Dale Austin, the Director of the Career Development Center (CDC) at Hope College, has implemented a number of programs to better prepare students for the world of work. One of his principal undertakings has been to establish a common language and process for student self-exploration across campus. A major initiative has been to create a pilot program with the Residence Life staff to have several residence halls with first year students to take the Clifton Strengths Finder assessment. Additionally, CDC will be initiating contact with all First Year Seminar faculty advisors to incorporate the Strengths tool in their fall First Year Seminar course. Austin envisions that Strengths Finder will play a significant role in the advising process as students and their academic advisors interpret the assessment results together and match a student’s strengths to academic coursework. In order to fund the assessments, Austin has partnered with the Student Activities office in order to make the assessment accessible to every first year student.
Strengths Finder has already been incorporated into the classroom at Hope College. The CDC has coordinated with the Director of the Center for Faithful Leadership to bring personal and career development directly into the courses of this program. In these classes, students practice their elevator pitches, participate in mock interviews and take the Strengths Finder assessment to better understand themselves. About 75 students have been exposed to these resources through the leadership minor offered by the program and the response from these students has been extremely positive. Students have consistently reported feeling more confident about themselves and their academic and career direction after learning more about themselves through the assessment.
In the midst of implementing these changes, Austin has also led his team in examining and re-working their office mission and vision. Over the summer, the staff of the office and the Vice President for Student Development participated in retreats focused on clarifying the mission of the office and how the needs of students could be better met. These retreats resulted in substantial changes, one of them being the renaming of the office from Career Services to the Career Development Center. As the name suggests, the office concentrates on active engagement with and development of students as it assists them to take action on their own behalf. Austin has also recognized that the type of goal setting and vision creation that occurred over the summer is not enough. In December 2012, the staff of the Career Development Center participated in an off-site, end of semester retreat to reflect on their performance and ways to improve. Austin credits the Rethinking Success conference for reinforcing the importance of intentionally taking time to step back and continuously reflect.
Dr. Peter Powers, Dean of the School of Humanities, utilized the conference as a way to inspire transformational change amongst his faculty and staff at Messiah College. Powers was able to bring colleagues such as the chair of the Philosophy Department to the Wake Forest conference, which allowed them to participate in the discussion and hear the concepts first hand. As a result, the conversation traveled quickly to Messiah’s campus where substantial work is being done to help students better articulate the value of their education. Powers has challenged each academic department to think intentionally about this important function by posing two questions: 1) What are we already doing to assist students in articulating the value of their education and 2) What can we do to better help students in this endeavor? Through Power’s charge, each academic department is conducting an internal review to determine how well their students in each major can explain the connection between what they are learning in their discipline and the world of work, as well as what actions the department can take to make these connections more vivid. Powers has specifically asked each to department to review whether it would be feasible to add new requirements for internships or other experiential opportunities within the major, especially experiences that would help students better articulate career goals, skills and abilities, and their relationship to the major.
Every department has taken action. The Philosophy Department interviewed seniors within their major regarding the value of philosophy degree only to learn that there was a definite weakness in their ability to connect their education to the world of work. As a result, the department now focuses on helping students effectively convey the value of majoring in philosophy at Messiah College to potential employers. One method they have utilized is embedding mandatory action items in their major requirements such as attending certain career events and completing specific career development tasks. A newly added item has been reflection papers in which students are asked to communicate the value of their major, a certain class or other learning experience. By composing their thoughts into a written statement, students take the necessary time to define and organize their thinking in a more coherent and persuasive position that can be effectively delivered in interviews and networking.
The Modern Languages Department has also added programs to better prepare its graduates for the world of work. One method is a portfolio system in which students collect their work over the course of their time in the department. This portfolio can then be taken beyond their campus experience and into the world. Through the use of portfolios, students are reminded of their accomplishments and developed skills that help them directly translate their coursework into relevant examples and stories for interviews. In addition, faculty members have added components to their senior seminar classes to promote the variety of career fields their students can enter. In one Spanish senior seminar class, students traveled to different locations and spoke to Messiah alumni who majored in Spanish and are now employed in different industries and performing different functions. This was an eye-opening experience for students as they discovered the different types of potential opportunities available to them and were encouraged to engage in the career process.
Finally, the History Department had been incorporating career development components into their requirements even before the Rethinking Success conference. In fact, each history major is required to participate in an experiential learning experience such as an internship, study abroad or work study, with more than two-thirds of students choosing an internship. The department also offers a one-credit course entitled “Introduction to Historical Studies” in which one-third of the class is focused on career concerns. This course is offered in the first semester in order to introduce important career concepts to students early in their college experience.