CELS Bridges Academia and Post-Grad

Though my graduation is three years away, knowing I have to leave Conn makes me worry about eventually suspending my participation in diverse campus activities, which I consider irreplaceable. Outside of college, where else can one simultaneously play in the theater pit band, write for the student newspaper and research relation- ships across disciplines? CELS makes me confront the future, something I fear and avoid. I think other students face this same problem when dealing with CELS, as career planning demands that students look toward an uncertain future beyond Conn. For this reason, I wanted to better under- stand CELS.
I learned, first of all, that CELS is no longer called CELS. It is now the Career Office of Professional Development. For- mer Connecticut College President Claire Gaudiani coined the acronym CELS, for “Career Enhancing Life Skills,” as part
of her goal of providing all students an equal chance at understanding their career interests. While both are fine names for the office, to me the CELS title represents what the career program is about. The name “Career Office of Professional Development” shrouds this idea in opacity.
I find our career office’s philosophy and pedagogy particularly impressive.
My perspective on career advising is that it is an afterthought to academic work.
However, the advisors do not intend this to be the case. Rather, they want it to be a homogenous part of the liberal arts experience. They see learning career enhancing life skills as one part of the learning that occurs on campus. With processes like the “STAR” stories, advisors teach students the ability to articulate their undergraduate accomplishments – in other words, what they are doing in college.
Career advisor Lori Balantic said “One of my jobs is to help students articulate ‘Why did I choose this?’ and ‘Why does it matter?’ because I don’t want anybody to be sorry when they get to be seniors.” While CELS contextualizes this process as making students appealing to potential employers, it is also a useful skill in general. Being able to explain what it is that you do is essential in academia and in life.
According to career advisor Nicole Ceil, “when [CELS] was first developed, almost everyone at the institution was considered as a potential stakeholder, and there was input from all different constituents on campus, administrators, staff, faculty and students.” In the early days of the program the office even made t-shirts saying “CELS is for everyone.” More recently, the CELS office has continued to attempt to make connections to faculty and the classroom by organizing first-year workshops by fresh- man seminar and inviting faculty, staff and student advisors to participate.
Another criticism leveled at the career office is that it seems too geared toward higher paying jobs in fields such as marketing and corporate. The career advisors strongly dispute this, claiming that this perception exists because opportunities in business are advertised earlier and more publicly by the companies themselves. Advisor Deb Brunetti noted “nonprofits [for instance] don’t recruit the way that consulting, finance and large corporations do.” The advisors try to counter this trend by encouraging students to network heavily, so that they can hopefully find jobs in fields that interest them. Ceil, for example, learned about an open career advisor position at the College through a relative of fellow advisor Cheryl Banker. She often cites this example as proof that networking works to skeptical students.
If the recruitment odds favor students seeking employment in more competitive industries, then a logical solution might
be to encourage the career office to limit the information coming from the business world. To do this, Career Services would balance the opportunities advertised in their e-mails. Last fall, SGA hinted at that idea by passing a resolution opposing Teach for America’s presence on campus. While this would not be as drastic as changing e-mails about job opportunities, it was an attempt at limiting another form of recruiting practices.
I think that limiting information about job opportunities is a terrible idea, in part because our school’s career office solicits this information and is thus expected to share it as a professional courtesy. There will always be a greater population of students who are not interested in a particular industry than those who are, and if a majority of students limits the opportunities advertised, they risk hurting the minority of students who might be interested in those publicized opportunities. Instead, students must learn to sift through the information thrown at them to find what matters.
Ultimately, I think that our career office treads a fine line between helping and hindering students’ aspirations. Although a few months ago I felt that workshops should focus mainly on helping students practicing
the skills they are taught, my discussion with the career advisors has pushed me
into the opposite camp. The career office might not take enough time to contextualize the skills taught in workshops. Students need to understand the specific reason that what they’re doing matters or they’ll have less investment in the process. Admittedly not every student can be satisfied by the workshops; after all, the career office has to serve the diverse interests and opinions of the student body. As the advisors pointed out to me, by having students attend the workshops they can focus individual advising sessions on students’ specific concerns and needs.
From this perspective, our career office’s approach seems similar to the model used in most academic courses. Concepts are presented to the class as a whole, while individual students’ concerns and concerns are dealt with during office hours. The difference with career services is that the end result is much more significant than
a grade; it is a student’s future. Recently, Corinne Ruff of The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote an article about academics who question whether grading truly represents what students are doing in class. I myself wonder what my transcript says about my abilities. I feel that many professors’ grades are slightly biased towards what students produce over their actual understanding of the course material.
The career program encourages us to articulate the skills we gain from classes rather than what we do there (the grade component). Continuing the analogy of the career program as a class, the end result is hopefully a job, the student’s satisfaction with the job likely related to the overall ef- fort put into the process of finding it. Thus the student completes the program not with a grade, but with an outcome. Considering our career program as a class, it should come as no surprise that the career office would have detractors; acclimating to something that similar but at the same time different is not at all an easy process. As students in the career program, we should strive to understand why we do what we do there.•