Career Services uses three programs to help freshmen think ahead

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In 2014, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) released a survey that suggested about half of graduating seniors didn’t have a plan for their future.

Willamette wants to change that.

The Class of 2018 marks the first class to experience three connected programs developed by Career Services called Compass, Roadmap to Success and Passport to Professionalism. These programs help first-year students develop several tools to prepare them for life after college, such as how to create career portfolios, communicate with perspective employers and reflect on their goals and strengths.

“I have not found another university in the country doing this,” says Jerry Houser, who directs Career Services. “We are making the ripple in the industry right now.”


Under the Compass program, every first-year student must complete a variety of career-building activities, from seeing an academic advisor to taking a freshman orientation class outside their regular colloquium series.

They are also required to build an E-portfolio — an online site where they reflect on their work and growth.

These are among a variety of tasks students must complete before registering for spring semester classes.

“Several universities have aspects of this program, but I have not found the integration of a freshman first-year class and Compass program imbedded into academic advising and required by registration,” Houser says.

Dean of Campus Life David Douglass, who played a significant role in the creation of this program, says it will help students form a habit of planning for the future.

“They are accountable to themselves for this during a very busy time in their lives,” Douglass says. “I just really want them to have a positive experience with it and recognize it’s all about them.”

After the first year, Douglass and other key administrators will evaluate the program’s effectiveness and make changes if needed.

For freshmen Anna Landgren and Madelaine Au, the program is already making a significant impact.

“It reminds me to think about my future and what I can do now to work towards my goals,” Au says. “It is important for getting the most out of our liberal arts education and understanding early on how we can shape our path at Willamette.”

Landgren agrees, adding that students will get as much out of the program as they put into it.

“During one class, we had to sort through a pile of about 50 cards with different ‘value’ words on them,” she says. “Identifying my own values was difficult, but in the end, I actually realized things about myself I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Roadmap and Passport

A little more than three years ago, Houser struggled with finding a way to help panicking seniors.

“We are so busy pulling drowning seniors out of the river and resuscitating them,” Houser says. “Then we asked, can’t we go upstream and stop them from falling in the river in the first place?”

Houser realized he needed help from university faculty, so to get them on board, his team created activities professors don’t have to teach, deliver or grade. All they have to do is assign the work.

“This is the nudge students need, for someone to require them to do it,” Houser says.

To further help faculty, Houser started the “Don’t Cancel that Class” program. If a faculty member is out of town, Houser will instruct the class — using the time to teach activities included in the Roadmap program.

During the past three years, he’s visited about 100 classes.

“It’s an innovation that isn’t recognized by people who are in it, but nationally it’s talked about all the time,” Houser says. “Faculty are not traditionally involved. We have some solutions that are actually very creative and effective.”

In 2011, the Roadmap won the MPACE 3i award and a grant from the Mountain Pacific Association of Colleges and Employers. It won another award in 2012 from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

The Passport program complements Roadmap by introducing students to professional “soft skills” not taught in class, such as learning how to dress in a professional setting and how to write emails to employers.

The program is offered online and is administered by students’ internship and work supervisors, both on and off campus.

According to NACE, more than 60 percent of graduating seniors will visit a career center two or fewer times, so it’s important to Career Services to reach out and connect more with the students, Houser says.

“We wanted to create a reflective piece so that when students graduate, they have been introduced to key concepts and know enough to ask or be aware of what’s appropriate or not,” he says. “By taking this action, I think we can reduce this fraction of students who aren’t prepared.”

Gauging Effectiveness

When the Class of 2018 graduates, Houser says he’ll be better able to gauge if these three programs are effective. However, measuring success is never easy.

“It’s not about having a job,” he says. “It’s about having a plan. One class or semester might not completely change someone’s life and way of thinking, but it will be an influential factor.

“After hearing these things over and over again, when it’s systemic, then you have an accumulative effect.”

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