The Center for Vocation and Career (CVC) launched the Faculty Fellows program, led by CVC Director Dee Pierce and 11 professors, this January. The fellows act as CVC ambassadors in the classroom, using CVC materials to offer career advice or promote CVC programs in class weekly. The program is part of the CVC’s move this year to expand its programming beyond events. COVID-19 protocols like distancing and room capacities make event logistics difficult, and according to Pierce, CVC data has found that attendance at past in-person CVC events is disproportionately low for underserved groups.
The CVC Faculty Fellows include professors in social sciences, natural sciences, communication, music, humanities and Christian formation and ministry. Once a week, each fellow selects one of 41 informational slides that advertise CVC resources or contain facts about the job market, such as “70% of jobs are obtained through networking,” to present and discuss in class. Fellows also meet monthly to discuss career questions from students. Participants will also create an academic assignment teaching a marketable skill, such as critical thinking or nonacademic writing. The assignments will be designed for use in any department and uploaded to Schoology by June 30 for all faculty to access. Fellows receive a small stipend for their participation.
Support from Provost Karen Lee helped launch the initiative. After conversations with Pierce at a conference in November, Lee reached out to the deans of academic departments to recruit faculty to participate in the program. “Faculty are the people students are connected to,” Pierce said. “They are the trusted advisers, and students see them more than anyone else. We know students are going to faculty to ask about what they should do [after college]. This way, faculty are having those conversations with the experts behind them.”
Assistant Professor of Geology Kathryn Maneiro has been incorporating a different Faculty Fellow slide into her introductory geology and environmental science classes each Friday. “It helps our students understand where they are gaining marketable skills where they might not have expected that,” said Maneiro.
Maneiro plans to design her Faculty Fellows assignment to teach resilience, which she said is “the ability for students to persist and try things from different angles before giving up.” The fellows study employer surveys, as well as the National Association of Colleges and Employers list of career competencies, as part of the program.
Students gain resiliency through labs and difficult coursework in Maneiro’s classes, but she said the skill goes beyond the science department. For example, Conservatory students must practice a piece many times until they can perform it perfectly. Maneiro’s assignment will assist faculty outside the program to help students identify and exercise resiliency in their own disciplines.
Assistant Professor of Communication Danielle Corple shares a slide from the CVC to begin each class in her course on the fundamentals of oral communication.
“Dr. Corple helped me realize I need an internship, and I wouldn’t have known that unless she did [the Faculty Fellows program],” said sophomore communication major Zie Moyes. Corple, who told the class about the CVC’s internship scholarship for unpaid or underpaid internships, later helped Moyes start looking for a summer internship.
Sophomore Economics major Noah Rendon is taking Elementary German II with Assistant Professor of German and German Studies Melissa Elliot, another fellow. Rendon signed up for a CVC drop-in as part of his internship search after Elliot shared about that opportunity in class.
“[Dr. Elliot] really believes in what the CVC is doing, and she is enthusiastic about sharing it with us,” Rendon said. This week, Elliot told the class about her own experience getting hired at Wheaton as part of a discussion about skills employers are looking for, such as flexibility and critical thinking.
The pandemic has emphasized the CVC’s role at Wheaton. Freshman admission decreased roughly 20 percent this year, mirroring the national decline in college enrollment due to COVID-19. Wheaton’s 2020 fiscal plan includes budget cuts to combat a projected $10 million in losses suffered by the college also due to the pandemic. In the wake of these financial and enrollment-related challenges, the CVC aims to help prove the real-world value of a Wheaton education.
Pierce said she hopes the classroom engagement will help the CVC reach all students, especially those in groups that may be less likely to visit the CVC because of lower social capital.
“Social capital is the belief that you can walk into a situation and engage,” said Pierce. “For the CVC, it means a student has the confidence to come into our space and begin to ask questions. Research shows there are certain demographics who may not have as much social capital.”
Pierce said those demographics include first-generation students, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, international students and Black and Latinx students. The CVC launched Career Communities in February. These groups meet monthly to connect students with alumni and CVC representatives in career support groups organized by industry. Two subgroups cater to Black and Latinx students, and a group for Asian students will launch in April.
“I was a first-generation student,” said Pierce. “I didn’t know what resources I could ask for or what was appropriate. What often happens is you end up not asking anyone.”
The CVC’s previous programming included Canvas — a series of events helping sophomores explore vocation, culminating in a celebration of students’ choice of major at the Declaration Dinner — and Networking Night. COVID-19 made those events impossible this year, but it’s not the only factor in the shift to other programming avenues.
Data the CVC collected on pre-COVID events showed groups with lower social capital were underrepresented at these events. That data prompted Pierce to rethink the effectiveness of an event-focused approach.
Some events may return as they were pre-COVID. Pierce said Taco Tuesdays, where students hear from alumni in a given industry, “aren’t going anywhere.” Other events may change drastically. Pierce and her CVC colleagues are still discussing how many events the CVC will continue hosting and how they may change to feel more accessible to all students. For example, the Declaration Dinner, which has in the past been a formal event, may become more casual.
Other new programs this year that are not event-based include MySkills summer micro-internships, in which students hone a skill through LinkedIn Learning courses, meetings with alumni and a project, such as conducting a survey or writing copy for the college’s website.
It will be the Faculty Fellows’ job to make sure their students know about CVC programs like MySkills. “[The CVC] has a ton of fantastic programs, but not all of our students are taking advantage of them or even know they’re there,” Maneiro said. “[Presenting CVC materials] in classes that are heavily enrolled in different departments makes it easier to fill in some of those gaps.”