PIPER CENTER – DEPARTMENTAL COLLABORATION
The partnership between the Piper Center and the SWFS department has grown steadily over the past nearly 20 years. The Piper Center is now embedded within both majors of the department, assisting students through
- course content,
- instruments for vocational discernment,
- career fairs and connections,
- networking with alumni in the field,
- the application of theoretical concepts in the field,
- and processes of reflection.
Students may first choose to explore their interest in service through the Interim course “I Want To Help People.” Early in the course, members of the Piper Center itroduce students to the concept of vocation and work with them to identify their passions, their giftedness, and how they see themselves helping people. Piper Center staff have developed and infused reflection questions into their journaling assignments throughout the month. During the final retreat, we return to the idea of vocation, discussing students’ ideas of vocation and relating the ideas to written works. At this time, students craft a final vocational mission statement, revised from one written on their first day of class and impacted by the variety of experiences they’ve had in January.
In a beginning exploration of self, students in both Family Studies 242 and Social Work 254 take the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI), learning how the instrument can help them discern their vocation. In “Family Relationships,” this examination of personality types and attendant characteristics is focused on the study of family systems theory, using type to understand the interplay of personalities within the family unit. In “Inclusive Practice: Individuals and Families,” the MBTI is used to examine one’s own giftedness and its relationship to the many facets of social work. Students consider their own gifts, as well as others', and learn to appreciate the differences inherent in working with a variety of people.
Each spring, the Piper Center and SWFS partner to coordinate a career panel, bringing alumni back to campus to showcase their career journeys. To prepare Social Work majors for their search for a practicum site for their senior year, the Piper Center provides guidance on presenting one’s self as a professional during Social Work 261; most of these juniors also take time to meet individually with a Piper Center staff member as they prepare to meet with various agencies.
As part of its annual workshop series, the Piper Center holds several sessions for students interested in social service careers. “Making It in the Nonprofit World” introduced students to the entrepreneurial skills necessary to make strategic decisions and play a leadership role in the nonprofit world. Another workshop, “Identifying and Searching for Careers in Social Service and Nonprofit Organizations,” illustrates strategies and resources valuable in searching for careers in the social service sector. The workshop also introduced several fairs that provide students access to nonprofit/public service organizations.
The culminating and most moving event in our partnership, also emanating from the Lilly Grant Program, is an annual spring conversation between senior Social Work majors who have recently completed an intensive practicum experience and alumni who are practicing social workers. The “Conversation on Social Work, Service and Vocation” involves participants in reflection and discussion of “their path of authentic service” and how their aspirations to serve have been impacted by the realities of service work. As might be expected, the insights shared in this evening come from the heart, relay emotions ranging from the joy of meaningful client interactions to the self-questioning prompted by difficult situations, and always highlight how the theoretical from social work courses plays out in the reality of service work.
To explore developing ways that your department can partner with the Piper Center for Vocation and Career, please contact Branden Grimmett ’03 at (507) 786-3268.
WORKING WITH ACADEMIC CONCENTRATIONS
Since 2001, CEL staff members (now the Piper Center for Vocation and Career) have collaborated with Professor Ted Johnson, Director of the Biomedical Studies Program, to develop concentration requirements that enhance students' preparation for careers in traditional areas of health care such as dentistry, human medicine, and veterinary medicine, as well as therapies (physical, occupational, speech, music, dance), and work in hospital administration, hospital ministry, and biomedical ethics. In its current form, the Biomedical Studies Concentration allows students to cater the required experiential learning activities and coursework to their own unique career goals. Ted Johnson and Sandy Malecha of the Piper Center work together to actively support students completing the concentration.
Concentration requirements that integrate career exploration activities ensure that students consider alternative career paths. Many students enter St. Olaf with the stated goal of pursuing a medical career and are eager to begin the course of study necessary for entering medical school. The Biomedical Studies concentration is designed not only to provide a broad academic background to students interested in the field of healthcare but also to engage these students in a vocational discernment process to determine whether pursuing medicine is right for them. The Piper Center's contributions in this collaboration include assisting faculty and student organizations with
- workshops on career exploration strategies,
- resources for students as they research three potential careers in the healthcare arena and complete two in-depth informational interviews with professionals or graduate schools in their field of interest,
- career panels,
- graduate school information sessions,
- and internship search strategies and resources.
The Piper Center plays an integral role in assisting concentrators with the completion of their experiential learning requirement in particular. From searching for opportunities to preparing application materials to interviewing and landing their desired position, students are encouraged to use Piper Center Peer Advisors and staff for assistance with this process. By the time they complete their concentration requirements, Biomedical Studies concentrators will have thoroughly explored opportunities in healthcare and begun building a resourceful network of professionals.
The Piper Center feels strongly that collaborations with academic departments are its most powerful tool in creating meaningful relationships with students, and Professor Johnson acknowledges that the collaboration enables comprehensive and rigorous requirements that would not otherwise be possible. This is another way that St. Olaf works to deepen students' liberal arts experience. If you are interested in exploring ways to collaborate with the Piper Center in a course, concentration, program, or major, please contact Branden Grimmett ’03 at (507) 786-3268.
The Management Studies (MS) program recognizes the importance of integrating management education and the liberal arts. The concentration includes a five-course program of study; an Experiential Learning Component; and an Integrative Folder. The goal of the Integrative Folder is to demonstrate the interrelatedness of a student’s varied learning experiences at St Olaf and illustrate connections between all facets of their learning.
Students are required to complete a reflective essay that encourages them to reflect on their St. Olaf education and determine what they need to do before they graduate in order to work toward their vocational vision. They are required to include the impact that their experiential learning activities have had on shaping their vision. Then in April, students are required to complete a portfolio on a CD that highlights the various skills and abilities they have gained, and outline their post-graduation action plan. This latter material allows students to be organized prior to graduation. The program deadlines look like this:
- Reflective component including:
Results of MBTI and/or Strong Interest Inventory assessment
- Synopsis of two required informational interviews
- Synopsis of two required Experiential Learning Activities
- Portfolio demonstrating your skill set (saved onto CD and delivered to the Management Studies Faculty)
- A post-graduation action plan
- Final resume
Students’ have remarked that this is a very useful process for them as they start to transition from St. Olaf and need to consider how they intend to make their vocational dreams a reality. The Piper Center facilitates this process by working closely with Management Studies faculty to ensure students are fully aware of the folder and portfolio requirements though information sessions. Piper Center staff also meet with students on an individual basis to further discuss the concentration’s requirements.
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A popular and stalwart supervisor of academic interns over his career at St. Olaf, Bill Sonnega, Director of Media Studies and Associate Professor of Theatre, began collaborating with the Piper Center from its inception. Out of this connection came the idea for a Media Studies concentration which would integrate experiential learning, intentional reflection, and a capstone digital portfolio with the required interdisciplinary coursework. Piper Center staff members have worked with Bill to develop the concentration’s components as well as support him in the execution of the requirements. This collaboration supports the Piper Center’s theoretical beliefs about experiential learning— John Dewey’s study-action-reflection model is well embodied within the concentration’s requirements, and as a result, has deeply enriched students’ media-related learning.
The mechanics of the concentration have become streamlined and tailored in recent years in light of students’ needs and goals. They are required to involve themselves in at least one academic internship, and are strongly encouraged to seek out other experiential learning activities in the form of volunteer, leadership, entrepreneurial or related work experience in order to translate and apply their theoretical knowledge to life outside the classroom. These experiences, in conjunction with their media-related coursework, are reflected in their electronic integrative portfolio. Each student's portfolio has direct application to the student's academic interests and/or post-graduation goals and includes several basic items such as a resume, cover letter/personal statement, key academic work, and a capstone reflective essay integrating their academic and experiential learning. From there, students have the opportunity to include items relevant to their individual direction. For instance, a student focused in the area of graphic design might include weblinks/pageviews of websites that they have developed, jpeg files of their art work, and letters of recommendation from their internship experience and student work supervisor in Boe House. The final product is polished, simple, clean, functional, reproducible and thoughtfully constructed.
This alliance has allowed the Piper Center to provide multi-faceted support to Media Studie’s academic program by providing students with connections to experiential learning opportunities, preparing them for their experiences, and involving them in academic internship reflection sessions. The Piper Center works collaboratively with Media Studies to deliver information sessions detailing the requirements of the concentration as well as the development of their portfolios. Piper Center staff meet with students on an individual basis, also, to further discuss requirements and provide consultation on the digital portfolio. A Piper Center staff member also serves on a friends of media studies committee.
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Work within Concentrations
"Social Work and Family Studies rely on the CEL staff and resources to assist in many of our courses. Their expertise in vocational reflection,
career decision-making and community/alumni resources enable our students to find their way through experiential learning, both on this campus and in the community. Their partnership with our faculty truly benefits our students and is central to our academic work."
Associate Professor of Social Work, Department Chair
"The Piper Center is critical to the success of the Management Studies program by facilitating the integration of experiential learning. Our seniors have told us that the integrative folder helps them appreciate what they have accomplished and see the link between their academic work and vocational possibilities."
Director of Management Studies
"An experiential component is integral to Media Studies, as students apply core studies in history, theory and criticism to a wide variety of media-related internships. The premise is that Media Studies is not solely an academic subject, but a way of navigating the mediated world with clarity and purpose."
Director, Media Studies
Associate Professor Theatre