So, what are your plans for after graduation? It's a question that many college students dread, but inevitably are asked-long before they have an answer.
Career planning doesn't have to be a scary process if students start early and seek help. The new University of Iowa Career Center is a great place to start. The center offers an abundance of help, ranging from personal advisers and a career library to technology resources.
The Career Center combines the former Business and Liberal Arts Placement Office and Career Development Services, which formerly functioned as separate offices. Jerry Paschal, the new executive director of the Career Center, says internships and placement are closely related and shouldn't be separate services.
The staff will focus on how experiential learning opportunities can lead to full-time jobs. Paschal says no one had kept statistics on whether students who had internships were offered a job after graduation by the company they interned with. The Career Center now is keeping those records as a way to measure success in career development services.
"The main focus is to bring all of this together, to blend all of our career services so that it's a continuation, a progression of what they [students] are doing," he says. "It's putting their education to work, basically."
Counseling in Space
Megan Westerman of Batavia, Ill., spent her summer interning as a camp counselor for Space Academy in Huntsville, Ala. Although she was trained in what to teach the campers, Westerman says being an astronomy and physics major helped her understand details that weren't covered in her training. She also has been able to teach astronomy to the staff and suggest ways to make lessons more interesting and easier to understand.
"Astronomy is one of the more difficult topics for the kids, and for the counselors, too," she says.
Teaching kids for seven hours or more a day has taught her how to deal better with people.
"[Being a counselor] requires that you have an open mind and patience," she says. "If these kids feel comfortable with you, they will bring you into their lives."
Westerman says she will consider going back to the Space Center to work. She believes that her internship also opened her eyes to becoming a high school teacher.
The interrelatedness of Westerman's internship and a future job demonstrates a goal of the Career Center-to focus on how experiential learning opportunities can lead to full-time positions.
"I'm excited about where we're going!" says Jane Schildroth, director of the Career Center. "It's been hard having two separate places. It's going to make things much simpler for students and for employers.
"I think if we build the internship piece, the experiential piece, I think the full-time job stuff happens because they [employers] are going to be thrilled when they see what our students can do for them and they're going to hire them. They won't be able to resist!" she says.
Students find internships in a variety of ways, she says. But using the Career Center gives them "quality control," because the center tries to make sure that students get the best internships possible.
Paschal adds that the Career Center hopes to help expand students' education outside of the classroom.
"We can look at education as a singular experience, but it's really not," he says. "It's a very broad, whole experience. Students discover many things about themselves and how they fit into the whole scheme of the world and how the world has an impact on them."
Schildroth believes that a key to career planning is to begin early. Students make the mistake of thinking they have a lot of time before they begin their career, but preparing for a career takes time.
"Ideally, we'd see everybody during their first year here," Schildroth says.
Bridget Trainor, a junior from Freeport, Ill., went to the Career Center in her first year to do an interest inventory. This summer she benefited from an internship in the Iowa governor's office.
Since Trainor wants to be a history/American government teacher, she says her internship will help her give students a better idea of how the democratic system of government works.
"This experience has reaffirmed my desire to become a public school teacher. I think one of my priorities will be to emphasize the importance of students taking an active role in the world around them and being responsible citizens," she says.
Iowa's Technology Advantage
Even if students are not seeking internships, Schildroth says, they would benefit from enrolling in Iowa Advantage. For $50 a semester, a student is assisted in creating an electronic, web-based portfolio of professional work samples. Not only is this portfolio posted on the web for prospective employers to view, but the process of creating it helps in overall career development.
Schildroth says this state-of-the-art program is not offered at many universities.
"Iowa Advantage is designed to do what we think is most important, and that is to hook students up with the resources that can help them, and get them to think about where they're going really early," Schildroth says.
Karin Anderson has a good grasp of where she's going after graduation-back to Europe.
Anderson spent the past summer in Brussels, Belgium doing an internship with the United States Commercial Service. Her internship involved market research on Belgian industries. She researched, wrote, updated, revised, and translated information to be incorporated in reports for the Commercial Service Archives. She says her internship gave her education a whole new perspective.
"This is hands-on experience, and I think nothing in the classroom can compare," Anderson says. "In particular, this job has helped develop my contact list, as I plan to return to Europe to work after graduation."
Anderson, a French major from Rockwell City, Iowa, worked with career counselors to find an internship in summer 2000 as a legal researcher for a computer services company in Metz, France. Then she studied for a year at the Solvay Business School of the French-speaking Universite de Bruxelles. From a classmate at the Solvay School, she learned of the internship and decided to stay in Brussels for the summer.
How Parents Can Help
Schildroth says she counts on parents to remind their children that professionals at the Career Center are available to help them plan. They also can be a sounding board for career ideas.
But parents also can help all students by asking their employers to host Iowa interns or by volunteering to speak to students about their careers.
With all this help, students should never feel that they have to face the world of full-time employment alone. Soon they will be looking forward to answering all those questions about career plans.
by Bren Landon