Kohawks begin vocation exploration their first year

Coe stone sign with SteepleAs the new academic year at Coe College begins, students are getting into the rhythm of classes, clubs, studying, time with friends and talking about dream jobs. For first- and second-year students, those conversations are carrying even more weight. 

A core group of faculty and staff from a variety of departments are collaborating with Coe’s C3: Creativity, Careers, Community center (C3) to engage students in finding their purpose and meaning in life beyond a career. Ben Peterson Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies Martin St. Clair and Associate Vice President for Advancement Barb Tupper '89 are leading the initiative.

For the last three years, the two have secured grants from the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE), a national network of colleges and universities advancing vocational exploration among undergraduate students. Last fall, Coe College was awarded a $50,000 Program Development Grant to implement a pilot First-Year Seminar curriculum (specifically focused on helping students explore and set personal goals), a sophomore experiential opportunity practicum and continued faculty and staff retreat professional development. 

“It fits our liberal arts mission. We already explain to students why we want them to take courses outside of their major. We want them to think about what life looks like outside of work. And when we add discussions about meaning and purpose, it is a nice fit to what we are doing at the college as a whole,” Tupper said. 

First-Year Seminar is a required course to help first-year students transition to college and Coe Assistant Professor of Psychology Sam Brown worked with other faculty to create curricular materials last fall focused on helping students make meaningful decisions concerning professional and personal goals. The new curriculum is serving as a pilot program in several First-Year Seminar classes before potentially expanding to all first-year students. Brown’s background in vocational psychology centers on researching the career development of adolescents and young adults. 

“First-Year Seminar will continue to help students transition into college life by providing fundamental skills and academic support. We are adding these discussions to get students to explore their horizons. We want them to get involved on campus and in leadership possibilities. It’s about helping them start to think of their life,” St. Clair said. 

Tupper noted the grants and collaboration with NetVUE also align with the mission in C3. The staff specializes in getting students out of the classroom and into real world experiences. These opportunities are emphasized through volunteering, community engagement and internships. Coe has been ranked by The Princeton Review as one of the top 25 best private colleges in the nation for internships five years in a row, and currently sits at No. 10 among private colleges.

“We see this as helping students find themselves as a whole person and not just a career. Ultimately, our goal is to integrate these vocational teachings into academic advising,” St. Clair said.

New this year is a retreat and practicum experience for sophomores called Sophomore Exploration, Engagement and Development (SEED), developed by C3’s Director of Community Engagement Joe Demarest. SEED will expand mentorships, externship and job shadows for students by engaging Coe’s active alumni network — the 20th Best Alumni network in the nation among private colleges and universities according to The Princeton Review. 

Tupper and St. Clair say the program is open to all sophomores to participate with an emphasis on students who are underrepresented, student-athletes and those who completed the pilot First-Year Seminar last year. 

“Sophomore year is critical for decisions, and we don’t want to stop the momentum we built in their first year. We want to encourage faculty and staff to share their experiences with students to show how careers and job searches aren’t always linear. It can take many paths,” Tupper said. 

To help students navigate these conversations, faculty and staff have participated in professional development seminars and retreats throughout the past couple years. They have focused on the meaning of vocation and collective action needed to empower students in their studies, community and interests. 

“We have been really impressed by the response of faculty and staff to this collective and ongoing project. It has created a renewed sense of community on campus and has allowed us all some space and time to share stories of how we each found — and continue to find — our own meaning and purpose, all of which will in turn help our students,” Tupper said.

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