From the Desk of the Dean of Students
March 9, 2009
I graduated from college in 1983 with a shiny new social work degree in my hand. I was eager to join the workforce, but my timing wasn’t so great. An era of reduced government spending, particularly in social programs, made my job outlook seem bleak. I wondered what road I could take upon graduation, or even if there would be a road for me at all.
Remembering my own experience, I find I have a lot in common with our students at St. Olaf who read reports about the current economic recession and wonder if there is a place for them in the workforce. I can only imagine the anxiety felt by parents, who share the ups and downs of their child’s life and perhaps worry more about this than our students themselves.
It is, without a doubt, a tough job market. If seniors haven’t begun thinking about their post-graduation plans yet, they probably should. And the same goes for all students, regardless of their year in school, who are looking for internships or other forms of work for the summer. (If you need to encourage your student, try these wise words that I heard the other day: “The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago. The second best time is right now.”)
Yet students at St. Olaf don’t have to strike out on the job search alone. The college has a variety of resources available to students looking for jobs, internships or service opportunities. One of the people who knows these resources inside and out is Kirsten Cahoon, the senior associate director for career connections in the college’s Center for Experiential Learning. A St. Olaf alumna, Kirsten works with students to connect them to careers and make the transition to the world of work. To get a better sense of the opportunities available for students, I called Kirsten and asked her a simple question: “What are the smart job seekers doing right now in a down economy?”
Honestly, the first thing I got was a big sigh. But then Kirsten offered some really direct advice. Her main points:
- It’s no coincidence that there is a correlation between the students who are showing up in her office to utilize the resources available and those who are finding opportunities. Jobs don’t fall from the sky, and it takes work to discover opportunities.
- When students come to the Center for Experiential Learning, they can ask questions, do self-assessment, and identify types of work that fit their interests and skills. Another important and extremely valuable tool is the St. Olaf Alumni Network. This database connects students with fellow Oles who can help new graduates tap into the hidden job market. This is likely to be much more productive than scanning the want ads in the newspaper or scouring online job sites.
- The CEL can also help students look more broadly at the type of work in which they might be interested. This can include one- and two-year service programs like Teach for America, City Year, the Lutheran Volunteer Corps or the Peace Corps. These opportunities are excellent preparation for the next phase of life, whether it be full-time employment or graduate school.
Looking back on my experience 26 years ago, I found my calling and career in much the same way Kirsten described. I looked around and talked to a number of people I knew and trusted and realized that there were folks who actually made their living working at my university, helping out people like me!
I followed that path and found a job running a residence hall in Missouri, which paid almost nothing but covered room, board and graduate school tuition. I also fell in love with life and work on a college campus. And I never really left.
Vice President and Dean of Students
St. Olaf College