New initiative guides students from every major toward finding their purpose
Yitzchok Dier walked into the event feeling both excitement and trepidation.
The Rutgers University junior was attending an evening program organized by the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) in which alumni would discuss their undergraduate experience and how they developed a sense of purpose in their lives and careers.
“I thought it had tremendous potential,” Dier says. “But I was concerned whether I’d actually be able to connect with these alumni, and if they’d want to spend time talking to me.”
Yet as he walked into the Cook Campus Center, Dier felt glad he had made it to the event called SAS Connect. The atmosphere was friendly, with students sitting at dinner tables chatting with more than 30 alums. At the front of the room, Becky Quick RC ’93, co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box, was getting ready to moderate the event.
The speakers were diverse in age, and background—everyone from a budding web entrepreneur who graduated a year ago to a psychology major from the class of 1991— now an executive at a company specializing in healthcare policy data.
“I left with a real spring in my step,” Dier says. “The entire program was inspiring and I felt a sense of strength and confidence.”
The event was more than a blip on the campus calendar. The program is part of a larger schoolwide effort to transform the college-to-career experience and guide Arts and Sciences students from all majors toward successful lives and careers.
The Career Explorations in Arts and Sciences Initiative was launched in 2017 with an elective course for sophomores and juniors aimed at helping them think deeply about the future, develop the resources and skills to navigate the job market, and continue evolving throughout their working lives. The initiative also includes programs like SAS Connect that introduce current students to Arts and Sciences’ rich network of alumni.
“The goal is to foster a schoolwide culture of career and life exploration,” says Jennifer Lenahan Cleary, the director of the initiative. “Major often does not equal career. We want students to learn how to connect their education with careers in deeper ways. We’re helping them figure out how to study what they love, get a good job, and build a purposeful life.”
Alumni speaking at SAS Connect talked about how their major helped them develop core skills that they continue to use, even as their careers take twists and turns into new directions.
Donna Usiskin RC’91 described a continual process of reinvention: She began as a pharmacy student, switched to a premed track in psychology, then launched a multi-faceted career that has traversed healthcare, IT, venture capital, and life sciences.
“I literally met this company, and I knew nothing about IT, and had never taken a single class,” Usiskin says. “But at Rutgers, I got to know what my attributes and skills were, and I pitched them.”
Meanwhile, Jessica Bagtas SAS ’15 advised students to be flexible and open-minded when choosing a major. She arrived at Rutgers thinking she would be premed. But she discovered that geography was the discipline that really clicked with her. She is now an associate project manager of strategic analytics at a global firm.
“The enthusiasm I was feeling in my geography classes translated into academic success,” she says. “And that helped me realize I could perform really well in a related career.”
The Career Explorations initiative was started with a gift from alumni Bruce Kerzic RC’83, who says his undergraduate experience helped him succeed at running a consumer finance firm.
“I benefited from taking a lot of different classes, having a range of experiences, and meeting people who were diverse in their ideas and background,” Kerzic says. “In my experience, liberal arts students are the ones who are able to find solutions to problems because they see the bigger picture.”
The initiative is amplifying that message through courses for students, as well as professional development for staff and faculty, and partnerships with academic departments and University Career Services. One key message is that research on employer needs consistently shows a broad-based education in the arts and sciences equips students with competencies that are valued in the workplace: critical thinking, problem solving, and cultural literacy.
Meanwhile, some 250 students in the spring 2018 semester signed up for the elective course, which emphasizes both the big picture—finding purpose and meaning—and nuts-and-bolts instruction on resumes, cover letters, and networking.
In a recent class, students opened up to the instructor about their fears and anxieties as they discussed their initial efforts to draft resumes.
“I see my friends’ LinkedIn profiles and I’m blown away by how many accomplishments they have listed,” says junior Jonathan Kratchman. “I feel like I have way less experience compared to people I know.”
The instructor, Ildi Koczan, a career management specialist at Rutgers, told students to start with what they’ve got, and to keep their eyes open for ways to build on that foundation.
“What you need to learn at this stage are the skills you can use throughout your life,” she says. “Career development is a lifelong process. You may not have a clue as to what you want to be doing in 20 years, but we’re going to keep working at it, and the picture is going to get clearer and clearer.”
The Career Explorations in Arts and Sciences Initiative is helping students find their purpose, discover their interests and values, explore careers, and develop skills. For more information, click here.