Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers


College: Olympic Marathon Training Camp

In my closing words to 400 first year students at Orientation, I asked them to imagine that getting a good job or going to graduate school was like qualifying to run the Olympic marathon.  This would mean that their time at Wake Forest was like being at the Olympic marathon training camp – and they should be prepared to work… and it won’t be easy.

I donned my Wake Forest cap and blew the whistle to call the students to attention (which surprised them since we were in Wait Chapel).  Listen to my pep talk that sets the tone for their four year college-to-career development experience.  Coach_Chan_64k

If your student missed my session at Orientation, have them check it out and talk to you about it.

Pre-Med isn’t for everyone

Each year, about 30% of the incoming class indicates that they are a Pre-Med.  After four years, only 5% actually end up going to medical school.  Along the way, these “Post Pre-Meds” must re-set their career direction – and possibly have difficult conversations with their parents.

Meredith Smith had dreamed of being a doctor since she was three years old.  She and her parents assumed that it was the only option when she entered Wake Forest in 2006.  Meredith soon learned that chemistry and biology in college was very different than in high school; and she needed to find a new direction.

In my interview with Meredith, she shares her journey from Pre-Med to Communications and German; to great marketing and public relations internships; to the summer business management program; to becoming a Wake Forest Fellow working with the Office for Personal and Career Development.  She has built a solid foundation for her business career.  Meredith_Smith_32k

It’s OK if your student learns that they’ve lost interest in being a doctor.  With the help of the career office, professors and many others around campus, your student can find other interests, passions and career directions.

Help them by accepting their decision and supporting them through their transition.  By moving through this transition quickly, they can begin exploring new options as soon as they are ready.

Afraid to network? Make connections instead

I interviewed Class of 2010 grad Kellyn Springer and she shared her variety of experiences that led to her developing strong skills in connecting with all types of people.  She studied abroad in Thailand, and landed two internships in the U.S. Congress.

She currently works for Wake Forest on the alumni relations team.  In her role, she meets with alumni who willingly offer their time and advice to students.  Kellyn encourages students to take advantage of the wonderful community of supporters – alumni, faculty, staff, parents and friends – who love Wake Forest and love to help students.  Kellyn_Springer_56k

You can be much more than your major

During first year orientation, I interviewed several recent graduates including Jermyn Davis who was a double major in Political Science and Chinese.  Jermyn and I talked about how his extracurricular experiences played a huge role in his interviews with potential employers – much more than what he majored in.  In fact, he received many offers as a result of his extracurricular experiences and his ability to communicate his interests, strengths, skills and passions with his resume, cover letters, emails and in person.

Jermyn also encourages students to manage their time well and gives several tips on how to make the most of all that students do at Wake Forest.  Listen to Jermyn’s tips on how to become attractive to employers – no matter what you major in.  Jermyn_Davis_56k

Career Tips for First Year Students

In my address to about 400 first year students last month, I interviewed four terrific Wake Forest graduates from the Class of 2010 to share their experiences with the first year students.  Each had unique experiences that address many of the common issues, questions and roadblock that first year students experience.

Mark Russell was a varsity athlete at Wake Forest.  Even with the heavy load that student-athletes experience, he was able to obtain several internships during the summer and during the school year.  He offers some tips for how he was able to build a solid academic foundation in his first year which gave him the confidence, skills and flexibility to easily take on internships in his later years.

He obtained coveted sports marketing internship where he learned that it wasn’t the best career for him.  In his senior year, he was panicked because every internship didn’t turn out like he had hoped.  Nevertheless, he found a terrific job that he’s enjoying now – after he asked for help from a counselor in the career office.  In his interview, Mark offers some additional advice to the students.

Listen to Mark’s interview and learn from his experience: Mark Russell Interview

To double major or triple minor?

Faculty Advisor Question: “When I advise students, they frequently are hot to double major and minor/double minor/triple minor – on the assumption that this will somehow make them more employable.  Neither I, nor any of my colleagues, have any evidence that minors or additional majors are of any use in this regard, absent a few specific situations.  What’s your view?”

Andy’s Answer: The choice of doing a double major or a minor is an individual decision.  In some cases, the second major can make a difference with respect to employability – when the 2nd major has direct relationship with the requirements and expectations of the potential employer.  For example, having a 2nd major in political science can help if you plan to work in politics.  Or having a minor in entrepreneurship can communicate to employers that you have knowledge and interest in business.

However, it is not required; nor is it beneficial in all cases.  I would posit that having challenging extracurricular activities and internships have greater benefit towards potential employability than having a 2nd major or a double minor.

If a 2nd major or minor results in the student having less time to pursue interesting extracurricular activities and roles or internships, this would be a poor decision.  If the 2nd major or minor results in damaging the student’s academic record, this would also be a poor decision.

If one were to have double or triple minors, a student will need to be prepared for the employer interview question, “Why did you have so many minors?” because it’s not what they typically see.  Employers need to hear logical answers so the student must be prepared to give one.

Thus, I conclude that 2nd major or minor should be pursued primarily because the student is genuinely interested in the academic area. And in some cases, it could be beneficial for employment marketability. However, the student should ask the career office or employers about their assumptions and hypothesis before making a final decision.

As I like to say, a sound decision is an informed decision. It can be costly to make such a decision without really knowing the facts.

Academic Advisers do matter

Did you know that 3 out of 4 graduating students surveyed said that they had a mentor while they were at Wake Forest?  And 70% of those students said their mentor was a faculty member or staff member. That’s incredible – and a great indicator of our authentic, unique mentoring culture.

Last week was a big week. I made three important speeches. The first one was to several hundred Academic Advisers and Student Orientation Advisers. These important people are responsible for providing both academic and non-academic guidance and advice to first year students.

One of my strategies for the Office of Personal and Career Development (OPCD) is to partner with the key influencers of students. Then students will obtain the appropriate information to make sound academic and career decisions. It was important for me to speak to this influential group of faculty, staff and students before Orientation began.

In addition to providing the impressive statistic in the first paragraph, I offered some important tips on how to be an effective adviser:

  • Define the goal of the relationship. What outcomes do you desire?
  • Identify what the student know. What are her expectations of you and of this relationship?
  • Clarify your role. What are you responsible for and what will you do?

Goal. Know. Role.  (It’s easy to remember; it almost rhymes!)

Clarify and confirm each of these with your student – right up front. This will set the foundation for building a true relationship so that students will want to return when they really need help sometime down the road.

I gave more tips and described our ‘extreme makeover’ of the career services area with the launch of the OPCD. To read my entire speech, here it is: Andy Chan Speech to Advisers – Sept 2010

Stay tuned. I’ll tell you about the other speeches in the coming days.

Follow me!

I have recently found terrific resources and articles for parents of college students and young adults.  To make you aware of the them, I will be posting short messages about them on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn every day this week (and will try to continue to do so going forward).  To stay informed, follow me on one of those channels and let me know what you think.

Why Mentoring Matters

Written by Allison McWilliams, Ph.D., Director of the Mentoring Resource Center at Wake Forest University.

This past Sunday the National Governors Association announced that its agenda for this coming year will focus on higher education – both college preparation and college completion. This announcement was made in part in reaction to a recent report released by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce; the report notes that by 2018 there will be jobs for 22 million new workers with college degrees, but not enough employees with those degrees to fill them. The report’s authors argue that we must do a better job of preparing students for careers from the time that they enter postsecondary education, if not before.

All of this would seem like potential good news for a school like Wake Forest, with its strong academic standards and graduation rates. But these announcements also come in the wake of recent high-profile news articles questioning the value of higher education, particularly in light of increasing costs that would seem to put postsecondary education out of the reach of many while not preparing those who can afford it for “real world” employment. So how do we make sure that we are preparing students for productive engagement with the world? Clearly, a solid foundation of education matters. Support and resources offered through career development matters. And, I would argue, mentoring matters.

Student development is no longer a responsibility left solely to institutions of education. In a world of recession, environmental catastrophes, war, and global interconnectedness, it is incumbent upon all of us – educators, family members, community members – to help prepare this generation for the world that they are entering, and for the new world of work. Today’s students are by no means guaranteed a job after graduation, let alone an interview. As Mark L. Savickas notes in the foreword to The Blackwell Handbook of Mentoring (2010), “Today we rarely view careers as unfolding or developing in a hierarchical corporation. Instead, we talk about managing transitions and constructing careers…. In an uncertain world, workers must construct certainty within the self and then attach themselves to significant others who can assist them to adapt to the series of tasks, transitions, and traumas that they will encounter” (p. xviii).

The period of young adulthood, that vaguely-defined time between childhood and adulthood that coincides with the age people traditionally go to college, is a time for coming into one’s own, discovering who you are and what you believe in, forming opinions and discovering meaning in life. It is a time of transition, says Sharon Daloz Parks in her book Big Questions, Worthy Dreams (2000), transition that “occurs most gracefully and with optimum potential when the emerging self is recognized and invited into a wider arena for participation by wise and trusted adults. Thus, this is the fitting time for the presence of mentors” (p. 80). Indeed, says Daloz Parks, “the power of mentoring relationships is that they help anchor the vision of the potential self” (p. 81).

Think about that: mentors help anchor the vision of the potential self. Mentors provide a safe harbor in the midst of so much change and uncertainty. Mentors provide wisdom, and guidance that can only result from lived experience. Mentors encourage risk-taking, and help mentees articulate a vision for who it is they will become and then help them set goals and develop a path to get there. Mentors provide accountability. The promise of mentoring, says Walter C. Wright in Mentoring: The Promise of Relational Leadership (2004) “is the hope of the future.” It is nothing less than that. And as we assess the value of what we are doing to prepare young people for their futures, that is why mentoring matters.

Learning business outside of b-school

In my last post, I mentioned that there are many ways to build business skills, experiences and knowledge without having to major in business at college.  These activities are ways for both liberal arts and business students to learn about business as well as figure out areas of interest. Although some of the ideas listed below are specific to Wake Forest students, many colleges and universities offer similar programs and resources.  Some of the offerings below are available at Wake Forest to non-Wake Forest students (like the MA in Management and MBA graduate school).

The following are examples of ways you can learn about business without majoring in it:

  • MA in Management – One year program for liberal arts majors immediately after completing a bachelor’s degree. Equivalent to the 1st year of the MBA program.
  • Summer Management Program – One month summer business program for liberal arts majors.
  • Minor in Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise – Take classes from both the business school and liberal arts college to understand the basics of starting and growing a business, as well as learn the disciplines of innovation and creativity.
  • Start your own business with support from the University Center for Entrepreneurship – The best way to learn about business is to run one. Why not try starting your own for-profit or non-profit organization? You can sell it or find someone else to manage it when you graduate.
  • Internships – Work with your career office to develop an action plan for finding ones that interest you
  • Projects with companies and community organizations – Pro bono or for a class project
  • Read the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, BusinessWeek, Inc., or other business journals
  • Join a business-oriented club: consulting, finance, marketing, retail. etc…
  • Join the newspaper or radio station or fraternity/sorority/social club business staff
  • Work at a business operation on or off-campus and ask for new projects to learn more about how the business is run
  • Talk to your parents, your friends’ parents or other working adults about their businesses and career journeys
  • Take a class or two at the undergraduate or graduate business school
  • Participate in business case competitions
  • Hang out with business students and learn their lingo and how they are preparing for life after college
  • Read about business careers from Vault or WetFeet.com. Your career center should have similar resources
  • Consider graduate business school after getting some work and life experience. Most schools do not expect (or even want) you to have majored in business in college

Whether you go to the business school or not, you should do many of the things above to help you learn about business and help you figure out what areas of business are of most interest to you.  In addition, you’ll be better prepared to market yourself to employers, communicate a high knowledge and interest level, and have good stories to share with them (which is a particularly critical asset for interviews).

If you have other ways to learn about business besides majoring in it, please share them with me and my readers.  Many students and parents would appreciate your advice.