Connecting Classroom and Career
Ohio Wesleyan Experts Discuss Efforts to Help Students Articulate Skills, Land Jobs
By Cole Hatcher
“Wow.” It’s a comment that Megan Ellis hears regularly from companies that hire Ohio Wesleyan University students for internships and jobs.
And it’s feedback that Ellis, executive director of the OWU Career Connection, hears even more frequently these days thanks to a collaboration with Ohio Wesleyan faculty, led by Mary Anne Lewis Cusato, Ph.D., associate professor of Modern Foreign Languages and co-director of the Palmer Global Scholars Program.
Their work is helping students and professors to see more clearly the connection between their academic coursework and the transferable career-ready skills that will serve them well in all aspects of their lives.
Outshining the Ivies
Ellis and Lewis Cusato discussed their work in a recent “Monday Maximizer” conversation with Intern Bridge Inc.’s President and CEO Robert Shindell. Intern Bridge helps employers and educational institutions to “build, maintain, sustain, and grow internship and other forms of experiential education programs and initiatives.”
“(OWU students) are often going up against Ivy League candidates for internships and for jobs,” Ellis said during the interview, “and what we continuously hear from those employers is, ‘Wow, your students blew them out of the water.’
“I’m just thinking of an accounting firm who said, ‘My goodness, we can put your student in front of clients because they understand how to communicate, and we trust that they are going to be humble, that they can interact on a mature level.’ And all of that goes back to these transferable skills,” said Ellis, herself a 2005 Ohio Wesleyan graduate.
The OWU Career Connection
Ellis was charged in 2018 with reinventing Ohio Wesleyan’s then-Office of Career Services and launching the OWU Career Connection.
“Connection being the big key word here,” Ellis told Shindell. “We wanted to think about a student from the whole time that they are here on campus, not just the point that they said, ‘OK, it’s time for me to think about getting an internship or a job,’ or ‘Hey, I’ve done this and now what do I do to look for a job?’
“We really realized the key to this was working with the people who our students trust the most, and listen to the most, and are with the most often on campus, and that is their faculty members,” Ellis said. “And in comes Mary Anne. …”
Landing a J-O-B
Lewis Cusato gained experience helping students to successfully secure employment while earning her doctorate at Yale University. After seeing a “rock star” friend complete three intensive interviews for professorships and be the runner-up for each job, Lewis Cusato realized that a real disconnect existed between coursework and the job market. So, she set out to fix the problem.
The result was a six-week workshop called “Turn That Ph.D. into a J-O-B,” which “looked at essentially transferable skills and how to articulate not just the content knowledge that one had amassed over the course of a doctorate,” she said, “but also the skill sets.”
Building upon that base, Lewis Cusato worked with Ellis to create and lead two Ohio Wesleyan workshops during the 2019-2020 academic year to help faculty members think more deliberately about integrating career-readiness competencies and experiential learning into their classrooms.
More Than Content Mastery
More than 20% of Ohio Wesleyan’s professors completed the workshops, and each participant left the workshop with a transferable skills assignment to integrate in a course that term. Lewis Cusato followed up with these professors and gathered more than 70 pages of student testimonials that she is including in an upcoming publication.
These days, Lewis Cusato said, “We’re doing more than offering content mastery.”
Shindell said Ohio Wesleyan’s work helps to answer questions he hears often in his work: How can colleges and universities incorporate this type of learning into their classrooms? How can they help students to develop and demonstrate transferable career-ready skills?
“When we talk about it, sometimes we spend too much time kind of in the stratosphere about it,” he said. “We don’t get down into the trenches.”
Sleeves Rolled Up
“Today,” Shindell said of his March 1 interview with Ellis and Lewis Cusato, “we are going to roll up our sleeves, we are going to get into the trenches, and we are going to learn what one school, in particular, is doing to engage experiential learning in the classroom.”
To listen to this full “Monday Maximizer” episode, visit Intern Bridge at https://internbridge.com. To learn more about Ohio Wesleyan’s Career Connection, including recent student outcomes, visit owu.edu/careers.