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Student Career Development as a Student Affairs Priority

Student Success Student Career Development
March 16, 2017 Heather Christman, Ph.D.

The recent NASPA annual conference marks one year since we kicked off the Student Career Development Knowledge Community (SCDKC).  In a packed room, we held our open meeting where those of us who attended shared our ideas about what we hoped could and should be a part of the agenda moving forward.  After an hour of robust dialogue with colleagues from all over the country, it was clear that our work has only just begun.  What was even clearer was that we need to be better about telling our story and mobilizing our colleagues from other functional areas to serve as our partners in supporting students on their career development journeys. 

When the SCDKC was started, the vision for our group was to increase awareness as to the importance of the process of student career development as a student affairs and higher education priority rather than something that rests solely on the shoulders of one department.  Today, more than ever, this remains our priority.  The packed sessions on career development that featured Vice Presidents and leadership in the field told me that there continues to be an appetite for better understanding how to leverage this national priority as a strategy for supporting our students as they develop toward their futures.   I am energized and excited as the possibilities for supporting students’ meaningful development toward their future pursuits are endless.  However, in order for our institutions to do this effectively, it requires each of us to understand that career development is not the sole responsibility of one unit, functional area, or of staff members who have the word “career” in their title.  The career development of our students must be an institutional priority for which each of us, regardless as to where we sit in the profession, is responsible. 

To support holistic career development that will result in students leading meaningful lives requires all of us to ask critical questions.  We must engage students in thinking about how they are making meaning of their curricular, co-curricular, and work experiences.  Student Affairs professionals have more opportunities than our colleagues in other divisions to interact with students regularly, build meaningful relationships, and create spaces where life’s big questions can be asked.  Regardless as to your functional area, you can and should be a part of the process.  Being a part of the process can be as simple as following up with students after programs, leadership experiences, or activities, to make space for asking questions like:

  •             In what ways do you see this connecting to life after college?
  • ·        What did you enjoy about that experience and in what ways did it challenge you? 
  • ·        How might you think about leveraging the experience in what you might do after graduation?
  • ·        How would you talk about what you did to someone else?  In what way did it support you learning to be a better ________ (e.g., team member, communicator, leader, critical thinker)

Being a part of the process can also be more robust such as partnering with career center staff to invite students to consider how they will communicate what they learned and apply it to professions of interest.  It could also mean bringing back alumni from various programs or organizations to talk about their professional experiences and how they connected their campus experiences to their chosen profession. 

Our SCDKC hopes all of our colleagues will come to understand that for those of us in the career services function, the world of careers is changing.  Our work is quite different than it was ten years ago when we were a placement office.  Our work is about serving as a catalyst for career development and working hand in hand with our colleagues in residence life, diversity affairs, first-year programs, student activities, leadership programs, and all other areas of the campus community, to ensure that we are all supporting students on journeys toward meaningful futures that start from the first day they step foot on our campus.  We need partners in this, and who better to partner with than our colleagues across the student affairs profession.  We hope that all of you, regardless of function or years in the field, will join us in the next year as we push forward career development as a student affairs strategic priority.