Hope rolls out innovative experiential learning center


Hope College is placing a greater emphasis on providing students with the tools and hands-on experience needed to land jobs after college.

The Holland-based private college revamped its academic counseling and career services department, establishing the Boerigter Center for Calling and Career that opened this year.

Shonn Colbrunn, a 1994 Hope alum and former Spectrum Health human resources senior director, was hired as the center’s executive director to lead the staff of 15, which includes academic counselors.

Compared to a traditional liberal arts college career services department, Colbrunn said the new center has expanded services, including consistent and efficient student advising, and alumni relations meant to better connect students with companies in their fields of interest.

Coming from the corporate world, he said the trick to getting a job goes beyond education.

“What you choose to major in does not lock you in for life,” he said. “What’s actually going to help you launch your career is the experiences you have.”

That’s why much of the center’s efforts will focus on experiential learning, such as internships.

A recent Hope survey showed 94 percent of 2017 graduates are in the workforce or in graduate school. Of that class, 96 percent of graduates went through some sort of experiential learning, he said.

College officials believe they can do even better, Colbrunn said, leading to this effort.

The change comes after a grant from Hudsonville-based safety lighting manufacturer SoundOff Signal in honor of the company’s founder and board chair, George Boerigter, who graduated from Hope in 1961.

The building the center is located in was renovated. The college is not disclosing the grant amount or the cost of renovations.

The new program was built through campus-wide conversations led by Karen Nordell Pearson, academic program assistant and former Hope interim provost, for 18 months before the launch.

Through a student’s college career, the center helps navigate three main pillars: discerning a career choice, preparation for that career and pursuing those career goals.

This voluntary program involves different steps for each college year.

Along with a first-year seminar class already part of Hope curriculum that helps students recognize their talents and passions, the center provides complementary exercises.

Colbrunn said the college is aware that many students begin without knowing what they want to pursue.

“We’re doubling down on doing a lot more for students to help them make those decisions early on in their college careers,” he said.

“The last thing we want is to let our students stumble into a major they’re not interested in.”

Later in the college career, the center will help students with areas such as interview skills, mock interviews, job shadowing and landing internships.

Colbrunn said a big change in the department is a stronger focus on company relations. A new position was added to focus on expanding and building relationships between the college and employers.

“As they look to hire Hope graduates, we want to make that as easy as possible,” he said.

Spectrum Health hires a lot of nurses from Hope College, for example, and Colbrunn said he hopes to strengthen that relationship, as well as enter other health care markets, such as administration and insurance.

One of the companies that has worked with Hope and plans to continue is Holland-based marketing agency Symposia Labs.

Tim Haines, Symposia owner, said he just hired a recent Hope grad who had completed an internship at the company two years ago. He hires interns from Hope every year.

His company employs only 10 people but receives about 10 job applications per week for positions that are not even posted, he said.

With that amount of competition, he said it is vital for students to get hands-on experience.

“If you’re a student and you don’t have hands-on experience, you don’t have much of a chance,” Haines said. “Every time I meet a student who’s passionate, I plead with them to get hands-on experience.”

Colbrunn said the college has high hopes for the new program, seeing a possibility for national recognition.

Colbrunn is “energized” to have switched careers to be a part of that, giving back to his alma mater where, he too, received help as an undecided student.

“HR people try to find and develop the best employees for their companies,” he said. “Here’s an opportunity to be on the other side of that equation and help Hope College grow the best employees for those companies.”

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