Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

Getting to Action

Sheila Curran, President and Chief Strategy Consultant of Curran Career Consulting, kicked off the final panel discussion of the Rethinking Success conference by reminding the crowd of Winston Churchill’s admonition, “Without action, thinking is mere idleness.” Curran moderated a discussion around “Real Transformational Change,” featuring success stories and action-oriented tips from leaders representing the career centers at the University of Chicago; Washington University, St. Louis; and Wake Forest University.

Meredith Daw speaks on the panel.

Meredith Daw speaks on the panel.

Meredith Daw, Director of Career Advising and Planning Services at the University of Chicago talked about the transformation that she has helped lead. “Six years ago, we crunched the numbers,” she said. “Not enough of our students were realizing the return on investment we hoped for. They were graduating without jobs and falling behind peers graduating from other schools.”

Daw explained how she started making significant changes at Chicago with three strategies: connecting earlier with students, implementing pre-professional programs with the graduate schools to complement the liberal arts experience, and focusing on increased internship opportunities.

In 2005, only 25 percent of first- and second-year students took advantage of the career advising and planning services Daw and her colleagues offered. Today, more than 80 percent of students come through her office within their first two years on campus.

She talked about a job shadowing externship program – only open to freshmen and sophomores – as part of the office’s success. She also talked about strengthening the link to the admissions office, which now talks up the services she offers before students even arrive on campus.

Daw credited much of the success of her office with eight pre-professional programs called “Chicago Careers In…” The programs offer exposure to careers in the arts, business, higher education, health professions, journalism, law, public and social services, and science and technology. To ensure the success of the programs, Daw hired industry specialists from outside of higher education to complement the advising expertise of career generalists. These experts brought a heightened sense of credibility among students and parents. The career office also made mentorship alliances with the professional graduate programs on campus. Undergrads are paired with graduate students to understand opportunities to advance their goals and undergraduates are now able to take courses within the graduate programs.

To increase internship opportunities, Daw talked about expanding their reach outside of the Chicago area. They now offer internships in 40 different cities and eight foreign countries. With a few thousand dollars of seed money they started a program, called Treks, to take students to geographic areas with large employer bases on the east and west coasts. After demonstrating the value of this outreach, Daw was able to secure corporate funding and additional institutional support to grow the program.

Daw closed out her remarks by talking about how the work of the career office complements the work of faculty without trying to change the core academic experience. As a result, faculty have come to appreciate and endorse Daw’s efforts.

At Chicago, they had recognized a trend of students moving into economics majors as a pathway to business school and a perceived career advantage. The impact was that the students without a passion for economics were not satisfied with the experience and academic programs with a less-defined career path, like history and philosophy, were losing students. The Chicago Careers In… programs helped students explore career avenues launched from a variety of degrees and helped stop the unnecessary change in majors.

All three panelists echoed the importance of data, focus groups, and surveys tracking students and alumni. Tracking trends and patterns outside of career services helps to communicate with other departments around campus about how to make real transformational change.

— Guest post by Brett Eaton,
Wake Forest Communication and External Relations,
from the “Rethinking Success” conference

Category: Higher Education, Rethinking Success

One Response to Getting to Action

  1. Sara Pacelle says:

    I am inspired by this assembly of talented and concerned career development professionals. As a devout supporter of a liberal arts education and a career advisor, I don’t think the path to a successful career is to produce more engineering graduates who aren’t at all interested in engineering! Early exploration of proven career paths from liberal arts backgrounds helps students follow their passions, develop transferable skills and pay their bills. Hats off to all involved in this program.