Fall is my favorite season for the weather and the start of school. When I lived in Monrovia, Liberia, there were only 2 seasons: dry and rainy. (Monrovia is the wettest capital city in the world.) Needless to say, I felt out of my element, which made it difficult for me to succeed professionally.
I am experiencing the exact opposite at the University of Mary Washington (UMW).
Since starting as the Executive Director of the Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) at UMW in late June, I have been thoroughly impressed with the level of engagement and dedication of the faculty and staff to building community and connection for all students. This is a great strength of UMW and one that excites students to try new things; explore new ideas; and connect the dots between their values, interest, personality and strengths (VIPS) with their future success in today’s world of work.
When students are excited about what they learn inside and outside of the classroom, they are more likely to connect those dots and move toward a brighter future. That is particularly important today because a vast majority of professionals are doing something unrelated to their undergraduate majors. While some majors typically lead to specific careers (e.g., nursing, engineering, etc.), increasing amounts of research and commentary (e.g., AAC&U, Forbes, U.S.News) show that what students major in does not define their careers.
That is GREAT news.
Employers much prefer candidates who know they want to work for them, because they are “sticky” –engaged employees stick around for a long time. For that to happen, students need to know when and why an organization and a position interests them, and there are very jobs that directly relate to most of the majors offered at any college or university. The best way for students to get to that point is to use their VIPS as their guiding principles.
Employers also look for new professionals with high levels of competency in “soft” skills. A good definition of these Career Readiness Competencies was developed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Those competencies, and more, are inherent in UMW’s Liberal Arts curriculum. When students are excited about what they study, they will develop those competencies, often without realizing it.
I am very excited to be working in such a great environment and I look forward to working with you. You are an immensely important part of what we do. And there are a few small things you can do now to help us support your students regardless of where they are in their collegiate career.
- Encourage them to use the Handshake system – its so much more than a job search site and its free
- Ask your student(s) what inspires them or interests them the most at UMW instead of “What are you going to major in?” or “What will you do with that major?”
- Use the term “Success Skills” instead of “soft skills” – critical thinking, team work, oral/written communications, and others are the bedrock of professional success
- Encourage them to attend speakers, employer info sessions, faculty talks, and others if they have even the smallest interest
UMW is a wonderful environment, and I am excited to be here and to support all of our students.
Dr. Paul Binkley, Executive Director, Center for Career & Professional Development