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We've Got Work to Do

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—Excerpts from an interview with Scott Crawford

The College’s new Strategic Plan promises "multiple post-graduate options" for all seniors. What will such a bold pledge require of Wabash? Nothing short of a culture change, says Scott Crawford, director of the Schroeder Center for Career Development, who believes alumni, staff, and faculty need to work together more closely than ever to help each Wabash student discover his calling. WM sat down with the gregarious Arkansas native in his Schroeder Center office to hear his plans for helping students determine their own.

WM: Each winter, just after oral comps, seniors stop by our office across from the Schroeder Center for Career Development and ask, "Can you tell me where Career Services is?" Seems a little late to be getting around to thinking about one’s calling.

Scott Crawford: That’s a part of the culture we need to change.

Where does this notion come from and what is its effect on students searching for vocation?

When the College markets itself to prospective students, we talk about joining a network of Wabash men. Some students believe that by joining that network, they’ll get a job without doing much planning or preparation beyond the classroom, and when we recruit students we sometimes reinforce that message.

That notion creates a sense of entitlement—some students assume they’ll "get a job from an alum." We hear from alumni about students coming to the interview with an "it’s all about me" expectation. They don’t take it seriously.

The alumni network opens up great opportunities for students, but they need to earn those opportunities and be prepared for them. An alumnus’s reputation is at stake when he hires a graduate. We need to put ourselves in that alum’s place. We need to get the message out to each student that there’s a process to go through to find and prepare for one’s vocation. Much of that occurs in the classroom, but some of it occurs in partnership with career services for his entire four years at Wabash.

How do you get that message out?

By getting involved in the life of the school; getting involved with clubs, fraternities, and getting to know the students, one person at a time.

We’re raising the visibility of Career Services with sessions on the College Mall and at Sparks Center, and we’re speaking at fraternities and living units.

We’re getting to know the students as individuals, so if an employer or graduate school calls looking for a particular kind of student, I can say, "I have a list of five right here for you." Then I call the student and say, "Guess what—people are looking for you."

We also have to set expectations with students when they are freshmen, talk to them and their parents as we did this year, and emphasize this is a partnership between the student and our office to help him find what he wants to do, and then find him ways to get there.

Admissions has to start talking about changes, too. If students are getting one message from the school and one from recruiters, they’ll probably go with the sexiest—the one that says "You’ll get a job without doing anything."

We’ve got tons of work to do here.

Many Wabash alumni who found their calling in life did so through what seems a series of fortunate accidents—serendipitous moments when they were the right person in the right place at the right time. Is this something that you can build into a student’s experience at Wabash?

There are few straight paths to finding a vocation. This is unpopular with parents, but just because a student arrives at Wabash with a straight path planned out doesn’t mean that’s best for him or plays to his strengths or deeper interests, or is ultimately the way he’ll go.

People who find their calling are lucky, but they create their own luck. They position them-selves to be in the right place for when that right time occurs. Our job is to help students by getting to know them and providing them with the programs that will allow them to be in that right place at the right time.

The key for them is to be active, get a variety of experiences, participate in experiential learning activities, and participate in the school’s activities. So much learning at a school like Wabash occurs outside the classroom, and they need to take full advantage of those learning and leadership opportunities.

Are internships the answer?

An internship is great, and we’ll be connecting students to more of them. But the experiences I’m talking about don’t take place only in internships. Any kind of experience in the field you’re interested in—shadow someone for the day, volunteer, just hang out or talk with someone in the field. Go to events on campus. Listen to speakers on campus.

What do students and alumni overlook most often in their search for vocation?

There are so many types of jobs, and people think too small. The most neglected part of this process is the research. People spend more time researching a new car purchase than they do researching their career path.

We can help them with that. We’re a resource for everything career-related.

The students are not our customers. Students are number one, but we’re not serving students. We’re partners with them. We’re part of their network, their research, and we’re educating them about the process of taking the next step, the outcome. If you have a degree and no plan, what does that get you?

Are faculty part of the solution to changing the culture toward discerning vocation at Wabash?

Definitely. We’ll support each other.

If we have a strong vibrant office, and if students are having successful outcomes from that particular department’s programs, more and stronger students will be attracted to that department. We can support those efforts with information on the outcomes of our students, but we can also support faculty with the tremendous amount of information we receive about new and different career fields, graduate programs, and internships. We’re not only partners with students, we’re also partners with faculty.

Are the liberal arts and a student’s search for vocation a bad fit?

Just the opposite.

Some students, and even alumni I’ve helped with job searches, will contact me almost apologetically, saying they don’t have experience in business to offer, or experience in some technical field—just a liberal arts education. I have the feeling that they are taking the same apologetic attitude when they talk with employers.

And they shouldn’t be.

Very few employers, when they come to us, are looking for a particular degree or major. Ninety-five percent of them are going to train the student in the specifics anyway.

The skills that are lacking in most of the candidates they see are communication skills, presentation, reasoning and thinking skills, and that’s exactly what our students have to offer. Those are the skills they’ve been working on for four years here.

A Michigan State University study released last summer found that employers are rediscovering the liberal arts. They want students to have better communication skills, and our students already have that.

But our students need to be able to sell that. We know that when it comes to graduate schools, our students have been prepared to compete with anyone out there. Now our job is to help them put that preparation into words for employers in the job market—help them learn to present themselves and what they’ve learned so that employers can clearly see that advantage. Help them put that into words and be bold about it: "This is why I went to a liberal arts school, this is what I got out of it, and this is what I can do for you."

The strategic plan calls for "multiple post-graduation options for all seniors." Is that possible?"

Only if the school buys into the notion that students are required to have an internship, have to participate in these programs, must have a resume ready and reviewed by a certain time. There needs to be a road map for them to follow, and they need to follow it. But if a student just comes to Wabash and doesn’t do any of this, I’m not promising anything.

If I’m a Wabash freshman and I participate in your program during my four years at Wabash, what can you promise me about my search for vocation?

You’ll know where you’re going, you’ll know how to get there, you’ll have contacts, you’ll have experience, you’ll be ready, and you’ll be able to get any position you’re really looking for.