New program redefines career services to help students become “life ready.”
Seattle, Washington, means a lot of things to Allisa Schuller ’19: Backpacking the trails of Mount Rainier, making trips to Pike Place Market, and doing fun runs in the city.
And it reminds her about how the personal and professional connections she made while a student at Ohio Wesleyan gave her the confidence to find her “amazing” job at Spark Foundry, a global media agency in downtown Seattle.
A business administration major with accounting and religion minors, Schuller got her start with Spark Foundry through an OWU Connection Grant grant her senior year. She took full advantage of all that OWU had to offer before that, which included four other internships and support from several alumni, including REI COO Tracie Winbigler ’87, who eventually connected her to an opportunity at Spark Foundry.
Schuller says her internships and the relationships with professors and OWU alumni gave her the critical thinking skills necessary for a successful career and the confidence to take charge of her own personal development. That confidence prompted a bold act as her internship at Spark Foundry was ending: She developed an evaluation form and asked her coworkers and senior company leaders to do a formal review of her work after her internship ended.
“I let it be known to my managers that I wanted to work here and why I deserved to be here. I feel like that’s what OWU taught me — how to articulate my ideas and communicate,” she says.
Schuller works with a team that manages media channel marketing for REI. With 70 employees in the Seattle office, Spark Foundry “is the best of both worlds,” she says. “You get the feel of a start-up company with the capabilities of a large firm.”
Learning to explore, thrive
Schuller’s experience illustrates what OWU’s newly launched Career Connection program is all about, says Executive Director Megan Ellis ’05: preparing students to become “life ready.”
Ellis, who also directs the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center at OWU, says the goal of the OWU Career Connection initiative is to help students explore opportunities, understand their personal strengths, and learn how to become more confident about parlaying those strengths across disciplines. “We want students to learn how to be nimble and able to thrive in the work world while on their journey to finding a satisfying and meaningful life.”
Career Connection, which was formerly known as the Office of Career Services, has transitioned to become a comprehensive career development resource that provides tools for students to find internships, jobs, and unique opportunities for graduate school and beyond.
While practical help with job interviewing skills and resume writing is still offered, Career Connection helps students understand more about themselves — their values, passions, and strengths, along with career exploration. The program also engages faculty and alumni in that endeavor — beginning with students’ first-year orientation through their last year of college and beyond.
“We are seeing nationally a transition away from more traditional, transactional models of career services into this more all-encompassing, more well-rounded approach,” she says.
“For example, we’re creating internship career kits, which include pre-internship sessions to prepare students so that these internships will be a more fulfilling experience for them. That develops them as better communicators and critical thinkers.”
To strengthen this holistic vision, Career Connection is partnering with faculty and alumni.
Faculty as partners
Among the faculty partners is Michael Esler, professor of politics and government and director of the Arneson Institute for Practical Politics and Public Affairs. While the institute’s goal has always been to make the connection between academics and practical politics, he says, “Career Connection has really given us new energy and a renewed emphasis on our goals. It has been a rejuvenating experience.”
The Arneson Institute connects students with practical politics primarily through its internships, the flagship of which is Wesleyan in Washington, which matches students with public affairs and public policy internships in D.C. Internships include a wide range of public policy and government experiences, from the White House and the U.S. Congress to nonprofit advocacy organizations, the media, and private sector businesses and legal firms.
Building on the Career Connection focus, Esler is working to establish “semi-permanent” internships with alumni in the D.C. area.
Alumni in the public policy/lobbying arena include Nick Calio ’75, president and CEO of Airlines for America International. “He takes two OWU interns each year,” says Esler.
Another alumnus, Andrew Doll ’09, manager of programs and membership for the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area, also established a program in his office for Ohio Wesleyan interns.
Within the past two years, Wesleyan in Washington has coordinated four internships with alumni working for members in the U.S. Senate and three internships in the U.S. House of Representatives. “We arrange housing for them, and students receive credit, so they don’t miss a beat,” Esler says.
“You definitely see a maturity in students when they return,” he says. “They become quite self-confident — that’s probably the most immediate and important development I see.” The connections they make in these positions also frequently lead to full-time work, he says.
Phoenix Huron ’21, a politics and government major who interned for Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia in summer 2019, says his experience working for Manchin — a ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee — gave him not just an eagle-eye view of how Congress works but also a hand in it. He worked closely with the appropriations team to write reports on the progress of the 2020 Senate appropriations bill.
“It was exciting. It was a lot of work but proved to be beneficial in the end — and exciting to see how the whole political process works,” Huron says. “It’s one thing to learn how a bill becomes a law and another to work on an appropriations bill and help it become a law.”
He also drafted letters for the senator challenging the FCC on the accuracy of its maps and advocating for broadband coverage in rural West Virginia towns. “I’m working on trying to map these out still,” he says, “and hoping to turn it into independent study here at OWU.”
In D.C. he was introduced to professionals in urban planning and infrastructure, and that prompted him to pursue a mapping and GIS (geographic information systems) minor when he returned to OWU.
“I’m really interested in doing research that finds a relationship between urban happiness and walkability, and using the Washington, D.C., community as a case study for that. This all stemmed from the Wesleyan in Washington internship.”
Exploring tech, finance
For budding entrepreneur Darren Lo ’23, Career Connection is all about supporting the skills he needs to grow ExPandable Esports, an e-business that emerged from his love for video game competition.
“It started when a group of my friends and I started a gaming community,” he says. “I saw an opportunity to grow this community and make it sustainable by monetizing it.” Lo took on the charge to lead the group and become an owner. ExPandable Esports gives players a platform to game, and if they choose, to compete with the aim of attaining the professional level. The community is free to join, and revenue is gained via merchandise sales, support of the content creators, and sponsor hosts.
A data analytics and finance major, Lo says Megan Ellis’ help in connecting him to mentors and other resources of the Entrepreneurial Center at OWU has helped him learn how to balance college studies with the ever-evolving nature of the e-sports business.
“I was new to the operations and what it means to be a business, but she connected me with mentors who helped me figure that out.” he says.
As of August 2019, ExPandable Esports had more than 1,000 members, with eight teams of six to 10 people each.
Lo hopes the business stays afloat until he graduates. At that point, he says, “I will either apply the data analytics and finance major to the business, or I hope to gain enough experience to potentially find another job in the e-sports space.”
Exploring a field in person was impactful for Hilary Quinn ’19, now a financial analyst in the global capital markets with Morgan Stanley in New York City. As part of her Economics Management and Accounting fellowships, she visited financial firms in the Big Apple.
“I’ve always been comfortable working with numbers,” she says, “but after those trips I knew I wanted to end up doing something in finance in New York.”
During her sophomore year, she was introduced to OWU alumnus Danial Khan ’14 at Morgan Stanley. She secured an internship there her sophomore year, and she returned for another internship as a senior.
She credits both fellows programs — offered through The Woltemade Center — for her ability to link classroom learning to real life.
“Programs like these really show you what your reality can be,” she says. Now, being in the boardroom on the 40th floor looking out at the New York skyline, “really puts it into perspective.”
Industry experts, alumni support
Two Career Connection programs — the Career Catalyst and Alumni-in-Residence programs — are helping to place more structure into existing services, adds Ellis.
Career Connection has hired two career catalysts to support students: Carolyn Lammert as assistant director of the Career Catalyst program, who will provide expertise on economics and business, and Janelle Valdinger ’19, an expert on environmental sciences, geology, and geography.
The Alumni-in-Residence program brings alumni back to campus (virtual or in-person) to help students with career advice, mock interviews, cover letters, and resume reviews.
Caitlin McNaughton ’16, who had an internship with the Columbus Zoo and volunteered with the nonprofit Ohio Wildlife Center, which led to a full-time position as wildlife educator, is giving back as a Career Connection speaker.
A zoology and environmental studies major and Spanish minor, McNaughton says taking biology professor Laurel Anderson’s class “made me realize I wanted to work with animals. It made me feel like I could make a major impact.”
Today she oversees 65 animal “ambassadors,” works with 35 volunteers, and travels around the state speaking to groups, primarily schools, about how to appreciate and live with native species.
“I told the students that talking with mentors about your interests is a great way to help you start to broaden your horizons and find opportunities for growth. It’s all about being open to learning.”
Career Connection is also reaching out to young alumni who are within five years of graduation. Ellis and her team offered drop-in hours during Homecoming 2019 for young alumni and will soon introduce coffeehouse sessions for young alumni in Columbus and Cleveland to talk to them about their career path.
Alumni are encouraged to get involved with the Career Connection program. Contact Megan Ellis and the office via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Lisa Lopez Snyder