Career coach Brandon Jacob, right, meets with Jonathan Wheeler, a psychology major. Courtesy Calvin College
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) When parents of prospective students go on college tours or talk to recruiters, one of the first things they ask is, “How will your school help my kid get a job?”
Grand Rapids-based Calvin College is launching a new program this fall that aims to answer that question.
Calvin LifeWork is an opt-in, co-curricular program that will take students from their first through final years in college, addressing four main areas: vocation, career readiness, financial literacy and life skills, and leadership development.
Michael Le Roy, Calvin College president, said the program, which is included with tuition, launches for freshmen this fall.
“Many of our incoming students cite this program as the reason they have chosen Calvin,” he said.
TaRita Johnson, director of Calvin’s Career Center, will oversee LifeWork. She said students were asked during the enrollment process if they would like to try it.
“As with all of the students admitted to Calvin, there’s a system they go through called Slate, and they can check the box if they’re interested in Calvin LifeWork,” she said. “If they say they are interested, we automatically enroll them, and once they get on campus, they can activate their enrollment.”
Le Roy said the college made the program voluntary in part because students tend to learn better when they are excited about the subject matter.
“(LifeWork is meant) to put career development in context of calling,” he said. “How can we put that at the center of the educational experience? And how can we make it so compelling that students opt in instead of requiring them to do it?
“Part of career readiness is being personally responsible, self-directed and self-motivated. That’s why we created this to be a voluntary program.”
All four years of the program will include career coaching, in-person workshops and online modules. In Years 1 and 2, the content will concentrate on self-discovery and soft skills training, such as communication and cultural competence.
In Year 3, the Career Center will aim to help students find internships through Calvin’s partnerships with area businesses — or other opportunities for experiential learning, such as research projects.
Year 4 in the program will help connect students to employers, encourage them to join professional organizations and teach them how to adjust to life in a new town with a new job.
Students who stick with the program all four years will receive a $3,000 scholarship their senior year.
LifeWork is a co-curricular program, so students won’t receive credit for participating.
Le Roy said the program is designed to fit flexibly around all class schedules and to work in tandem with what students are learning in the classroom, whatever their major might be.
“Let’s say students major in math,” he said. “They want to be a teacher, but they get into a teaching class and say, ‘I don’t like it; now what do I do?’ This program comes alongside students and says, ‘You can be an actuary or you can go into data science, which is really in demand right now.’ My concern was that if it was a course for credit, it would be a siloed experience.”
Johnson said the program will match students majoring in categories such as STEM, humanities, business and communications with Career Center coaches in corresponding disciplines. But the group workshops will put students of all majors together, to encourage interdisciplinary learning.
“Even if their major is undecided, they all go through it together,” she said.
Calvin faculty members have been and will be involved in the program, from content development to recording online modules to leading workshops.
Johnson said Calvin currently uses a university recruiting platform called Handshake, where employers post job openings for students.
“We have close to 10,000 employers that students have access to and employers who have posted positions for Calvin students,” she said. “Also, employers engage with us at career fairs, on-campus recruiting, on-campus interviews, presentations and events.”
She said the college is looking to develop new partnerships in the business community to boost that number even higher.
Le Roy said one mutually beneficial feature that has come from this project is hearing from employers about what they are looking for and then incorporating that feedback into the LifeWork curriculum.
“We have consulted employers extensively in the development of this program to make sure it’s useful for them, and that our students will have access to them,” he said.
Johnson said employers said it’s not enough for a student to graduate college with skills in his or her discipline.
“We benchmarked with different schools and employers, and they told us a lot of (skills) are lacking … soft skills, being able to manage oneself and one’s career … some of these things that will make a stronger employee coming into the door.
“We want them to come into the job and not only have the job skills, but also those soft skills that are essential to career and life success in general.”