Tom Brinkley, the Executive Director for the Student Professional Development Center (SPDC), which houses both the Office of Career Services and the Office of Corporate and Employer Relations, has instituted transformational change at Elon University through a number of programs. One such avenue has been increasing the resources and attention paid to first generation students as they represent 10 percent of Elon’s freshman class. The key to this initiative has been walking the fine line of addressing these students’ particular career development needs without singling them out from the balance of the freshman class. To do this, the SPDC has ensured that first generation students receive invitations to events like The Elon Network, connecting them with key advisors, faculty and staff, teaching them what networking is and how to do it, and allowing them to opt into a number of additional career programs. This type of attention begins the first day on campus as the office holds a special orientation session for first generation parents. During this session, the office demonstrates how they will create an environment where their students can be successful both while at Elon University and afterwards.
Another avenue has been through increased peer-to-peer connections in which students assist their classmates in the career development process. This is principally done through one major event each spring titled, “The Elon Network.” This spring marked the third year of this event, which is entirely student-run with only marginal support from the office. During this daylong event, more than 700 students share their stories along different stages of the career journey. This event dramatically reduces student fear and anxiety while adding a networking component and informal advice from juniors and seniors who have participated in desirable internships.
Third, Elon University has developed a Bridges program to assist recent graduates who want to live and work in Los Angeles or New York City. Eight to 10 young alumni are selected through an application process, which determines their desire to live and work in each city. Over nine weeks, student participants are exposed to the city and given career guidance and support from dedicated staff members. The graduates take a series of classes on topics such as cover letter writing, interview guidelines and how to network while being introduced to the city through a series of activities. This experience costs $4,500, which includes housing and other support. While this program was just introduced in 2012, there has already been marked success. All of the students who traveled to Los Angeles and New York to participate in the pilot program have found employment. In 2013, the number of applications for next year’s programs tripled demonstrating student excitement for this new initiative.
Finally, the SPDC has introduced the College 2 Career Student Rewards Program, also known as C2C. Through this program, students receive rewards for gaining experience in building resumes, connecting with employers, interfacing with graduate school representatives and internship coordinators, and other beneficial activities that they can “cash in” for prizes such as iPads or gift cards when they complete the program. In their first year, students are expected to perform activities such as building a resume and LinkedIn profile, conducting an informational interview and taking a career assessment. In each successive year, additional components are required until students complete the program. At the end of each academic year, all members are invited to the recognition gala and etiquette dinner, which acknowledges the achievements and progress of the students and announces new resources and upcoming events. While the program is laid out over the course of four years, some students are consolidating the experience into two or three years if they did not begin their freshman year. In its opening year, more than 500 students enrolled in the program and number is continuing to climb.
Over the past two years, Hampden-Sydney College has begun the process of reevaluating the career development of its students. Under the direction of President Chris Howard and the Associate Dean for Career Education and Vocational Reflection Rucker Snead, the office has engaged in considerable internal review and external benchmarking as it has sought to find practices that would benefit its students. Through the process, the office has been renamed Career Education and Vocational Reflection, a move away from Career Services, and upgraded Snead’s position from the director level to associate dean. However, the office did not stop with just a name change; it has completely reframed the way it approaches student career development.
As the new title suggests, the office has placed reflection at the center of its interactions with students. In many ways, Hampden-Sydney has successfully adjusted the question posed to students from “What do you want to do?” to “Who are you and what are your interests?” Starting in their freshman year, Hampden-Sydney men are asked to consider “Who am I?” and “What is my purpose, passion and calling?” Snead has enlisted the support of all the offices on campus to incorporate these leading questions into their programs. Even when alumni speakers come to campus, they are asked to address these questions in their presentations. This coordinated effort is in its second year and the office is optimistic as it transforms the way Hampden-Sydney men view their connection to the world of work.
An additional program rolled out in the last few years has been Tiger Tracks, which are career pathways to assist inquiring students in navigating the path from college into different industries. The Tracks are designed to bridge the gap between academic majors and careers by providing a roadmap of classes, extracurricular activities, resources and alumni connections to help students achieve their goals. To develop these Tracks, Hampden-Sydney identified desired career outcomes of its student body and used the pre-law and pre-health tracks as models. The office also enlisted the support of faculty and alumni in developing the roadmaps, which facilitated faculty buy-in to the process. Not only do these Tracks provide actionable content for students set on a particular career field, they allow students to explore the options in the world of work. There are now fifteen Tiger Tracks available online and in PDF form.
Hampden-Sydney is also dedicated to the success of their students once they reach their post-graduation destinations. In a new initiative this year, 35 juniors and seniors attended the inaugural Professional Development Institute in January before classes started. These students assembled on a Saturday and Sunday for a series of classes and workshops designed to prepare them for success upon leaving Hampden-Sydney. The workshops included “Dress for Success,” “Networking,” “Personal Finance and Financial Planning,” “Strategic Thinking – How to Plan Your Life,” and “Training the Street,” which was an investment valuation and modeling seminar delivered by former investment banker analysts. Again, faculty and staff were involved in different aspects of the weekend so as to garner support for the program and professional development moving ahead.
Transformational change at Whitman College has been led by Noah Leavitt, the Assistant Dean for Student Engagement, through a variety of avenues. The first has been partnering with the new Associate Dean of Faculty, Lisa Perfetti, to better incorporate service-based learning into existing curricula. Perfetti joined Whitman with deep experience in service-based learning and an understanding of the benefits to students especially regarding their preparedness for the world of work. Leavitt and Perfetti have begun conversations to design a procedure for faculty to develop off campus components into their courses, especially through relationships with members of the community. These discussions are particularly timely as Whitman’s student government recently passed a resolution requesting an increase service-based learning in their classes. In part as a response to this resolution, a research initiative has been launched to fully explore the merits and effects of service-based learning on students and the proper role it should hold in students’ development.
Second, Whitman has created a new Fellow position in the career office based on the Wake Forest Fellows program model, in which recent graduates work for different administrative offices for one year in project management roles. The Fellow has been an effective addition to the office staff for a number of reasons: 1) as a recent graduate, the Fellow already understood the Whitman and student culture and therefore has been able to design effective marketing solutions; 2) the Fellow has contributed to the office and website redesign through his technology expertise and social media savvy; and 3) the fellowship is not a permanent position thereby not a significant financial burden on the office budget. At Whitman, the Fellow leverages technology to market their resources more effectively to students, especially with a focus on social media. In the past semester, the Fellow has created a new Facebook account, which houses calendars, stories, and events for the office, and revamped the office website to add meaningful content and manageable navigation. During the spring semester, the Fellow built and redesigned the website with a new content management system and set up LinkedIn as a networking tool for the office.
Finally, Whitman has piloted a Community Fellows Program that provides eight paid internships to current juniors and seniors in different organizations in Walla Walla, Wash., over the course of a full academic year. The program was founded because of a concept discussed at the Rethinking Success conference that suggested employers prefer students who have long term immersion in organizations and who work on projects for more than just one semester in length. The extended timeframe of these positions enables interns to become more involved in their internship and allows them to foster lifelong skills more thoroughly. This program has been appreciated by the eight students, all of whom value the work experience and the introduction to areas to which they would not be exposed at Whitman, such as court systems or business. If additional funding for this program becomes available, Whitman hopes to expand the number of internships next year.