Building Experiences

The Center for Life’s Work is helping students visualize their fulfilled lives—and alumni are encouraged to help.

by Erich Van Dussen

experiences sphere illustration

To explain the significance of a unique new Nazareth initiative, Emily Carpenter starts by describing just how much the post-college employment landscape has evolved.

“We know from research that a student will only stay in their first job after graduation for 18 months, and they’ll probably change jobs 10 to 15 times during their career,” she says. What’s more, nearly two-thirds of students entering primary school today are predicted to ultimately work in positions whose job descriptions don’t even exist yet. “How do we prepare students for jobs that we can’t yet imagine?”

These trends aren’t necessarily problems to be solved, but they’re facts of life—and the Center for Life’s Work has been created to help Nazareth students prepare for this “new normal.”

“The world of work has changed—people don’t get out of college, start a job and stay until they collect a pension anymore,” says Carpenter, CFLW’s executive director. “That breeds flexibility and creativity; but there’s also more uncertainty, and more opportunities to make mistakes. We want students to experiment while they’re still in school, and make experiential learning an integrated part of their education.”

Nazareth is already nationally known for its curricular leadership in Experiential Learning, the formalized out-of-the-classroom experiences that are among the Core requirements for every Nazareth undergraduate degree. CFLW builds on that emphasis by merging the Career Services and Internship departments with the Center for Civic Engagement—which connects students with Core-qualifying service learning and community-service opportunities—while encouraging a wide range of supplemental experiences including alumni networking, shadowing, student clubs, and more.

At the same time, it’s also more than the sum of those parts. One key innovation is the new team of career coaches, ready to guide students in preparing for their post-Nazareth lives, beginning with their first year. Each CFLW coach takes a deep dive into a specific area of study, building connections with faculty, staff, alumni, employers, and the community at large.

This allows them to help students understand the full range of life and career choices related to that subject, and leverage the opportunities that inevitably arise from classes, internships, study-abroad semesters, and volunteer work.

For students to be exposed to as many experience-based encounters as possible, timing is everything. “I used to see most of my students at the end of their junior or senior year, looking for help with their resumes or for internship advice,” says Mike Kahl, Nazareth’s Director of Career Services, who now works as part of CFLW. “But last year we were able to connect with two-thirds of the freshman class. These were one-on-one appointments where we talked about their goals, and how the next four years might help them achieve those goals.”

“It’s much more than the short-term transactional assistance of Career Services,” adds Carpenter, whose resume included more than a decade of Career Services experience before she joined CFLW. “By engaging students early and in such a comprehensive way, our career coaches can offer personalized and supportive guidance from day one. It’s really a paradigm shift.”

Carpenter aims to have CFLW staff connect with even more freshmen in future years, to create long-term collaborative pathways that wind throughout their years at Nazareth—and lay the groundwork for post-college lives distinguished by not only career success, but a deeper sense of personal fulfillment.

“Your life’s work isn’t just about your job. It’s about things that make you a better parent, a better community member, a better spouse, a better person,” she says. “It’s something that will evolve over your life as your skills and interests evolve. We want students to be prepared for that as well as for the subjects they study. That combination of learning will help them find their life’s work, and achieve meaning and purpose.”

How can alumni help?

The Center’s newest hire, Assistant Director of Alumni and Employer Relations Kathryn Tonkovich, is dedicated to building a strong network of career-oriented graduates.

Specifically, CFLW is seeking more associations like the one formed with Keith Woedy ’85, a graduate of Nazareth’s School of Management who is now president of Legalis, a document-management company based in Raleigh, N.C. An internship at Xerox Corporation got him started on his career path, he recalls, “and I really wanted to pay it forward for more Naz students.”

Recognizing the need for paid interns at Legalis, he converted unused office space into fully furnished dorm-like facilities for out-of-town students. Two Nazareth underclassmen, Jason Partridge ’18 and Matthew May ’18, spent the summer working at Woedy’s company, freed of the burden of affording North Carolina accommodations.

“I know that for a lot of students, it can be tough to get to the internship and find a way to live while you’re doing it,” Woedy says. “This is a solution that helps them, and in the long run it helps my company, too. The more qualified people we can bring in, the better.”

May calls his temporary living space “pretty great—it’s nicer than my room at home,” and confirms that an out-of-town internship could have been problematic without it. He says the early efforts of CFLW are already noticeable among his peers—and important for plenty of students. “I know a lot of kids who are serious about school but don’t really know where they’re going next,” he says.

The commitment of alumni like Woedy—not only in supporting internships, but also in simply acting as a mentor—“can open doors for a lot of students,” Carpenter says. “I’d love to see that model replicated across the country. Imagine if we could find a way to do that for an art student looking for an opportunity in New York City.”

To that end, CFLW is working to develop robust support from Nazareth’s 33,000 alumni to provide mentoring assistance in their fields, fund grants for career-oriented internships, and other creative contributions. A pilot database will launch this fall, connecting students and career coaches with willing alumni in a few specific programs. The college-wide network is planned to go live in a year.

“We’re looking for people willing to raise their hands and say ‘Yes, call me’,” Carpenter says. “We know that we’re not alone in this. The entire college is invested in working to help students grow, and the bigger our network, the better for students.”

For now, the groundwork being laid by the Center for Life’s Work is helping students derive more value from their college experience—a very real consideration in the increasingly competitive world of higher education.

“We have a great team—they’re bright, and excited about their work, and they really want to get busy and do innovative things,” she says with a laugh. “And that’s great, because I want to do innovative things, too.”

For more information on mentoring or otherwise helping students, contact Kathryn Tonkovich at ktonkov5@naz.edu or at 585-389-4662.

Erich VanDussen is a freelance writer in Rochester, New York.


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