Case Study #4: Collaborative Courses

It Takes a Consortium to Prepare Students for Life After Graduation: An Inter-Institutional Blended Learning Career Planning Course

Jana Mathews, Anne Meehan, Beth Chancy

Abstract

In UCLA’s 2012 national survey of college freshmen, 87.9% of respondents named “getting a job” as their top reason for going to college. While the current economic climate has put all institutions of higher learning under increased pressure to make the case for the marketability of their curriculum, the mission and values of liberal arts colleges currently are subject to some of the most intense and public scrutiny. This project proposes an innovative and inter-institutional approach to preparing liberal arts students for life beyond graduation. Specifically, it combines the faculty and technological resources of two distinguished liberal arts institutions who are also members of the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) consortium—Rollins College and the University of Richmond—to generate several blended learning modules designed to develop and hone students’ skills in personal branding, professional networking, and interviewing.

Introduction

In The Coming Jobs War, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton argues that the most pervasive social desire in the world is to have a good job—outranking family, freedom, peace, and personal happiness.[1] UCLA’s 2012 national survey of college freshmen seemed to buttress this claim when a whopping 87.9% of respondents named “getting a job” as their top reason for going to college.[2] While the current economic climate has put all institutions of higher learning under increased pressure to make the case for the marketability of their curriculum, the mission and values of liberal arts colleges currently are subject to some of the most intense and public scrutiny.

The growing pervasiveness of the sentiment that liberal arts majors are oversaturated and their degrees unmarketable is reflected in the titles of several recent national news articles and op-eds on the subject: “Who Killed the Liberal Arts? And Why We Should Care”; “As Interest Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry”; and “Jobs: The Economy, Killing Liberal Arts Education?”[3] The metaphor of morbidity illuminates the dramatic and pre-scripted fate frequently assigned to the liberal arts. At the same time, the insistence on describing the status of the liberal arts through the vocabulary of decline, decay, and death illuminates a truism identified by English professor James Axtel back in 1971: the liberal arts education as it was originally known is already extinct, and has been since the educational reforms of the mid-nineteenth century. Axtel’s essay—cheekily titled “The Death of the Liberal Arts College”—reminds us of the evolving nature of liberal arts education over place and time and makes the case that a liberal arts education is defined by its nimbleness and adaptability.[4]

The inherent flexibility of the liberal arts education—to stretch and bend to accommodate new ideas and worldviews over time—is one of the hallmarks of this educational model, and, for many, the primary source of its enduring appeal. Criticism of the liberal arts has been countered by a vociferous and public defense. The main argument against liberal arts majors—that they are not vocational enough—was challenged by Peter Cappelli from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. In a recent article for the Wall Street Journal, Capelli noted that the problem with the current trend in higher education to ramp up the vocational training of its future graduates is that “it probably won’t work. The trouble is that nobody can predict where the jobs will be—not the employers, not the schools, not the government officials who are making such loud calls for vocational training.”[5] A related irony is that a growing number of employers—74 percent according to a 2013 study conducted by Hart Research Associates—are looking to hire graduates with skill sets explicitly cultivated at liberal arts institutions. Of the 318 employers interviewed, an impressive 93 percent agree that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”[6] A study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in 2014 similarly reported that the skill sets that employers ranked most valuable in job applicants include strong communication and problem solving skills and the ability to work well in teams.[7]

Despite this optimism, there is still reason to worry. In 2007, Newsweek hailed Centenary College as “the hottest liberal-arts school you’ve never heard of.”[8] Just two years later, the college’s endowment had fallen by 20% and was forced to eliminate half of its 44 majors. Earlier this year, a host of other small colleges and universities—including East Stroudsburg, Marquette, and Johnson C. Smith universities—experienced faculty and staff layoffs and early retirement initiatives. The struggles of such colleges has not gone unnoticed by The Chronicle of Higher Education, which in March 2014, reported that an increasing number of colleges are “growing more vulnerable as economic recovery lags.”[9]

The challenge facing all institutions of higher learning in the United States, and especially the small liberal arts college, is to make the case for the marketability of its majors and degrees within the rapidly evolving global marketplace. While liberal arts students are historically well trained, well read, and thus well rounded, we have found that many struggle to articulate the value of their major and degree to family, friends, and prospective employers. Adding to this challenge is the fact that over the past decade, the job search and application processes have moved largely online and with greater emphasis on professional branding and networking, making career prospects more accessible, but also more competitive.

The participants in this project take seriously the value of a “strength in numbers” approach to problem solving and thus believe that the process of helping students to transfer their liberal arts education into a viable postgraduate career path is no longer just the responsibility of the student’s home institution, but also that of all liberal arts institutions, including and especially the schools comprising that institution’s regional consortium. This project was born out of the fascinating and powerful realization that while each of the sixteen liberal arts colleges and universities in the ACS consortium cannot compete with the budget or size of alumni networks at larger institutions, we can, if we collectively pool our resources, have the capability to generate a portfolio of services and resources that can exceed the size, breadth, and geographic scope of many state universities.

Naturally, the inherent possibilities of such an initiative greatly excite us.

Project Description

This project represents the first incremental step of a much larger and longer process that involves the deliberate and conscious linking of career and life planning-related resources at ACS institutions. Currently, institutions within the consortium house and operate their own independent career-related service centers, and while these offices maintain friendly working relationships with related offices at other institutions, there is no formal mechanism for resource sharing and collaboration. The natural starting point for inter-institutional collaboration within the consortium was the two preexisting careers courses taught at Rollins College and the University of Richmond. Our most basic goal was to link the courses—and, by extension, the student groups who populated them—using several blended learning modules related to professional networking and interview practices. In doing so, we aimed to provide students with the opportunity to engage in career-related activities with peers at a sister institution, thus modeling and preparing them for the kind of collaborative, inter-institutional work they will be doing in their professional careers. At the same time, we sought to create a way for students to expand and share their professional contacts with individuals at another ACS institution. Building these networks would, in turn, help students to develop and hone their networking etiquette as well as broaden the scope of their job searches. Since most ACS institutions currently do not have careers courses on the books, we also envisioned our project serving as a portable course template that could be appropriated easily by other ACS institutions. Expanding the breadth of career planning courses offered throughout the consortium over time will promote increased exchange between institutions, their students, and alumni networks.

Project Design and Implementation

In the Fall 2013 semester, students enrolled in Jana Mathews and Anne Meehan’s Career Planning course (Rollins) collaborated with students enrolled in Beth Chancy’s Life and Careers course (Richmond) on a number of blended learning assignments. The first cluster of assignments worked to help students develop a personal brand to enhance future marketability using LinkedIn. With over 277 million users in over 200 countries, LinkedIn is the world’s largest online professional networking website. Through a series of linked assignments, students at Rollins and Richmond a) created professional LinkedIn profiles, b) critiqued and offered feedback on their peers’ profiles, c) learned and honed online networking etiquette by connecting with students at each other’s respective institutions, d) joined relevant alumni groups, the ACS Networking Group, and other industry groups, e) took part in a series of ACS Networking Group online discussions on career-related topics, and f) competed in a team-based LinkedIn scavenger hunt covering job search and career-related topics.

The second group of assignments used an innovative online, practice interviewing system known as InterviewStream. InterviewStream pre-records professionals asking interview questions and has over 300 options in its question bank.  Five pre-recorded questions were selected by the instructors to use in both classes.  Using InterviewStream technology, each student used a webcam and a computer to record a one to two minute answer for each question.  The activity mirrored a Skype interview by enabling students to see what a video interview would be like.  A completed interview for the activity totaled six to nine minutes.  Once complete, a link to the interview was sent directly to each of the class instructors for review and distribution to their respective classes.  In each class, an instructor assigned each student one or two student interviews from the peer institution.  Each student watched the interview(s) and completed an interview assessment, which was given back to the interviewee as feedback to help improve future performances.  By collaborating between schools, this model a) replicates the experience of being interviewed by someone who you do not know and thus enables both participants to be more open and honest with their performance and feedback; and b) models and thus prepares students for the kind of virtual interviews they likely will encounter during their job or internship search (i.e. phone, Skype, YouTube interviews).

Our team worked throughout the summer months of 2013 to design the assignments and hammer out the logistics of implementing them into the respective courses. During the semester, we ran separate courses (each with its own distinct syllabi and teaching materials) albeit ones that covered the same topics and in largely the same order. The Rollins course met on Monday and Wednesday afternoons for 75 minutes, while the Richmond course met on Thursday mornings for 85 minutes. Class sessions that involved blended learning activities were coordinated so that both student groups participated in each activity within the same window of time. While having our course times slightly off kilter sometimes worked to our advantage (the instructor/s that piloted each activity had time to make some quick adjustments before passing it on to their colleague/s), the asynchronous course schedule also created several logistical challenges.

Two Rollins students experienced some trouble recording their InterviewStream videos (the sound on both files did not work properly) and in order to submit the videos to their Richmond peers in a timely fashion, one was forced to redo her video in the less than desirable setting of a professor’s office immediately after class, while wearing less than professional attire. A related challenge involved adjusting the assignments to account for the different number of students enrolled in the courses (13 Rollins, 21 Richmond). In most cases, the number differential did not create any significant obstacles or inconveniences, but the situation did mean that some Rollins students had to conduct peer reviews of multiple Richmond students’ InterviewStream interviews (which they did, happily).

Supporting Technologies

The two main technologies used in this project were LinkedIn and InterviewStream. LinkedIn is the largest and most comprehensive free online professional networking site, and as a recent Washington Post article points out, is dramatically changing the landscape of the contemporary job search. Citing a 2013 study by the Society for Human Resource Management, the Post article reports that 77 percent of employers are using social networks to recruit prospective employers.[10] Among the recruiters using social tools, the number is even higher: the 2013 Jobvite Social Recruiting survey reports that an astounding 94 percent of hiring managers use LinkedIn to find, track, and hire employees.[11]

Students in both courses learned about the importance of personal branding, promoting their skills/expertise as well as showcasing academic, leadership and internship/job experiences in developing their LinkedIn profiles. Despite being proficient and comfortable with other social media platforms (i.e., Facebook), some students initially struggled to embrace LinkedIn. While they found the site simple to navigate and their individual profile pages easy to construct, many expressed trepidation over the idea of making connections with even “warm” contacts such as alumni, especially those whom they did not know personally. In order to connect with people on the site, users must send a brief email containing up to 300 characters that explains who they are and why they want to be contacts. Previous teaching experience had taught us that the content of this email constitutes a source of a surprising amount of stress and anxiety for our students. Front and center in their list of concerns was what to say—and, by extension, not say—in these emails to alumni and industry professionals.

What surprised us was that even with the help of written templates and suggested prompts, students still found the exercise to be too intimidating. When we asked them to explore why they did not feel self-conscious posting scantily-clad photos of themselves on Facebook but simultaneously felt paralyzed at the thought of introducing themselves to an entry-level corporate recruiter on LinkedIn, students vocalized a strong fear of failure and anxiety about “putting yourself out there” with the chance that their request will be turned down or ignored. The almost primal urge to bury one’s head in the sand at the expense of missed opportunity alerted us to the realization that the most important work that we do in career and life planning courses is not the conveyance of concrete skills sets, but the building of self-confidence. Ultimately, it was through turning the tables and putting ourselves in our student’s shoes that we were able to identify a solution to this problem. Specifically, once we realized that our students have the same anxiety about professional networking sites like LinkedIn that we have about Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (i.e. the thought of posting any swimsuit photo to a social media site is the stuff of nightmares), we were able to address the emotional obstacles that were preventing them from fully engaging with LinkedIn and view them with compassion and understanding. This, in turn, enabled us to restructure student expectations and rewrite outcomes. Specifically, we invited our students to rethink the role of connections on LinkedIn: rather than see other users as people who had the capability to either “make or break them,” we encouraged students to see connections as genuine supporters, advocates, and allies of their job search process. As we reminded our students over and over, the worst thing that a connection can say to their request for advice, information, or a connection request is “no.” And while the sting of rejection may hurt, it is not the end of the world.

To reinforce this message and provide an opportunity for students to dip their toes into the proverbial waters of professional networking, we invited students to make their first LinkedIn connections with students in their sister course. Although not nearly as stressful as reaching out to a corporate recruiter or business executive, this activity enabled students to forge professional connections with individuals who could potentially mobilize their professional social networks and resources to help their new friends learn about and acquire jobs and internships. It also provided a safety net and a place to take risks and make mistakes. While students found professional networking to be inherently awkward, at least at first, most agreed that it was much better to say the wrong thing (or say the right thing in the wrong way) to a peer than a future employer. “It gave me the space to screw up,” commented one student. “I figured out real quick that I can’t start out a conversation with someone by asking them to help me get a job. I have to get to know them first.”

Despite preaching this message up and down until we were blue in the face, it did not really sink in until one or two students in our courses used the skill sets learned in class to forge connections on LinkedIn, and shared the results. In one case, this involved a student connecting with the HR manager of a company that was scheduled to conduct an on-campus recruiting visit in the near future. When that individual came to campus, the executive specifically inquired about that student, commended her initiative, and offered her an interview with that company. In another instance, a student’s posted resume garnered attention from several recruiters and she suddenly found herself in the happy position of being courted for a number of jobs. These successes, in turn, inspired other students to take greater risks on LinkedIn, causing a ripple reaction that resulted in overall enthusiasm for and confidence in the resource.

Once students had the skill sets and confidence necessary to network and conduct successful job searches, the next step was to prepare them for the interview process. InterviewStream is a subscription-based online mock interview program whose cost is linked to the size of each college’s student body (Rollins and Richmond each paid $1500 for a year’s subscription). The aim and purpose of this program is simple: using a web cam, participants record themselves responding to a series of custom-designed interview questions and then play their interviews back to review their skills. While there are other program options on the market, we chose InterviewStream because of its ease of use and the flexibility that it provided our diverse student bodies that include part-time and evening students who may not have the time to schedule a mock interview with a career advisor. The product stood out among competitors because it allowed us to automatically send the interviews as they were completed to a professor or faculty member without the faculty member having to login into the system.

Working together, we devised a customized set of interview questions for the classes. We agreed on the same five questions and set the same length of answer time for each question. We set up the interviews so that Beth (Richmond) would receive the links to the completed interviews for Anne and Jana’s (Rollins) students and vice versa. Students in both classes were asked both to review their own interview and then conduct a formal review of at least one of their peers. The effectiveness of this module is discussed in the next section.

Evaluation and Outcomes

Thanks to strong strategic planning and good fortune, we are pleased to report that we accomplished all of our targeted goals. Both courses administered pre and post assessments, which were designed by the course instructors to evaluate the career skills related knowledge acquired throughout the term. The following reflects the combined data gathered from both student populations:

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We are extremely pleased with the results of this assessment. Demographic differences between the student populations in the two courses account for the percentage of students who answered “no movement” in their confidence in their interview skills and familiarity with LinkedIn. Specifically, while the majority of the Rollins students were freshmen or sophomores, the bulk of the University of Richmond students were junior and senior business majors, who had already learned interview and professional networking skills in other courses required for their major.

The post-assessment also included text responses. In the interest of space, what follows consists of selected responses pulled from both courses (full responses are included on the website):

1. What did you learn as a result of creating your LinkedIn profile, joining alumni/industry groups and networking with peers/professionals?

  • I learned how to find alumni and that I have a lot more resources at my fingertips then I expected.
  • There are many people that I am able to connect with for my specific interests. I didn’t realize the diversity and the availabilities of opportunities until using LinkedIn.
  • I really learned how to navigate the site. Previously, I had a profile but did not know how useful LinkedIn could be.
  • I don’t think I would have had the courage to make a LinkedIn profile without the guidance of the class. Upon looking at other profiles, it is hard to tell what the norm is for making the profile so this class helps set the standard.
  • I’m not super comfortable with spending lots of time on group pages, etc. I’d rather network in real life; however LinkedIn seems like a good resource for maintaining some of those relationships.
  • Networking isn’t as hard as it seems anymore. LinkedIn is such a great resource for networking and job searches. Alumni and professionals are willing to talk to college students.

2. What did you learn as a result of conducting a pre-recorded mock interview and critiquing your peers’ performance?

  • I learned that I need to practice and think about specific questions more. I learned a lot about the visual aspects of an interview by critiquing peers.
  • I learned that I need to work on my confidence and verbal pauses.
  • I realized how nervous I get! I have some nervous habits I need to break. From watching others, I was able to see what I liked and didn’t like as an interviewer.
  • I learned that preparation is important, but so is being genuine and fluid and the interviewer needs to see what makes you an individual.
  • I learned what areas I need improvement in such as sitting still and expanding my answers and I learned what I should and shouldn’t do by reviewing other’s interviews.
  • Doing the mock interview, it was very scary and uncomfortable. I know that it’s going to take some practice to feel comfortable with this process.
  • I learned that personality goes a long way. You have to be specific and highlight why you are the best. Be memorable to the interviewer.

3. What did you gain from conducting the interactive peer activities with Richmond and Rollins students?

  • It helped to see how other people responded to the same questions and what it looks like when someone is nervous etc…
  • I got to see the impression I give to others in an interview.
  • I’m going to connect with the one I reviewed because I was impressed with his professionalism.
  • I gained the experience of evaluating someone and insight into the interview’s mind as they are interviewing someone.
  • A good grasp on the levels of preparedness and skill of other students.
  • I gained interview practice and insight to how other university students are prepared.
  • I learned a lot from watching others about how I can improve myself and how interviewers might perceive me.
  • I was able to see myself in an interview setting without the stress of an actual interview.
  • It really took me out of my comfort zone.
  • It was fun working with other students and getting their feedback.
  • What others seek is not what I’m looking for, so in order to step out from the pool of applicants, I must be strong in the basics but really be personable and present.
  • I gained more connections and learned from their interviews.
  • I think it was cool because it is just more people to know.
  • I saw that for the most part everyone was in the same boat as I was. It takes practice.
  • I learned a lot about my presentation style. I tried to be warm and inviting while professional and I think I’ve found that balance or I’m developing it.

Once students were alerted to the vast array of opportunities opened up by professional networking, we could almost palpably feel their frustration and anxiety be replaced with hope and confidence. We were particularly encouraged by the relationships formed between our students via digital technologies. Several students reported that they planned to utilize connections with peers to either explore job and internship prospects in the Washington D.C. or Orlando areas. One unexpected but welcome outcome involved increased opportunities for self-reflection. Studying their peers’ LinkedIn profiles and reviewing their InterviewStream mock interviews served as a self-professed wake-up call to many students on both sides of the fence. One Rollins student commented how impressed he was with the professionalism and poise of his Richmond counterparts. “That’s my competition,” he observed. “These people are applying for the same jobs as me. Now I know that I need to step up my game.” While these exercises were designed to reduce pressure and anxiety not exacerbate it, for several students who had taken a somewhat lackadaisical approach to the job search process before this experience found the motivation they needed to take the tasks in front of them more seriously.

On the flip side of the coin, one of the most powerful aspects of these kind of blended learning activities is the potential for recognition and validation of student achievement from an audience outside of their home institution. In most traditional academic courses, students are conditioned to seek the approval and praise of their instructors. In career and life planning courses, we quickly discovered, instructor praise often is viewed suspiciously. Frequent refrains heard throughout the semester included “You’re just saying that I did well on my resume/cover letter/LinkedIn profile because you are my teacher,” and “You’re supposed to say nice things about my interview skills because it’s your job to be supportive.” While it is important to position ourselves as supportive cheerleaders and tireless advocates of our students, appropriating these roles sometimes generates a lack of trust of positive feedback.

Our students’ reluctance to take our praise seriously stands in striking contrast with the way that most viewed the praise that they received from peers at their sister institutions. Much to our amusement (and sometimes frustration), many of the same students who shrugged their shoulders at our compliments also beamed ear to ear after hearing and reading the affirming words of their peers. While this phenomenon generated some initial head scratching on our part, we learned to recognize and value the fact that individuals who do not have a personal investment in our students’ success are sometimes more effective educators (insofar as being an educator means providing motivation and context for learning) of our students than we are.

To this end, teaching a blended learning careers course that authorizes students from another institution to assess the learning and skills mastery of one’s own students requires acceptance of a certain level of professional vulnerability, for in evaluating our students, the students at our sister institution were also indirectly evaluating us. Anne and Jana learned this lesson the hard way when they forgot to tell the students enrolled in their Rollins course to dress professionally for their InterviewStream mock interviews. While this misstep would have gone unnoticed in a traditional classroom setting, it was memorialized in the mock interview videos for all to see.

While pedagogical goofs and snafus may be more visible in a blended learning format, so are the rewards of inter-institutional collaboration. This experience provided immense opportunities for professional growth and development for all project participants. One of our collective concerns going into this project was that we would not be able to meld our three very distinct teaching philosophies and styles into a coherent and mutually agreed upon form. By adopting a divide and conquer approach to course and material preparation, we were able to infuse our personal best practices into the courses while being exposed to and learning from the expertise of our colleagues. An additional benefit of partnering with another institution in the development of this project is that all participants gained access to a treasure trove of new resources, ideas, and perspectives. As our friendship blossomed, our conference calls grew longer, and the topics of conversation often bled into related topics. In addition to offering valuable insight into the workings of another career services program, these discussions—about subjects ranging from academic advising to experiential learning initiatives to innovative uses of emergent technologies in career planning curricula—have planted the seeds of several exciting inter-institutional collaborative projects that we hope to pursue in coming years.

Future Plans

We hope that other institutions both build upon what we have started and take this initiative in new and innovative directions. To facilitate and encourage this process of collaborative teaching and learning, we created a publicly accessible information-sharing website. In addition to containing a description of our courses, and their relationship to the ACS Blended Learning grant, this blog also includes all relevant course documents, including lesson plans, assignments and assessment reports.

http://social.rollins.edu/wpsites/acsblended/

While we wholeheartedly embrace the spirit of collaboration across the broader field of higher education, our primary targeted audience for the website is other ACS institutions, with the hope that interested schools can use our documents as templates for future blended learning career courses. Our long-term goal is to expand the network of participation in this project to other ACS partner institutions, thus enabling students to expand their professional contacts beyond their home institutions to students, alumni, and associates from all ACS schools. While many ACS institutions have robust student and alumni networks for institutions of their size, combining the collective resources of all of institutions in the consortium in the future will allow us eventually to develop a network whose size rivals that of many large state schools.

In an effort to work toward our collective larger goal of expanding the network of ACS blended learning careers courses, Rollins and the University of Richmond will be pairing up again during the 2014-2015 academic year to teach an additional round of our linked courses. Overall, we are exceptionally pleased with how our pilot worked out, and thus, the second iteration will focus on tweaking and honing existing assignments, expanding the blended learning components and fine tuning assessment models.

Top on our must-do list is the addition of a short set of questions on both courses’ pre and post-tests that evaluate students’ confidence in the value of the liberal arts degree.

I understand the value of earning a liberal arts degree.

Strongly disagree | disagree | agree | strongly agree

 

I feel confident in my ability to articulate the value of my liberal arts degree to future employers.

Strongly disagree | disagree | agree | strongly agree

 

I feel confident in my ability to mobilize the knowledge and skills gained through my liberal arts degree in a specific occupation/career path.

Strongly disagree | disagree | agree | strongly agree

Adding these questions will enable us to better evaluate our students’ ability to contextualize their academic and co-curricular experiences and package it into a compelling personal narrative.

Other plans for the future involve increased technological training. Most of the students navigated the process of generating an InterviewStream mock interview just fine, but a few less experienced students experienced some technological hiccups. To alleviate this problem, we plan to build some technology help sessions into the syllabus in order to ease student anxiety and stress. In addition, we will be trimming the number of in-class periods that we spend walking students through LinkedIn’s features and functions, and swapping that time out with instructional webinars on the topic produced by Anne Meehan and LinkedIn. The obvious benefit to putting this content in pauseable, repeatable, and rewindable form is that students will be able to access this material at their own speed of learning, and multiple times if necessary. This pedagogical experiment will help us better gauge “how far we can go” with blended learning modules in this course. While our students viewed the blended learning assignments favorably, many said that they would not support a careers course that employed extensive use of online learning modules, citing perceived violations of the ethos of a liberal arts education. Our anecdotal surveys support the information acquired in our qualitative course assessments, which identify the ideal course model to be one that utilizes digital learning, but not at the expense of the personalized classroom experience that defines the liberal arts education. Playing with the quantity and quality of blended learning assignments and instructional modes will help us find the “sweet spot” that makes teaching these courses pedagogically effective and financially sustainable.

While our team will be hard at work honing the form and content of the course, we are grateful for the assistance provided by Amanda Hagood (Director of the ACS Blended Learning Program), who has generously agreed to take administrative ownership over the ACS Students and Alumni Network group that we started on LinkedIn. Currently, this group houses 82 members including Rollins and Richmond students, the 3 instructors, Amanda Hagood (ACS) and Georgianne Hewett (NITLE) but has the capability to grow to include other ACS students, faculty, and staff members. Additional future items on the agenda include the development of a blended learning curricular training program, a learning webinar through NITLE and ACS as well as the construction of an ACS video library of student internship informational interviews.

Conclusion

This project mobilizes technology to provide students with the skills and confidence necessary to articulate the value of a liberal arts education to their family, friends, and potential employers. Although the project is still in its infancy and the data that we have obtained is largely anecdotal, what is coming back to us is highly encouraging. Among our most notable success stories is a sophomore religious studies major who enrolled in the careers course because she was unsure about the marketability of her major and was receiving parental pressure to transfer to a large state university that offered more vocational majors. Using the connections she forged on LinkedIn with her peers at our sister institution, this student was able to track and study the career trajectories of other individuals who shared a similar academic background. The knowledge she acquired through this exercise instilled in her the confidence necessary to continue pursuing her degree at our institution as well as the knowledge necessary to make strategic choices about her short and long-term future plans.

Another positive outcome involves a junior English major who wanted to work in fashion journalism, but had never had a job in the field prior to enrolling in our course. Through the advice and encouragement of her peers and networking skills she acquired through LinkedIn, this student started small, and took an unpaid position as a staff reporter for her college newspaper. That experience led to a short internship with a local wedding magazine, which in turn led to a longer internship with a prominent London fashion website. In February 2014, this student sent us video footage of her interviewing a fashion designer on London Fashion Week’s red carpet. In April 2014, she was awarded the Emerging Leader Intern of the Year Award from Rollins College.

While these stories represent exceptional student outcomes, they accurately reflect the ability of students enrolled in these courses to speak boldly and proudly about the marketability of their major and the value of their liberal arts education beyond the walls of the classroom. We attribute the success of our endeavor to the collaborative blended learning component of our courses, for it is the strategic employment of technology that enabled our students to arrive on our proverbial doorsteps with no idea what they are going to do with their major and leave our courses armed with the tools and confidence necessary to design meaningful and productive career pathways for themselves in the industries and fields of their choosing. We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work at the forefront of an initiative that has the potential both to positively impact our individual campuses and strengthen the larger liberal arts community in such a dramatic way. While many liberal arts institutions may be small in size, they are also great in number. We believe that the key to our collective success and long-term vitality is collaboration and resource sharing. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a consortium (or more) to prepare a college student for life after graduation.

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http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/education/as-interest-fades-in-the-humanities-colleges-worry.html?_r=0

Mathews, Jay. “25 Hottest Universities.” Newsweek. August 7, 2007.
http://www.newsweek.com/25-hottest-universities-99221

Pryor, John H., Kevin Eagan, Laura Paluki Blake, Sylvia Hurtado, Jennifer Berdan, Matthew Case, “Survey: More freshman than ever say they go to college to get better jobs, make more money.” The American Freshman: National Forum. Los Angeles: CIRP, 2012.
http://www.heri.ucla.edu/pr-display.php?prQry=111

Weinstein, Adam. “Rick Scott to Liberal Arts Majors: Drop Dead.” Mother Jones. October 11, 2011.
http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2011/10/rick-scott-liberal-arts-majors-drop-dead-anthropology

Weissmann, Jordan. “Should Science Majors Pay Less for College than Art Majors?” The Atlantic. November 5, 2012.
http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/11/should-science-majors-pay-less-for-college-than-art-majors/264417/

About the Authors

Jana Mathews, Assistant Professor of English, Rollins College

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Dr. Mathews earned her Ph.D. from Duke University. Her research and teaching focus on digital humanities and the intersections between the Middle Ages and contemporary culture. A vocal advocate for career and life planning initiatives, Mathews was co-chair of the Career and Life Planning Committee at Rollins College and currently co-teaches (with Anne Meehan) career and life planning courses. In 2013, Mathews was awarded the Arthur Vining Davis Award; currently, she holds the distinction of being the most junior recipient of the Cornell Distinguished Faculty Award at Rollins.

Anne Meehan, Assistant Director, Office of Career Services, Rollins College

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Anne Meehan earned her B.S. in family and child development from Virginia Tech and earned her M.Ed. in counseling psychology with a concentration in college student personnel administration from James Madison University. She has worked at James Madison University, Virginia Tech, the University of Richmond, Stetson University, and Rollins College in both associate director and assistant director roles. Anne has developed and taught career courses at several universities, and she currently co-teaches (with Dr. Jana Mathews) career and life planning courses at Rollins.

Beth Chancy, Assistant Director, Office of Alumni and Career Services, University of Richmond

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Beth Chancy earned her B.A. in English from the College of William and Mary and earned her M.S. in human development, counseling and family studies with a concentration in college student personnel from the University of Rhode Island. She has worked at Virginia Commonwealth University, the College of William and Mary, the University of Denver, and the University of Rhode Island. She has taught a career class at the University of Richmond for six years.


  1. Jim Clifton, The Coming Jobs War (New York: Gallup Press, 2011).
  2. John H. Pryor, Kevin Eagan, Laura Paluki Blake, Sylvia Hurtado, Jennifer Berdan, Matthew Case, “Survey: More freshman than ever say they go to college to get better jobs, make more money,” The American Freshman: National Forum (Los Angeles: CIRP, 2012), 4. http://www.heri.ucla.edu/pr-display.php?prQry=111
  3. Joseph Epstein, “Who Killed the Liberal Arts? And why we should care,” The Weekly Standard, September 17, 2012, http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/who-killed-liberal-arts_652007.html; Tamar Lewin, “As Interest Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry,” The New York Times, October 30, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/education/as-interest-fades-in-the-humanities-colleges-worry.html?_r=0; Nancy Cook, “Jobs: The Economy, Killing Liberal Arts Education?” Newsweek, January 19, 2010, http://www.newsweek.com/jobs-economy-killing-liberal-arts-education-70405
  4. James Axtell, “The Death of the Liberal Arts College,” History of Education Quarterly 11: 4 (Winter 1971): 339.
  5. Peter Cappelli, “Why Focusing Too Narrowly in College Could Backfire,” The Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2013. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324139404579016662718868576
  6. Hart Research Associates, “It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success,” April 10, 2013, http://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/le-sp13/hartresearchassociates.cfm.
  7. “Job Outlook: The Candidate Skills/Qualities Employers Want,” National Association of Colleges and Employers, October 2, 2013, https://www.naceweb.org/s10022013/job-outlook-skills-quality.aspx
  8. Jay Mathews, “25 Hottest Universities,” Newsweek, August 7, 2007, http://www.newsweek.com/25-hottest-universities-99221
  9. Mark Keierleber, “Financially Strapped Colleges Grow More Vulnerable as Economic Recovery Lags,” The Chronicle of Higher Education,Vol. LX, No. 28 (March 28, 2014, A3-4).
  10. Sarah Halzack, “How LinkedIn has changed the way you might get your next job,” The Washington Post, August 4, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/linkedin-has-changed-the-way-businesses-hunt-talent/2013/08/04/3470860e-e269-11e2-aef3-339619eab080_story.html
  11. Jobvite, 2013 Social Recruiting Survey Results, 5, http://web.jobvite.com/Q313_SocialRecruitingSurvey_LandingPage.html 

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