ways to make it easy for companies to recruit at Ball State,” says Tucker. The Career Center team helps employers coming to campus to recruit by curating a day tailored to not only meet their immediate needs but also to get them to create exposure to their industry. McAtee says he wants employers to get into some spaces that are nontraditional for their industry because students are still trying to figure out what they might want to do. “Students only know what they know. They only know what’s in their immediate circle, and for some students, that circle is not very broad.”

Employers are invited to start their day on campus by taking part in classroom speaking engagements in all nine academic colleges at Ball State. Tucker says they are encouraged when an employer in the health industry, for example, speaks to a fine arts class. “We want to open students’ eyes to what kind of opportunities there are out there that they might not have known otherwise. Eighty percent of our students stay in Indiana post-graduation. We need them to know what opportunities are right around them,” says McAtee.

Following the in-classroom visits, employers venture to the lounge where there is an open invitation to all Ball State students to visit with the employer and network either in a one-on-one or small group conversation.

McAtee is excited to build off the momentum of the lounge and the personalized recruitment approach by reaching a whole new population, specifically first-generation college students, underrepresented students and Pell Grant students. “This is a new addition to our ecosystem that is now reaching a new workforce that Indiana employer partners have access to where they didn't before, right? And so that's where I get really excited because we're connecting a new group of students to our workforce and our employers really need that.”

If you are a student or employer interested in the Indiana Connection Lounge, visit