At Work in the Classroom
Coming soon to a Southwestern University classroom near you: career-readiness skills and career exploration opportunities!
Southwestern’s rigorous liberal arts coursework definitely develops the intellectual practices necessary to advance the frontiers of knowledge, adapt quickly to change, problem-solve new and complex challenges, and anticipate what’s next.
Now, more students can also connect that intellectual development to professional development through exciting new course offerings.
Psychology majors had two opportunities this semester to explore careers in psychology through new courses led by Dr. Traci Giuliano, Professor of Psychology. Giuliano designed each two-credit course to target either younger students needing more career exploration support or older students getting ready to launch their next steps after SU in graduate/professional school or the world of work. She purposefully decided to offer two separate courses so she could focus on developmentally appropriate lessons for each group, a feature she says is missing from many other career courses.
“I’ve been wanting to offer a course like this for several years,” said Giuliano, “because it can be daunting to be a psychology major – not because there are too few options after graduating, but because there are so many. Most students aren’t familiar with the myriad potential careers that the skills they learn as a psych major – writing, critical thinking, problem solving, data analysis and interpretation, presentation skills – make them well suited for. Research also shows that these types of courses increase retention and post-graduate success, with even stronger effects for students of color and underrepresented students, so it felt like a no-brainer to offer them.”
Careers in Psychology I (for first-years and sophomores) focuses on introducing students to the the field of psychology and its many different divisions and areas, teaching them scientific literacy, applying psychological science to get the most out of college (e.g., becoming a better student by learning study skills and time management skills, and developing a plan that includes major courses and high impact experiences), and exploring career opportunities. Careers in Psychology II (for juniors and seniors) has a more practical focus and emphasizes identifying the employable skills of the psychology major as well as learning both job searching and job/graduate school-preparation skills (e.g., how to network, interview, and write resumes, vitae, cover letters and personal statements). Among other activities, both classes included numerous online (and sometimes in-person) panels featuring SU alumni discussing their careers. “Feedback from students was uniformly positive,” Giuliano said. “They loved seeing alums – some just a few years removed from where they’re sitting now – so successful and happy. It gave students hope and also dramatically increased what they thought was possible for their future careers.”
Career exploration virtual panel for Careers in Psych 1, Spring 2023
In the Spanish program, Dr. Katy Ross, Professor of Spanish, planned the capstone course she taught this spring to look at life design, focusing on how students would use their Spanish skills after graduation. “I wanted students to think about how being Spanish speakers would affect them throughout their lives,” she explained, “both in the workplace and outside of it.” During the course, students used online tools (in Spanish) to find their strengths and values and then reflected on how they could incorporate those aspects of themselves into a future career. Ross also invited SU alumna Kindall Hogenson Sununtnasuk ’12 to talk about her career working first in South Korea and now in Mexico, where she currently interacts daily in Spanish, using skills from her Spanish and business double major. Students also volunteered every week at a local elementary school in the dual-language classroom. They researched how the dual-language classroom works and presented that information at the Research and Creative Works Symposium. Students then reflected on whether or not they would send their own children (should they have them) to a dual-language school. “Thinking about not only future careers, but also aspects of life like family-forming and community involvement, allowed students to think more deeply about what is important to them – and how their time at SU will influence them in the future,” Ross noted.
Dr. Helene Meyers, Professor Emerita of English, pioneered career development in the classroom at SU in 2015 through her nationally recognized course Novel English Majors, (which she explained in detail in the Chronicle of Higher Education at https://www.chronicle.com/article/feeding-english-majors-in-the-21st-century/), and then followed it with the course Humanities at Work.
Meyers opted to create a for-credit course because she believes career development should be integrated into the curriculum. “Students need time and sustained guidance in this area,” she said. Like Giuliano, she noted that “students are at different stages and therefore need different things,” so she provided different options for assignments such as the final project in the Humanities at Work course, including the choice of a reflective essay on next steps or the development of a website or portfolio. For one course activity, Meyers’ Novel English Majors students shadowed professionals in fields of interest – including grant writers, archivists, translators, food bloggers, bookmobile librarians, and stockbrokers – and “not only learned about jobs that many never knew existed, but also worked through their fear of cold-calling and cold-emailing strangers,” Meyers explained in the Chronicle article she wrote.
In addition to courses offered within academic departments, SU students can enroll in Exploring Majors and Careers, a two-credit minimester course taught by Alexandra Anderson, Senior Associate Director of the Center for Career & Professional Development. The course, offered the second half of each semester, is open to any student and may particularly benefit those students who drop a course with which they are struggling. The minimester timing allows students to earn back some of the dropped credits to remain full-time students while giving them the opportunity to explore themselves and careers and build experience with career management skills.
Other SU classes offer career development activities, even in classes focusing primarily on discipline-specific content. For example, First-Year Seminar courses can include a module on self-assessment for major and career exploration, presented by the CCPD. The Foundations of Business course includes a personal portfolio assignment in which students are asked to conduct informational career interviews with alumni or others in careers in which the students may have interests, according to Associate Professor of Economics and Business Dr. Debika Sihi.
Giuliano agreed that the informational interviews (or ‘curious conversations’) assignment, which she also facilitated in her Careers in Psychology II course, held great value. “Teaching students – many of whom are socially anxious, introverted, or just plain not used to talking to other adults they don’t know – to network and to push themselves outside of their comfort zones pays huge dividends,” she explained.
In the third semester German class, Intermediate German Language and Culture students produce a German resume appropriate for a summer job or internship abroad, noted Associate Professor of German Dr. Erika Berroth.
“They work with authentic examples and actual job postings,” she explained, “and explore traditions and innovations, such as the now outdated expectation that dates of birth, religious affiliation, and marital status be shared on a resume.” Students also take part in an interview simulation, where they answer and ask questions in German and practice interpersonal communication. “Many students found this project to be a valuable introduction to actual application processes for study or internships abroad, or for scholarships and fellowships, such as the prestigious Fulbright fellowships for teaching or research abroad,” Berroth said.
SU faculty also partner with the CCPD to promote career-exploration activities outside the classroom, such as a Spring 2023 collaboration among the Physics Club, Assistant Professor of Physics Dr. Cody Crosby, the CCPD and SU alumna Kayla Comeaux ’11 to host a Career Trek to NASA, where Comeaux works.
Whether for academic credit or for co-curricular experience, taking advantage of the career development opportunities that abound at Southwestern will help students along the journey from Pirate to Pro(fessional). As Meyers attested from her experience: “Students tended to feel more confident about their post-SU lives and better able to articulate the significant marketable skills provided by their interdisciplinary education.” Giuliano added that, importantly, empirical data support the effectiveness of these career classes, as students reported statistically significant improvement in many domains after the courses she taught. “For example,” she said, “they are better able to articulate their skills to employers, they are more comfortable networking, they are more confident in their interviewing skills, they know how to craft a strong resume, and they understand how to conduct a comprehensive job search.”