I was glad to visit Whittier College near Los Angeles earlier this week. Whittier College is a small private (once Quaker affiliated) institution of some 1,500 students. Its population is very diverse though, with large numbers of first generation college students, Latinos, and students who identify themselves at LGBTQ. I had been to the college once before in 2009 to work with Joyce Kaufman when I was at the U.S. Institute of Peace. At that time, I ran a program that examined the child soldier crisis. A major contribution that Kaufman has made to the field is her work in developing the INP: International Negotiations Project, a program designed for high school students that has them role play as internationals and diplomats, and negotiate on important global issues online. She extended this effort to develop the INMP: International Negotiations Modules Project for community college students. (She contributed with Jamestown Community College faculty member Greg Rabb to my book on community colleges ). I had a chance to visit with her again. She has recently coedited the book Women, Gender Equality, and Post-Conflict Transformation: Lessons Learned, Implications for the Future (Gender in a Global/Local World)which examines women in post-conflict environments. I recommend her work to those interested at the role of women in conflict.
My reason for visiting Whittier centered on career development. I was invited to spend a day during Whittier’s “Straight Outta College” program to offer advice and insight into the work of work. In the morning of my visit I met one on one with students starting to consider their career options. As I generally do, I first spent time getting acquainted with each student: learning about their experiences, their interests, and their hopes for a career. One common theme with these students was looking at creative and trans-disciplinary approaches to solving programs. Several of them were in the Whittier Scholars Program which permits students to design their own major. One student’s major was “environmental sustainability and business.” Giving students the chance to explore their own interests and come up with a major that addresses that is a good way of empowering college students. All in all, I found the students aptly prepared for the future. Several of them were in their first year at Whittier and wanted to start early in exploring career avenues. Frankly, it’s never too early in college to start focusing on careers.
In the afternoon, I was part of two sessions. One focused on looking at professional values and how they can align with work environments. Students were asked to consider different categories of values including “intrinsic values” (such as status, power, independence), “work environment values” (such as learning, benefits, pace of work), “work content values” (including organizing, public contact), and finally “work relationship values” (such as leadership, teamwork, trust). We frequently jump right into career exploration with out first giving students the chance to consider what their expectations might be (or should be) in a work setting. In the session, we also explored questions that might asked in an interview and considered an ideal work setting. The session was facilitated by Deborah Pratt, the assistant dean of the career center. I enjoyed the exploration with students.
In the second session, I was joined by other professionals in considering specific aspects of the job application and search process including networking, resumes, and interviews. We each took an area: mine was networking.
In meeting with students, I reframed the notion of networking to “engagement with others.” I think in some respects networking is overused, and conjures up a mechanical or technical approach. Engaging with others is really what happens, and is humanistic at its core. I shared with students two forms of engagement: informal and formal. Informal ones are “in the moment” opportunities that present themselves where it is important for the aspiring professional to recognize that a conversation has presented itself that may offer them an opportunity. Think about a situation where you are introduced to a new neighbor of your parents, and learn that he or she is working in a field that you are interested in. Formal settings for engagement are generally those in which you anticipate meeting others, and are prepared to converse and share about your plans with them including senior professionals. A good place to do this is at professional conferences in your field. These conferences are almost always looking for student help with registration. Your volunteering for few hours will often allow you to attend part of the conference for free, thereby providing you with a chance to meet others and talk about your interests.