This past Saturday, Taking the Next Step (TNS) took place at the Chicago Marriott. The Career Advancement (CA) Web site describes TNS as “a one-day, conference-style program early in Winter Quarter that allows second and third years to explore post-graduation options” where “college alumni and faculty from a variety of industries host panels and lunch roundtables to offer advice and answer questions.” Despite high attendance by alumni and students alike, students do not typically recognize TNS as a successful event, as their expectations are often left unfulfilled. In fact, the mixed success of TNS merely reflects the necessarily scattered effects of matching alumni with students based on relatively general criteria. The College Programming Office (CPO) and Career Advancement (CA) could greatly improve the impact of TNS by publicizing it for what it is: not a resource for general information about career possibilities but rather a way to glean insight from the particular experiences of particular alumni.
The mixed effects of alumni participation are evident in the lunch roundtable discussion segment of the event, in which program attendees are categorized by general area of interest. While several of these categories are very broad and encompass a greater variety of career paths, others are very specific. Within categories that include a wider scope of possible career paths (e.g. Social Sciences and Humanities), it is less likely that the alumni present have jobs that interest the students who attend. Other categories (e.g. Banking, Financial Services, and Corporate Finance), on the other hand, are more conducive to such compatibility. Additionally, some alumni are matched to a roundtable area based not on their current career, but on their past area of study in the College, further increasing the chances that students don’t encounter the knowledge they expect.
If Career Advancement intended Taking the Next Step to be a catch-all resource, informing students about a wide range of career options, this discrepancy between alumni and student interests would be noteworthy. Yet, this effect is unavoidable if CA is dedicated primarily to making TNS about facilitating student-alumni liaisons, and this latter approach is indeed the more valuable. While the sole use of alumni as contributors does limit the range of career experiences presented to students, the benefits of their identification with the University are manifold. No matter their past accomplishments or current positions, they are all well equipped to comment, at least generally, on how a UChicago education can continue to create opportunities after it has concluded. That advice is useful to all undergraduates, and CA is correct to dedicate such a large and extensive event to this purpose.
Therefore, students dissatisfied by TNS are likely so because they are mistaken about the event’s true objective. Those students most likely expect the event to function as an all-purpose informational career event when, instead, the distinct purpose of TNS is to facilitate connections with alumni and dialogue about their specific experiences. The problem with TNS therefore is not one of focus but one of marketing. The event could greatly expand its reach and impact among students by ensuring that the students’ expectations of the program are equivalent to its offerings.
By shifting its focus in this manner, TNS could appeal more to students who do not have a clear sense of what they plan to pursue post-graduation. If the CPO advertised TNS specifically as an opportunity to connect with alumni and discuss the impact of a UChicago education on career strategies, it would shed the unhelpful stigma it currently has of being only for those who can limit their future aspirations to three categories. In the wake of CA’s latest expanded offerings, which include specialized job circles and career fairs, it would be in its best interest to clarify the specific intent of each resource, rather than market each as an all-encompassing answer to career questions.
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