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Opinion / Analysis / Essays

Career Development Center Launches YourPlan

September 21, 2007

When Sundus Husain '08 arrived at Mount Holyoke from Pakistan three years ago, she thought her interest in economics would naturally lead to a job as an investment banker at the back end of college. She took the right courses, conferred with academic advisors, and found summer internships at JPMorgan in New York City. Along the way she began to think that graduate school and a life in research and teaching would be more to her liking. With that realization, Husain figured the College's Career Development Center (CDC) had little to offer her. Stopping by their offices was low on her priority list.

Resources for helping students plan for life beyond graduation are notoriously underutilized even though most liberal arts campuses offer excellent services, according to Mount Holyoke vice president for enrollment and College relations Jane Brown.

Enter YourPlan.

Nominally a series of checklists that students can access online, it's the CDC's newest strategy for getting students to interface early and often with the broad array of workshops, databases, individual counseling, networking assistance, and announcements of scholarship and employment opportunities it offers. The larger goal, according to CDC director Scott Brown, is to get undergraduates to think actively and creatively about who they are, what they care about, and how to translate their ambitions into satisfying lives.

The CDC knows that college students typically focus on the present, but experience has taught Scott Brown (no relation to Jane Brown) that students who approach planning for the future as a four-year process not only achieve a better understanding of themselves, but are better at articulating their strengths and competencies. So the CDC set their sights on creating a framework for helping that process along.

In the 18 months it took to develop YourPlan, the CDC recruited a random sampling of women from each academic year to meet in what Husain likened to focus groups. A junior at the time, had she not gotten the email inviting her to participate she may have kept putting off accessing the center's services. Now she is a YourPlan devotee who, on a Thursday evening in September, was off to a CDC-sponsored workshop on graduate study in the United Kingdom.

The YourPlan Web page (see link below), which recently went live, allows students to log into their accounts anytime from anywhere to review the steps they have taken and those they should be thinking about. It breaks the process up into manageable chunks, and it gives counselors at the CDC real-time information about each individual student.

The first-year checklist guides them through steps--such as attending a workshop (a calendar with a hyperlinked schedule is just a click away), perusing resources in the CDC library, or meeting with a peer counselor--that will help them explore the opportunities available at MHC as they begin to develop their long-term goals. The site has links to personality and aptitude assessment tests; tips on talking to family, friends, and faculty about life goals; internship databases; and more. The second-, third-, and fourth-year checklists encompass many of the same categories but progressively move students to thinking about things like networking and interviewing skills as they refine their goals.

"When we talk to our alumnae and representatives from graduate schools, fellowship organizations, and the world of work, they tell us they are looking for individuals who can articulate their values, interests, and passions and speak cogently to how their liberal arts background has prepared them for the position that they are seeking," said Scott Brown. "Essentially, the YourPlan framework gives a student structured guidance to how she can connect her curricular and cocurricular activities in ways that maximize her MHC experience." It covers more than academic achievement by prompting respondents to think about skills and experiences acquired "in and out of class, on and off campus."

Jane Brown has noticed that students often think they can't go to the Career Development Center unless they already know what they want to do. Of course, "exactly the opposite is true," she said.

According to Husain, many students are "intimidated" by the CDC. She is glad she started taking advantage of it when she did because, she said, much of what it does is to "help you find out more about yourself." Now that she is in her fourth year her goals are fairly clear even though they are different from what she thought they would be when she started. By monitoring her progress early she avoided the stress she's witnessed in many who went before her. "I've seen a lot of panicked seniors," Husain said.

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All articles © Eric Goldscheider

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