By Richard Burnett
Boosted by a new and improved headquarters, Beacon College’s Juan & Lisa Jones Center for Career Preparation has launched a wide-ranging outreach program this school year, powered by a growing career advisory team housed in its expanded, tech-enhanced facilities.
The team has reached out to all Beacon students — including freshmen and sophomores — to raise awareness of the state-of-the-art career-building resources available to them, from interactive video conferencing and an online support platform to internship assistance and job search help.
Tailoring its approach to each age group and major, the team has energized Beacon’s four-year career development model by giving equal attention to students early in their college career, according to Dr. James Williams, interim director of career advisement, development and partnership.
“In the past, Beacon has been like most colleges in career development, focusing more on juniors and seniors,” said Williams, who joined Beacon in mid-2021 and redesigned its approach. “Now, we’re being much more inclusive of younger students and intentional in the services that we offer them. We realized that we had been getting to know far too many students too late in their college career.”
In the new approach, career advisors are making contact, raising awareness and providing information to younger students soon after they are on campus, Williams said. That will help the team track and support a student’s career development from the early days to graduation.
‘A more relaxed conversation’
A key to doing that successfully is building an effective rapport with the students, according to Williams.
“Career development is a stressful and anxiety-enhancing process for these young people, especially new students who are just trying to figure out how to pass their classes,” he said. “We have worked hard to make that process less scary, to remove the anxiety and fear, and make it a more relaxed, friendly conversation.”
As a senior career adviser, Chealsie Curts has been on the frontlines of those conversations. She has seen the students’ angst when they talk about career and the future. She has also learned how to win their trust initially, often by meeting them in the classroom along with a teacher, learning specialist or other trusted staff they already know.
“We go where they are, where they are already comfortable,” said Curts, the team’s coordinator of career advisement. “That helps us show them we aren’t scary, that they can talk to us. Later, when we meet with them for an appointment, they know who we are. And we can help them not be overwhelmed, but to understand this career search is not happening all at one time. We’ll help them through it step by step.”
Navigating the learning differences
Curts and the team must also navigate the unique needs of Beacon’s neurodivergent students and their learning differences. In one case, she recalled writing information on a series of Post-it notes for a student who learned and organized their world that way.
“Every meeting, every appointment, every person is different,” she said. “We have to be prepared to use whatever way is most effective to reach the student and help them learn, whether it is a piece of paper, an email or a Post-it note.”
Curts has also worked with a number of neurodivergent students who have overcome adversity in the workplace. One young woman, who was diagnosed with dyslexia, landed a job and disclosed to her supervisor she would likely take longer to do some tasks because of her learning differences.
“Instead of acceptance, she became the outcast of the office, excluded from things like lunches and coffee breaks,” Curts said. “You’d think that an experience like that would give you a negative outlook for the rest of your life and career. But now, she wants to go into education and be a light for students who have similar learning differences as she does.”
To make the good better
When he took the helm of Beacon’s career development program, Williams knew he was stepping into a successful space. Before the pandemic, the college’s surveys showed 85% of graduates found employment after graduation. After falling to about 70% during the pandemic, the numbers are now recovering toward the former level.
For Williams, the goal is to make a good program better. “85% is about as good as it gets for any college,” he noted. But improving the connection between employment and students’ majors is a goal, Williams said, adding, we need to know what more we can to do to prepare them for their career path.”
To create more opportunities for Beacon’s students, the career development center is expanding the program’s partnership network — employers who work with the college to hire promising graduates and accommodate their learning differences. That is a major part of the strategy going forward, Williams said.
“Our strategy is to expand our relationship with our partners at the highest level,” he said. “It is important to know that when it comes to students with learning differences, just having hope is not a strategy. Our strategy is to be very intentional in building the pipeline between employers and our students.”