One Saturday this fall, students filled every seat in the Filene Center. What drew them away from homework and free time? The opportunity to chat with alumnae and alumni about how to navigate the path from college to careers in finance, health care, education, computer programming, publishing and more.
Career conversations such as the one held during the Alumnae/i Leadership Conference have become a regular feature of campus events. In many ways, these mentoring discussions between students and graduates are not so different from the lecture series that Catherine Filene Shouse ’18 convened at Wheaton in 1917. Her Intercollegiate Vocational Conference for Women represented a first for the college and for the entire United States. The purpose was to make jobs more accessible to women, and the conference she established continued at Wheaton into the 1950s.
Today, the Filene Center carries on that tradition with enthusiastic support from the college’s alumnae/i. Those who participate in these events enjoy getting to know current students and sharing what they have learned about how to make the most of a Wheaton education. If possible, students appreciate the programs even more.
Indeed, the college’s alumnae/i play a critical role in demonstrating the connections between our high-quality liberal arts programs and achieving professional success. The personal advice that students receive through career conversation programs and through our alumnae/i network is invaluable. In addition, the college is fortunate to have alumnae/i and parents who are able to arrange dedicated internship positions for Wheaton students each year. New opportunities ranging from HBO and the Fundación Cisneros in New York City to a Cambridge-based technology company are now available to students, thanks to the interest of the college community.
Philanthropic support also matters. It helps Wheaton to invest more than $700,000 each year in internships and other unpaid learning opportunities. Many named scholarships include a stipend to pursue these learning opportunities. The college also offers additional support through programs such as the Davis International Fellows, Mars Student-Faculty Research Partnerships and the Wheaton Fellows program.
Wheaton’s distinctive approach to the liberal arts matters. Our faculty embrace interdisciplinary study and experiential learning. Professors in every discipline, for example, involve students in research and scholarly projects that not only create opportunities to deepen academic knowledge but also exercise core skills in communication, collaboration, problem solving and independent thinking that are essential to career success.
Wheaton faculty also are exploring new ways to leverage the skills developed through liberal arts study. History professor John Bezis-Selfa served on a national panel of historians that has worked to standardize the kinds of core skills that the study of history should help students develop. And on campus, professors Touba Ghadessi from art history and Gen Liang from history will be launching the Wheaton Institute for Interdisciplinary Humanities, which plans to start out exploring the role of the humanities in professional careers.
At a time when college graduates face tremendous pressure and competition in jump-starting their careers, we want to ensure that our students enjoy an advantage. The Filene Center’s programs are a centerpiece of that strategy, and the center’s staff has dedicated itself to beefing up that connection by making improvements to every part of their offerings—from the design of programs to the ways in which they engage with students.
Technology offers new opportunities. The center has set aside a room in which students can conduct Skype video interviews with potential employers and internship sponsors. The room also is used to provide career counseling to students while they are participating in study abroad programs. And the Filene Center’s use of social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, offers students a daily stream of job postings, internship opportunities and reminders about upcoming programs.
In a fast-moving world, Wheaton needs to be both constant in its focus on providing an excellent liberal arts education and innovative in linking rigorous academic study to professional success and satisfaction. The key to being steadfast in our goal, and flexible in how we achieve it, lies in the active network of faculty, alumnae/i, staff, parents and friends who link our students to a world of opportunity.
Photo by Andy Heller