SAU career counselors help students find their path


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Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2012, 1:10 pm
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By Sarah J. Gardner, sjgardner@qconline.com
DAVENPORT -- A thin file for every student, each containing a resume, transcript and three letters of recommendation — once upon a time, this was the chief responsibility of a university career center. When a student was ready to enter the workforce, the career center would make a copy of the file and mail it to would-be employers.

Not so anymore, says Angela Elliot, director of the career center at St. Ambrose University. Now the responsibility of providing an employer with the necessary application materials has shifted to the students, and the responsibility of the career center has evolved to help those students identify their strengths, understand their career options and pursue job opportunities.

"The average person changes jobs three to five times at a minimum, so they need to have these skills for the life of their career," explains Ms. Elliot.

Her colleague, Angela Wolfe, assistant director, agrees. "We'd be doing the students a disservice if we helped them get a job right out of college but didn't prepare them to pursue jobs later," she says.

That preparation takes a lot of forms: The career center assists in developing resumes and cover letters, arranges for job shadowing, offers mock interviews and sets up dinners to practice business etiquette.

Although the weakened economy presents some new challenges for job applicants, Ms. Elliot and Ms. Wolf said studies show what employers look for in recent graduates remains constant.

"They are looking for people who can express themselves well, work as part of a team, think for themselves and have the ability to problem solve," says Ms. Elliot. One of the career center's commitments to students, she explains, is to help them learn to be resourceful in their job search.

"Students need to know themselves, their strengths and weaknesses," adds Mrs. Wolfe. "The students who prepare themselves well put themselves a step ahead."

Before students can apply for the job of their dreams, though, they have to figure out exactly what their dream job is. Sometimes it is not exactly the one they had in mind at age 18 when they arrived at school. Here, too, the career center can help.

Mary Ohland, the student employment coordinator for the career center, helps students find jobs while still in school that work with their class schedule — and often their major.

She describes a student who came to St. Ambrose wanting to be an elementary school teacher. Ms. Ohland helped place her in a position at a local school to get a taste of her future profession. Later the student returned to the career center and confessed she "just couldn't do it anymore."

The student changed majors, and Ms. Ohland helped her find another job, this time in the campus library. When the student later graduated, she was happy to tell Ms. Ohland she had just been accepted into the graduate program for library sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "And it's all your fault!" she teased.

Young students aren't the only ones to pursue alternate career paths. An increasing number of the students Ms. Elliot, Mrs. Wolfe and Ms. Ohland see come into their office are nontraditional students, that is, older students who are returning to school looking to change careers.

Sometimes those students didn't have a lot of choice when they entered the workforce. "Maybe they took a job simply to make a living; it was what was available and they had bills to pay. As a result, they perhaps didn't have the chance to go through the process of figuring out what (career) would be meaningful to them," says Ms. Ohland.

As with younger students, the career center offers career assessments, internships and job search seminars to help with that process. They also counsel nontraditional students on their unique concerns.

"They have questions such as, 'How do I take a job I have done for 20 years and translate it into something else?' or, 'How do I explain a break in my resume for the time I took off to raise children?' " says Mrs. Wolfe.

Whether the students are young or old, helping them pursue their dreams isn't always easy. Sometimes they have to be told things that are difficult to hear, such as having their demeanor or grooming for a mock interview critiqued. But, says Mrs. Wolfe, receiving that feedback in the career center instead of at an actual interview "won't cost them a paycheck."

"I always tell myself I'm failing them if I don't take that opportunity. My responsibility is to help them get a job," says Ms. Ohland.

And when that happens — when a student concludes his or her college career with finding a job that is the right fit — it is very rewarding, for Ms. Elliot, Mrs. Wolfe and Ms. Ohland, as well as the student.

"We're also pursuing our dreams. We're lucky to see the growth students go through," says Mrs. Wolfe. "Over time, you end up encountering them again as employers who come to campus to recruit other students, or you end up working alongside them at chamber events. It's very fulfilling."





Supporting the dream

Who: Angela Elliot, Angela Wolfe and Mary Ohland, of the St. Ambrose University Career Center

Quote: "Students need to know themselves, their strengths and weaknesses. The students who prepare themselves well put themselves a step ahead." -- Angela Wolfe














 



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