Center for Student Professional Development takes holistic approach

Today’s college students often don’t think about their work lives after graduation in the same way as their parents. Factors such as a tight economy, globalization, new technology and telecommuting have created a rapidly evolving job market that has caused some colleges and universities to reconsider the value of preparing students for a traditional career.

The Center for Student Professional Development, formerly the Vanderbilt Career Center, is rolling out a new mission and a new name that reflects its holistic approach to preparing students to be resilient in these uncertain times.

Two years ago, center staff began looking at how they could best prepare students for opportunities while in school and after graduation. After numerous conversations with Vanderbilt faculty and staff representing a variety of academic disciplines, high-profile employers, alumni and parents and leading peer institutions, the staff developed a comprehensive strategy designed to help students map out the knowledge and behaviors that they will need in their professional lives.

These include identifying strengths and interests, understanding change and managing transitions, professionalism at school and in the workplace, understanding and pursuing opportunities, and identifying networks and leveraging personal connections.

“Integrating professional development activities across campus with the help of our many partners, such as residential education and the academic departments, allows us to present these concepts in the students’ world,” said center director Cindy Funk. “Now students will receive this information from a professor in the classroom, through our work with student organizations, or in their houses at The Ingram Commons. In the future, we look forward to continuing this work with the next phase of the university’s residential college system, College Halls. We want professional development to be a coordinated effort for students at Vanderbilt.”

While many traditional career centers match students’ majors to specific job sectors, Funk says the professional development model gives Vanderbilt students a competitive edge in the market by expanding their options and providing increased access to opportunities.

“What is more relevant now is to help them understand persistent themes and patterns in their lives that are indicators of where they may fit and excel in the workplace over time,” Funk said. “It is also important for students to creatively construct their unique Vanderbilt experience using the many wonderful assets we have on campus and in the Vanderbilt community.”

To prepare staff and campus partners for this change, the center brought Jim Bright, a noted Australian career theorist and author, to campus this summer. His emerging theory and popular books emphasize taking action during ambiguity, flexible planning, valuing chance events, understanding lifelong themes and patterns and understanding that change often brings opportunities.

The center will continue its successful employer relations program that connects students to some of the top U.S. and international employers. “While these are great opportunities that allow students to walk across campus to interview with Fortune 500 companies, we also want to teach them how to be self-reliant and how to discover and secure opportunities once they leave campus,” Funk said.