In today’s ever-competitive world of work, the need for first-generation college students to prepare for postgraduate careers is essential. Ewing Kauffman himself understood the power of education to help individuals attain economic independence. Completing a college degree is a milestone worth celebrating and highly commendable, but are students truly prepared to thrive as young professionals? Serving as Career Development Coordinator for Kauffman Scholars, Inc. (KSI), I have become keenly aware of the need to empower our students for their transition into the workplace.
This summer, I set off on an 18-school road trip to visit almost all of KSI’s 23 network institutions. There is no doubt that each school is equipped with the career development staff and career readiness resources to help our students succeed in the workforce. But students need to be prepared to learn, connect and collaborate on the path to career readiness to take full advantage of these resources.
Career planning can and should begin as early as high school. Students should align their short-term goals (college acceptance) with their long-term goals (degree completion) when considering their college choices and academic area of study. This means identifying opportunities early-on for campus leadership, researching studying abroad options, applying for work-study or part-time job opportunities and even networking with their 8 a.m. freshman biology professor. It is from early exposure to career experiences that students are able to hone in on their skills, assess their interests and market their value as a recent college graduate to employers. From my own college experience, I argue that what is learned outside the classroom (student involvement, volunteering, on-campus jobs) is equally important as the exams, notetaking and group projects.
Great resources and support are on campus—use them
With the many demands of balancing school, health, relationships, finances and more, students may find it near impossible to focus on career development until the final semester of undergraduate study. To ease this burden, KSI’s network institution campus career centers offer an array of career support for students and alumni to access on campus and year-round.
• The University of Missouri and Johnson County Community College offer multiple strengths/skills assessments like StrengthsQuest with full professional interpretation for students.
• Kansas City Kansas Community College and Pittsburg State University provide a free professional clothing closet to students for job interviews and career fairs.
• The University of Arkansas –Fayetteville and University of Kansas offer a self-paced, online career development course based upon NACE’s seven career competencies.
• Baker University and Metropolitan Community College – Penn Valley offer one-on-one personalized career counseling for all students exploring majors and careers.
• Johnson County Community College and Avila University have developed strategic relationships with employers and alumni for job shadowing and mentorship for current students.
• Northwest Missouri State and Emporia State University have successful in-classroom career outreach to students due to collaborative efforts from supportive faculty.
• Wichita State University and University of Missouri – St. Louis utilize online career platforms such as Handshake and LinkedIn for job and internship searches.
From resumé review, mock interviews, career fairs and etiquette dinners, our network institutions plan a plethora of career events and host hundreds of employers on behalf of all students.
Connect with others
Our students do not have to navigate the world of work alone. As they explore their passions and pursue meaningful careers, they can rely on multiple avenues of support to help guide their career decisions. No matter their preference or frequency of engagement, our Scholars can receive career counseling from KSI, their campus career centers, parents, mentors and peers alike. We are not expecting our Scholars to have their life figured out by graduation; rather, the collective goal is to equip our first-generation students with the necessary tools to guide them in whatever direction they choose. After that decision is made, they can be confident to bloom wherever they’re planted.
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India Wells-Carter joined Kauffman Scholars in 2014 and previously served as both a Secondary and Postsecondary Coach. Before joining Kauffman Scholars, she served as an Admissions Representative and Coordinator of Culturally Diverse Recruitment Programs at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri.
India earned a bachelor's degree in hospitality management and a business minor from the University of Missouri.