Because I am an academic advisor, I have gone to a number of Orientation activities with the Class of 2016. One of my favorite ones to attend is the session by the Office of Personal and Career Development. It’s always a high energy, fun session. And again this year, it stayed true to form.
Andy Chan is the Vice President of Personal and Career Development. Under his leadership, in the past 2 years we’ve doubled the OPCD in both staff size and budget, all to support our students’ personal and career development.
The OPCD has a very student-friendly approach. They don’t want to stress students out or make them feel like they have a lot of things they have to do in order to get on the path from college to career. They try to make it very easy. During the session, they handed out a College to Career passport with easy steps and timelines of things students should be doing. You can find these same steps on their website, where they are listed out by students’ year.
When the OPCD was formed, the staff talked to a lot of young alumni and asked “if you could go back, what do you wish you had known?” A common response was: “I wish I would have known more about my career choices before my senior year.” So the OPCD is here to help students learn those things before senior year.
Probably the highlight of the session was the way in which they introduced their staff. They did a parody of the opening of the TV show “The Office” – same music, same styling, with hilarious results. I am trying to get a link to it, and if so I will post.
One of the featured speakers at this session was Heidi Robinson, who teaches a series of career courses that I highly recommend. She said that the one question that all first-year and sophomore students don’t want to be asked by adults is: “What’s your major?” Students hate that question because of an implied belief that your major dictates your career path.
Heidi was adamant on this point: a major neither guarantees nor precludes entry into the vast majority of career fields. To demonstrate this point, she showed a series of slides of Wake Forest alumni – many of them famous or in high powered positions – and asked students to guess what their major was. This was a fun, interactive part of the program – the students used their cell phones to text in their guess of major. There were lots of chuckles from the audience as they saw the answers coming in and displayed on big bar graphs on the screen and seeing who chose what vs. the real answer. In most of these cases, the major had no direct link to the career.
Heidi said she hoped that exercise would give these new students the confidence that your major does not mean your career. That it is ok to explore and choose a major that feels good to you. She repeated one of the longtime slogans of the OPCD: “YOU ARE NOT MARRIED TO YOUR MAJOR.”
Heidi explained that the beauty of a liberal arts degree is that it is a flexible tool. You get a broad based education here and develop great critical thinking and communication skills, and a student’s specific “training” could come in a job, an internship, volunteer roles, etc. Much more than a major, a student’s skills, experiences, and drive really matter.
The session continued with some video testimonials of young alumni who had used the OPCD’s resources with positive results. The OPCD staff showed the students how to log into DeaconSource, which is our online system for students to see job and internship opportunities as well as personal and career development related activities. DeaconSource allows us to tailor mailings and contacts with students based on what they tell us are their career or geographic interests.
Andy Chan closed the session by talking about some of the questions he is frequently asked by students and parents. One is “do I have to be a business major to get a job in business?” His answer: it depends. If you are passionate about business and that is your best major, do it, he said. But he stressed that students can also get business exposure through our Summer Management Program (often referred to by students as ‘business boot camp’), or Wake’s MA in Management, which is a program right after graduation that gives students a real intensive business training plus career development. Students can also major in their department of choice but choose to pursue an entrepreneurship minor. There are many paths here.
Andy stressed the importance of students exploring – both academically and extracurricularly. He told students to make sure they are connected, especially to the OPCD. Take some action – see a counselor, talk to people in your parents’ network about their jobs – what do they do? how do they like it?
At the end of the session, Andy asked the students to take out a piece of paper in their Career Passport that asks for the students’ name, ID number and email address. He asked students to list 3 top potential careers and then also 3 destinations for places they’d want to live. The OPCD will take the results and put them into each student’s DeaconSource profile and that way the OPCD can start tailoring communications to each student.
The fun part here was that the form also had outlines to fold it into a paper airplane – and students were asked to launch their airplanes all at once in Wait Chapel. I have some grainy video of it – opcd movie – it was a fun moment. UPDATE on August 30th – here are two more views of the fun: one from the bottom level and one from the balcony.
By the way, if you are the parent of an upperclassmen, your student can – and should! – tap into the OPCD’s resources too. It is never too late to start on the path from college to career.