Posted by the Editorial Board
While every college aims to arm their graduates with the skills needed to succeed professionally, liberal arts schools traditionally eschew vocational instruction and focus on education for its own sake. Skidmore does not entirely fit this mold, as our mission statement specifically proscribes programs to train students "with preparation for professions, careers, and community leadership." Such an aim implies service learning and professional opportunities, not to mention programs to procure such opportunities within academic departments.
Skidmore has demonstrated its dedication to offering such opportunities as administration has begun planning a major overhaul of the Career Services Center. As this redesign develops, administration should aim to make the Center more central to student life and better affect professional preparation across campus.
Though at present academic advisors help students develop in a specific discipline and academic departments host events and guest lecturers to showcase career paths open to them, the office that guides students toward these paths is the Career Services Center. The Center offers one-on-one counseling sessions, where students are given personal advice and shown tools to find jobs and internships. In addition, students can attend seminars, use the books and directories found at the Career Center, and, as seniors and recent graduates, use Skidmore's recruiting program to get job listings and event notifications.
These offerings, while significant, are tailored to students willing to put in the effort to get started — no counseling sessions are required and, apart from the occasional event listed in mass emails, the Center makes few attempts to lure in students. This approach works only if students understand the Center and what it offers, and feel the pressure to take advantage of the opportunities it affords.
When should students feel this pressure? While Penny Loretto, Assistant Director of Career Services, says, "We always insist, the earlier, the better," the idea that students should use the center as soon as they can adds no sense of structure or purpose to the process. Though the Center attempts to make itself seen by freshmen and seniors, students may not feel pushed to stop by until they start looking for internships for their second collegiate summer after sophomore year.
Rather than focusing on pushing students to go whenever and as soon as they can make the time, the Center should be specific, letting faculty advisors know that, if their advisees have still never been to the Center by the end of their first year, for example, they should push them to make an appointment.
Another cause for concern is the lack of proportionate commitment to professional development across all departments. In the Theater department, Lary Opitz actively helps seniors set up a biography, take professional head shots, and lay the groundwork for a career in theater. In the Philosophy department, on the other hand, there is little to no discussion of life after college besides a handout given to potential majors early in the academic year. Every department should, as far as its field of study lends itself, have a standard for career development, and encourage students to visit the Career Services Center at certain times.
Currently, some departments see college education as serving no end other than self-improvement, while other departments actively attempt to teach marketable skills. If Skidmore is dedicated to its endorsement of service learning and professional development, faculty should internalize the school's mission and not fight it to the detriment of some students.
As Career Services is given its upgrade, a focus should be made at all levels of the college to embrace the services it offers. Career Services should not be a marginal resource on any campus, least of all one that professes a dedication to preparing its students for careers after they graduate.