Lessons Learned – A Required Career Program for Seniors
EACE Blog contribution by Jaime Freedman, Associate Director, Endicott College Career Center
Back in 2011 we at the Endicott College Career Center were feeling concerned. We needed a platform – some way to engage with seniors in a more structured way than the traditional workshop model we had been operating. We wanted to capture the attention of a large chunk of students before they were gone; lost in the ether of post grads who might float back in and out of our offices at random, or who might never be seen by us again.
We were extremely fortunate in that students at Endicott are required to complete three internships, one of which is a full-time semester long internship that they complete during the fall of their senior year. This internship requires them to be off-site at their internship four days a week, and they return to campus on Fridays for a class that lines up with the internship. Eureka! That was it! We could create a series of programs that would be tied to their internship class on Fridays! And thus, the Endicott College Senior Professional Development Series was born. But, how were we going to make it happen?
Another one of our blessings is that Endicott’s administration places an extremely high value on professional preparation, so getting the idea approved wasn’t too tough of a challenge. However, we knew that convincing faculty to integrate the requirement into their classes might be more of a feat, which leads me to lesson 1: Start with the allies that you already have. One of our first steps was to meet with key faculty who had a history of bringing us into their classes and supporting our
endeavors. They were able to help us spread the word about the program and then with the buy-in of the deans, there was a positive buzz around the idea.
We set up the program so that every Friday we offered two one hour sessions during convenient times for most students. We left faculty with the decision of how many programs to require their students to attend in order to get credit towards the class. The first year we ran the program, most faculty required students to attend two or three programs, whereas now that we are entering our fourth year, most faculty are requiring that they attend three or four, and in several cases, even more.
After our first year, the program was well received by faculty and students. However, something unanticipated was that students didn’t sign up until the last minute. This leads me to lesson 2: Plan for the unexpected. Because students signed up towards the end of the semester, our numbers for those later sessions were overwhelming for the space. We were able to make last minute changes and ultimately make it work, but it would have run much smoother with more back-up planning.
We collected survey data from the attendees after our first year and one of the most important lessons that we learned was lesson 3: students want more interaction.
In order to make our sessions more engaging, we brought in several guest speakers including key alumni and employers that were in the interest of the college to engage with. We also made sure that the majority of the sessions we planned had some type of interactive component, whether it was a discussion or an activity. Working with alumni and employers was extremely rewarding, however, we discovered that lesson 4: guest speakers need guidance. Even though the people we brought in were experts in their fields with successful careers, not all of them knew how to tailor their content to the college senior audience. We found that holding a brief phone meeting with each speaker and reviewing their presentations before their visits made a big difference.
We were lucky to be able to integrate our required senior programming into a course, but we realize that this isn’t always possible. If you’re interested in starting a program like this at your institution, you might try running a pilot program with a specific school or major. You might also consider creating a certificate program so that the students receive something at the end, even if it isn’t academic credit. No matter what resources you have available on your campus, we at Endicott encourage you to take a first step, engage with key colleagues, and let your program develop from there.
Jaime Freedman is the Associate Director at the Endicott College Career Center in Beverly, MA. Jaime counsels undergraduates, graduate students and alumni across majors on all aspects of the job search and self-assessment processes. Previous roles include working as an academic advisor for nontraditional students at Northeastern University and serving as a career counselor for persons with disabilities at the Institute for Community Inclusion. Jaime holds a master’s degree in applied educational psychology from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Connecticut College.