CCI Helps Connect the Dots

By Guest Contributor

Last week’s Op Ed piece on “Connecting the Dots with CCI” raised some valid points but also included some misrepresentation of the facts. The invitation from The Campus to respond and help set the record straight prompts me to take advantage of this space to do a little “myth busting” and provide a sense of what the Center for Careers & Internships is up to these days, all in the service of 2500+ students who could not be more diverse in their four-year paths to their post-graduate pursuits.

We get what students want and think they need, and we are working hard to deliver on that.  But what do we want?   We are ambitious for our students and ambitious for our center.  It is our goal to create a signature career education planning experience that is interwoven throughout the undergraduate years and provides ample guidance and opportunity for exploration, reflection, and decision-making.  We’re looking for students to be partners in the process.  To be engaged with CCI early and often.  To be open to possibility.  To stop deleting e-mails when they may have just ignored an opportunity of a lifetime.  To understand that it is their future to embrace — and that planning for it needs to be as much a part of their undergraduate journey as choosing their major, studying abroad, playing a sport or volunteering.

We have a deeply committed staff here to work with students throughout their time at Middlebury, from their first semester to Senior Week (and beyond!) to provide advice on opportunities; review cover letters and résumés; conduct practice interviews; offer self-assessment tools; run workshops, career action groups, career conversations, and employer information sessions; and much more.  In the spirit of encouraging independence, exploration and aspiration, we are working hard to engage students earlier in their time at Middlebury to make the process of personal and career development less stressful, more intentional and even exhilarating.  It’s a partnership we are striving to develop with each and every student on this campus.

President Liebowitz, Dean Collado, the Board of Trustees and College Advancement could not be more supportive in their commitment to make real-world experience a touchstone of a Middlebury education.  Three summers ago, the College provided approximately $125,000 in internship funding; this summer it approaches the half-million-dollar mark.  And in terms of overall experiential funding provided directly to students (including PCI, URO, academic departments, etc.), last year College support hit $1.5 million collectively, primarily for summer and Winter Term experiences.

There is not a career center among liberal arts institutions in the country that is not undergoing or considering profound change in how it best serves students (and future employers).  Conversations about the cost and relevance of a liberal arts education are occurring on campuses everywhere.  Despite economic recovery, graduates still must address an uncertain job market.  Students face pressure from family members who challenge them on “what in the world can  you do with a history — or fill in the blank — degree” (by the way, for a great answer, check out go/alumprofiles).   Employers still laud the benefits of hiring interns and employees who are the product of a liberal arts education but bemoan their lack of practical experience and even workplace etiquette — not to mention unrealistic expectations for a first job.  Parents and students carry a greater debt load than ever.  Most faculty continue to support traditional pedagogy, acknowledging that internships have their place — but never as a credit-worthy extension of the classroom experience.  So, what’s a Career and Internship Center to do?

Here are a few steps we have taken already.  Last year, the College created a new Director of Employer Outreach & Development position, with Jeff Sawyer joining us this summer.  We have already added 25 new employer organizations and 125 new “Midd-friendly” opportunities to MOJO, ranging from the arts to media & entertainment to healthcare.  We have developed an in-depth plan for future development in this area that addresses both the interests of Middlebury students and “where the jobs are.”  To complement these efforts, we have created several new programs.  “UpNext” (which debuted in February with a focus on Media & Entertainment), brings together students, employers and faculty over two days, building student awareness of the breadth of pathways within various industries and to help them prepare to compete for these opportunities.  The “Field Guide” series works with departments to bring back alumni for panel discussions on the paths they took to a wide range of careers (in the spirit of “major doesn’t necessarily equal career”), followed by a dinner for further in-depth conversation and advice; the first was held in March with the Geology Department, with one student saying that “this event was the single most practically valuable experience we have had at Middlebury.”  We currently have finance advisory and mentoring groups that include both monthly phone calls and ongoing individual summer meetings in New York and Boston.  In addition, we’re working with the new “Middlebury in DC” office to set up a mentoring program for our summer DC interns with young alums.  And we’re in the process of setting up two new advisory boards in Technology and Media & Entertainment, again to provide a network of real-world advice and mentoring.

One initiative in our efforts to meet students “where they are” is to hold drop-in hours and appointments in BiHall, in the Commons and in the evenings.  We have also reached out to academic departments to meet with faculty to determine how we might work together to connect their majors to career exploration in special evening working sessions; our work with the Psychology Department is a great example of such a collaboration.  In September, we will be launching a new integrated and inclusive advising model, providing students with highly individualized and cohesive academic and career advising.  This focus will increase the depth and breadth of our individual advising content expertise, improving the quality and relevance of our programming, our outreach efforts and our work with faculty and students.  In addition, a new online appointment scheduling system will enable students to make their own appointments with the advisor best suited to their needs.  But we will still serve those students with the quick question and those who are in exploratory mode, the many “undecideds,” looking for general advice.  CCI will never become a place just for those who already have determined their paths.

Some other clarifications regarding concerns voiced by the Campus:

Opportunities in areas other than finance and consulting are hard to find on MOJO — and  when do, they are often outdated:  We have posted more than 500 internships this year (a new record) in every field.  The Campus mentioned just a “smattering” of postings, with particular concern about the lack of media opportunities, yet there were more than 100 postings in Media & Entertainment alone this year, including dozens of new ones at NBC Universal, ABC Disney, Sports Illustrated, CBS, The Christian Science Monitor, PBS, and more.  And the comment that MOJO postings are often outdated by a few years — that’s impossible, as all postings are automatically deleted from the system within two days of the application deadline.

We’re out of touch when it comes to internships and student needs in terms of funding deadlines:  Over the last four springs, we’ve gone from one deadline to three to two and now back to one again.  Despite advice throughout the year regarding starting the internship search early, so many students wait until the last minute.  Because we are responding to student feedback for full funding to be awarded (i.e., in their bank accounts) by June 1 to enable them to buy airline tickets, put a deposit down on a sublet, etc., we therefore need to have hundreds of applications reviewed by staff and faculty committees and then multi-step paperwork processed and pre-departure workshops held — all done in time to hit that June 1 goal and which necessitated the April 6 deadline.  It is no easy feat — and it’s worth noting that it was very clear in the Funding FAQs that if there were extenuating circumstances, a student just needed to e-mail or meet with me to discuss — as a result, 20 extensions were granted.  Let’s not lose sight of the fact that our funding has more than tripled in three years and the number of students supported quadrupled.  It is also worth noting that paid internship postings on MOJO have increased by 50 percent in the last two years.  And one last point:  students who got their unpaid internships through MOJO absolutely do not receive funding priority as stated in the Campus piece.

The deluge of e-mails and why we need a weekly newsletter instead:  Two major points here:  1)  We do have a weekly newsletter — it’s called CCI Connect (visit go/connect), and it is sent out every week to all students and department coordinators, with all new MOJO postings, upcoming deadlines and events, etc., and is categorized by industry field.  2)  The recent deluge of e-mails is due to the number of deadlines tied to the end of “internship hiring season” — and both student surveys and  focus groups told us that students wanted to be reminded of upcoming deadlines three days in advance.  Believe me, we would love to eliminate these e-mails and all the work they involve and have students use their weekly CCI Connect as their primary source of information on opportunities.  But the fact that the Campus editorial board didn’t even know of its existence demonstrates why the reminders are important — and that we need to do a much better job in communicating about our resources.

CCI has limited effect with the exception of a few fields: Since September, we’ve had 2,500+ student visits in drop-ins and appointments, with interest in every field.  On the recruiting front, we held 80+ employer info sessions in a variety of industries and 29 related special events, with more than 400 on-campus interviews to date.  Our record number (500+) of MOJO internship postings in every field has generated 2,900 applications to date.  More than 2,600 students have attended a variety of dozens of CCI workshops and programming, including a series of sophomore dinners focusing on summer internships, LinkedIn workshops, The ABCs of Finding Work in the Government, Grant-Writing for Not-for-Profits, Preparing for Your Finance Interview, The Business of the Arts, and many more

We are happy to respond to constructive criticism and welcome new ideas on how we can better work with students and faculty to “connect the dots.”  But we ask that the critique and ideas reflect an accurate understanding of what is already in place and what lies ahead.  Meanwhile, on behalf of my CCI colleagues, I’d like to remind students that there is nothing we would rather do than work with them throughout their time at Middlebury on the creative process of inventing their futures.

PEGGY BURNS is Director of Internships and Interim Director of the Center for Careers and Internships