Career Design Center Prepares Pacers for a Lifetime of Success
When students walk into the Career Design Center at William Peace University (WPU), they can expect to be greeted by Director Jenna Hartwell and Assistant Director Julie Cline. The two equip WPU students and alumni with the tools they need to lead successful lives after college by offering career-related counseling, programming and courses in the curriculum.
Hartwell and Cline stress that career development is a process. At WPU, this process begins the moment a student arrives on campus.
“We provide a space for students to understand, on a deep, more individual level, what works for them and how they can benefit from experiences like internships. Not only now, but in the future,” says Cline.
The Career Design Center can be compared to a wheel with many spokes. Career development exists in the middle, and each spoke represents a different program or service provided by their office. Hartwell and Cline keep the wheel moving toward student success.
“We talk to employers every day. Through building these relationships, we are able to learn what they’re looking for in new graduates. We’re also sharing with them what students are needing in their first jobs,” says Hartwell.
The team consistently explores new ways to attract top employers and establish organizational pipelines. Alumni often help to establish these relationships, serving as touchpoints in the field. Hartwell and Cline advocate for students at local companies, often reaching out personally to employers based on student interest.
Employers also reach out to WPU. Hartwell and Cline attend to them personally with the goal of building long-term, meaningful relationships.
“We strive to be a place where employers feel as at home as our students do. We have one recruiter who will pop in whenever he’s in Raleigh. Often this leads to him sticking around to get a little work done at the large table in our office. It’s that kind of warmth that we hope that everybody feels in our space — not just our employers, everyone. We want the members of our community to feel welcome, respected and cared about.”
These relationships result in WPU students having a wide variety of ways to engage with key employers. One example of this is the monthly Employer in Residence program, where recruiters come to campus to staff drop-in hours at the Center. Through this initiative, students are able to get their resume and cover letter reviewed by a professional who evaluates these kinds of materials every day. Employers see this as a way to make connections and point future employees toward opportunities at their organizations.
The connections built and maintained by the Career Design Center influence the information shared through the academic classes managed by the office.
Through these courses, 100% of WPU traditional undergraduate students graduate with professional experience and a deeper understanding of the job/internship search process.
One of these classes adjoins the Internship Program, spearheaded by Cline. She often meets individually with students to figure out what they want to learn at their internship and a plan for how they can get there. This extends to the classroom, where assignments are carefully created to guide students to think critically about their experiences and their goals.
“That is the biggest component that we’ve added more recently,” says Cline. “Being intentional about the reflective pieces, [helping students] understand what it is that they’re doing at the internship sites, and reflecting upon how it’s going to prepare them for their future careers.”
Hartwell and Cline carefully vet each internship site before students begin their program to ensure that everyone receives a quality experience. Site supervisors often serve as mentors, and these relationships are instrumental in a student’s success. When a student comes to them with an opportunity in mind, they take a proactive approach.
“I get on the phone with the site supervisor before the intern even goes out. I make sure it’s a quality experience. We have a discussion about what the student is actually going to be accomplishing at the site and get a better feel of where they’re going,” Cline says.
In many cases, WPU students leave their internships with lifelong professional connections, clarity about their own ambitions, and even job offers. The Internship Program helps these students try out a career field and develop relevant practical skills before they graduate.
“It allows people permission to change their minds … As it was described to me by one of my mentors, building a career is like building a house. Maybe you’ll renovate, or put on an addition. It’s constantly in flux,” says Hartwell. “Your education is your metaphorical front door, and our University is here to help scholars build the most solid front door possible. The internship program is one piece of that process.”
The Career Design Center takes pride in their creative approach to the career related programming that comes out of their office. Each fall, Hartwell and Cline organize Careers of Tomorrow, a mini-conference focused on the future of work. The event helps students learn about conference culture and prepares them for success in an ever-changing employment market.
The Career Design Center also tailors programming to specific needs of students. Hartwell and Cline, for example, recently began working with WPU Athletics to develop the Career Olympics for WPU’s large student-athlete population.
“Studies have shown that oftentimes athletes delay career planning by a year or two. We want to start working with them as soon as they get here,” says Cline.
The Career Olympics aims to showcase the highly-desired leadership skills that student-athletes already have and give them the confidence to apply these skills in the professional world. Hartwell and Cline look forward to piloting the event in fall 2020.
Partnerships across campus are a hallmark of the Career Design Center. Specially trained tutors from the Academic and Tutoring Center offer peer-reviewing on resumes and cover letters. Last April, Alumni and Giving held a virtual career development book club. Academic Advising and Student Involvement co-hosts Purpose at Peace, a fall student engagement fair with career development opportunities. Hartwell and Cline support a wide variety of initiatives like these to enhance career success for Pacers on and off campus.
“At the end of the day when we talk about career counseling, the focal point is empowering people to feel good about their choices as they go out into the world. And when you see someone become empowered, it is just such a magical moment. That one-on-one connection is probably my favorite part of what we do,” says Hartwell.
Cline enjoys watching WPU students take pride and ownership in their future. She encourages students to recognize their full potential.
“Dream big and beyond what [you think you can] do because you can do a lot of amazing things.”