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Here to show the way
Career Network gives students the keys

Lisa Bishop

IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT: Lisa Bishop ’02 maps out her future in the career planning course Susan Hammond offers to humanities majors.

Senior Dennis Crommett looks the perfect English-major type – black turtleneck, neatly trimmed sideburns – as he steps to the front of the Bartlett Hall classroom. But this is no literary presentation.

     “I want to talk about my plans for the future should my goal of world domination not work out,” deadpans Crommet, before breaking into a grin for his appreciative fellows.

     The class is called “Career and Life Planning for Humanities Majors,” and students are here to discuss how those majors might translate into making a living. The three-credit course, taught by career counselor Susan Hammond ’77, ’93G, represents an ideological shift for the revamped Campus Career Network.

     The evolution from “placement office” – which somehow smacks of being dropped off and left – to “network” – with its implication of continuing support – began four years ago, under the leadership of director Joan Stoia ’71, ’81G. In doing away with peer advising and moving the majority of the professional staff into the schools and colleges, “We de-layered,” says Stoia.

     As a result, students are no longer asked to trudge across campus to find a counselor they’ve never met and discuss a career they’ve never really considered. Now, in theory at least, each counselor is “that friendly face who is part of the landscape from the time you start working at that major” to the time you graduate.

     “It’s always been my philosophy that you can’t place someone you don’t know,” says Stoia. “You have to know your clients if you’re going to be an effective broker.”

Susan Hammond clearly knows her clients. Whether they were like this before the semester began or whether Hammond’s enthusiasm has rubbed off on them, this group of humanities students seems exceptionally well-spoken. Halfway through the presentations, Hammond notes that all but one has given teaching as a goal – and convincingly.

     “How many of you, when you chose a humanities major, heard the question, ‘What do you want to do – teach?’” Laughter as almost every hand in the room goes up. “And now,” says Hammond with a smile, “you’re making informed decisions to be teachers. It’s not a fallback position.”

     Senior Rachel Vachula seems to agree. When it’s her turn to present, the math and English major puts up a timeline of her life showing the changes in her career goals. At age seven, she was going to be a teacher, in subsequent years an astronomer, a dentist, a chef, actress, writer. In her first year of college she thought she’d be an engineer. Then came a couple of years of “undecided.”

     “But then suddenly it’s my senior year, so I took this class,” says Vachula. “People always asked me if I wanted to be a teacher, and I think I just got used to saying no. But in this class I realized that’s what I want to do.”

     Some class members report a certain amount of angst in reaching their decisions – “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” says Vanessa Joseph, another senior in English. But between the course and multiple visits with her career counselor, she’s decided to go on for an MBA: a decision she says she might never have arrived at without some assistance.

     Stoia says her most recent figures show that – between counseling, courses, career fairs, and co-ops and internships – some 77 percent of seniors use the network at some point during their undergraduate careers. These services “put the student in control,” says Stoia. “We’re saying ‘Here are the keys to your life, we’re going to teach you to drive.’”

     Employers, too, are learning to market themselves. At a recent information session hosted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the recruiters represent another shift in ideology. Goodbye to suits, lacquered desks, and several invisible tons of intimidation; these recruiters are young, hip, and casually dressed. One of them, Nancy Lin ’99 of New Jersey, is even a fellow alum. A fair amount of time is devoted to the description of perks: free sodas, free gym, business-casual dress, a masseuse on Thursdays.

Can there be rational decisions when corporations offer massages on Thursdays? But few of the dozen students in attendance seem nonplussed. If they’re made jittery by the idea of corporate discounts, they’re saving it for the next day, when they’re all scheduled for job interviews. Actually by November, this is old hat for many seniors. Economics senior Aisha Khapoya says the job hunt is going “pretty well – I’ve gotten six interviews.” Without the network, she’d be “packing envelopes” with resumes and hoping for the best, she says.

     Benjamin Braddock, the befuddled Dustin Hoffman character in The Graduate, might feel a little out of place in this disciplined crew. “I’m going to try to narrow it down in my head, then wait until next month to get the job offers I want,” says Khapoya confidently. No suggestion here of taking the summer off to float in the pool: A competitive economy awaits, and these students are ready for it.

     The Career Network can take some credit for that. “You can’t do something you haven’t been trained to do,” Stoia says. “How is it that we think students can have an epiphany one day about what they want to do, unless they’ve spent some time on task?

     “We’re here to show them the way,” concludes Stoia. If only Benjamin Braddock had gone to UMass.

– Karen Skolfield ’98G

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