The Valdosta Daily Times
With classes starting on Monday for Valdosta State University, a new class of freshman students are starting out on their college careers.
But what about after that? Some freshmen come in with a clear idea of the career path they want, only to change their minds several times throughout their degree. Others come in with no idea beyond a vague notion of what they don't want to do.
And all are welcome at VSU's Office of Career Opportunities
“Most students who come to see us, they have an idea or they think they have an idea,” said Dr. Gerald A. Williams Jr., Director of Career Opportunities. “Even the student that's undecided has an idea.”
Career Opportunities, or CO, located in Powell Hall West on VSU's main campus, works with students to help them figure out what it is they want to do post-college. They start with counseling sessions, talking to students about what they're interested in, what their life goals are and what makes them happy.
“We don't want you to just go out and get a job, because you can get a job and be miserable. We really want you to determine what vocation will bring you satisfaction.”
Counselors also utilize several tools, such as the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, to help students discover more about themselves and what career fields might mesh best with who they are.
“Part of it is self-discovery...You have a good year to discover yourself, but by the end of the second semester, we want you to have a good idea of where you want to go.”
Once that's figured out, Career Opportunities helps them develop their own skills and find opportunities in their fields. Of course, figuring out what you want to do with your life can be hard enough, to say nothing of gaining experience and landing a job in your discipline.
That's why CO has developed a four-year plan for students.
In the second year, students investigate career options in the field they've decided to go into, talking with people in the field and searching for hands-on learning in that field: part-time jobs, internships, shadowing.
“Some majors require you to do an internship or shadowing, but we want you to get those experiences even if it’s not within your academic requirement.”
CO works both with large companies and smaller, mom-and-pop operations to help students find part-time work and internship opportunities. In turn, they also help those smaller companies, offering workshops for how to attract and retain good employees.
“Students come to get the degree, but we need to make sure that our students are marketable.”
The third year finds students focusing on the specific jobs and positions within the field they are interested in and developing their resume. Students are also encouraged to investigate graduate and professional schools if they have an interest in pursuing a second degree.
In the fourth year plan, students gear up for post-graduation, networking, researching companies, learning strategies for job searching and job interviews.
“Once a student graduates, you want to go ahead and have relationships with companies and corporations outside of the Lowndes county area. Our students don't all graduate and stay here...For us, it's not just can you write a good resume, it’s can you compete in Lowndes County and can you compete in China, can you compete in Georgia and California?”
CO's career counselors work to prepare students to compete. It's a job that requires constant attunement to where industries are. In the time it takes a student to finish a bachelor's program—four to six years on average—an industry can go through massive changes.
“Technology touches every industry, no matter what the industry is...and it's exponentially going faster.”
It's a fact that's true even at Career Opportunities, where they are developing their social media presence to reach more students earlier.
“We're having to rethink how to reach our students. We've got to do Twitter, we've got to do Pinterest, all of that...The emails, the letters, that's not working...If we can see them on that first semester, we can start that dialogue earlier and that's going to guide their academic decisions.”
While Williams would prefer all students to come in during their first year, CO works with many students in their second, third, even fourth year who are coming in for the first time.
“We'll find you where you are and get to you where you need to be.”
This continues even after graduation, with CO offering their services to any and all alumni of VSU.
“As long as you have come through these doors and graduated, you can always come back to this department. Particularly with how the economy is, a lot of people have lost their job or employment. They can still come back. As long as you're an alumni, we're going to do whatever we can. We're committed.”
Indeed, that's something that Williams wants to develop more, the relationship between the office and alumni.
“All of our services are available for alumni. You have people out there who charge an arm and a leg for the same services we do for free or a small fee.”
That stretches all the way from alumni who have just graduated back to alumni who graduated decades ago.
“It's a challenge, but everyone has something to give, no matter what stage of life they're in.”
Many of CO's services can also be used online, reaching out to alumni who have moved away or back home since graduating. Additionally, VSU has been growing its online presence in recent years, offering more online class options, and with that comes more online students. Career Opportunities is also working to also serve that segment of the student population.
“We're utilizing technology to better serve our online students and our alumni. We're doing everything we can to get students to employers and employers to students.”