As national conversations about higher education continue, I have been reflecting on the changing nature of work. In particular, I think about how we help students imagine the lives they want to lead, and how we can prepare them to build careers that make those lives happen.
Historically, Denisonians have done this well. Over the last two years, I have been struck again and again by the number of alumni who speak with deep emotion about how, as young people, they never imagined leading the lives they have led, and how grateful they are to Denison for setting them on such satisfying, productive paths.
Currently, our students are doing well with 87 percent employed or in graduate programs within six months of graduation. But the work world is increasingly competitive, complex, and global. With that in mind, we need to adjust. We have a strong career exploration program that gives us a foundation, and our emerging plans call for intensifying our efforts in five areas:
- Faculty Advising. Faculty mentors help students take advantage of opportunities at Denison. In particular, they help students ask questions about themselves and the lives they want to lead, connect the liberal arts to those aspirations, and develop the broad-based skills needed to succeed, regardless of what they choose to do professionally.
- Alumni and Parents as Career Mentors. Denison has one of the strongest alumni and parent networks in the liberal arts. We need to do even more to bring our alumni and parents together with our students as career coaches and mentors. Some of this can be done using LinkedIn and other online platforms. But we also need to bring alumni to campus more frequently to meet and engage with students so they can hear alumni stories and learn from the wisdom gained through experience.
- Intensive, Cohort-Based Internships. We are planning to launch a suite of summer fellowship programs. Students will travel in cohorts to internships in different areas of the country. They'll live together, share what they learn, and use evenings and weekends to connect with alumni, parents, and friends of the college who can provide advice and perhaps offer short seminars on profession-specific topics.
- Professional Skills Seminars. The liberal arts continue to prepare students for long-term success. But students increasingly need more profession-specific skills, networks, and vocabulary to compete for entry-level jobs and graduate programs. We are exploring ways to use January and May to offer profession oriented seminars that might run a few days or a few weeks. Some might be offered in cities or on campus, while others might be hosted online.
- Post-Graduation Support. Students need support during their initial years as they transition. We will develop a suite of online resources and programs available to students and recent graduates. We will start by supporting them during the initial five years post-Denison. Once we accomplish this goal, we should explore ways to extend this support across a person's life. In a changing world, our graduates may make transitions many times in their careers. Providing lifelong support would truly distinguish Denison.
Our goal is simple: to develop the gold standard in helping students decide how they want to live their lives, and then to support them as they transition from the liberal arts into the professions.
To get started, we have hired Richard T. Berman P'05 to lead our efforts as the director of The Knowlton Center for Career Exploration. Richard comes to Denison from Oberlin and Carleton Colleges, where he has directed those institutions' career centers. During his career spanning three decades, Richard has earned a reputation as a reform specialist in higher education. His specialties are connecting students with alumni, parents, and friends, and helping students confidently present themselves to the world. He is coming to Denison because his son had a fantastic experience as a Denisonian. He “gets” Denison and believes in the College. (To read about Berman's thoughts on the future of our CE&D office, see page 16.)
This work depends on deepening relationships. I would be interested in hearing from alumni and parents (firstname.lastname@example.org). What advice do you have for us as we seek to build new programs to prepare our students for professional pathways? Do the components above seem right to you? What are we missing? What was your experience? How might you be willing to help? We will seek and welcome your advice, because we need your participation in creating programs to support the current generation of talented Denisonians as they transition into the world of work.