Oct. 6, 2023
Career readiness for students is the goal for VCU’s new College-to-Career Blueprint
The program, launched this year in collaboration with nine departments in the College of Humanities and Sciences, will make career conversations, experiential learning and internships a more seamless part of students’ experience.
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Virginia Commonwealth University is piloting an expanded initiative to strengthen its career readiness efforts and prepare students and educators for the evolving workforce of today. In its first year, the program has the potential to impact more than 4,000 students as they prepare for life after graduation.
The College-to-Career (C2C) Blueprint, a pilot program between VCU Career Services, VCU REAL and the College of Humanities and Sciences, focuses on faculty engagement, student support and increased internship participation, with the aim of equipping students with the skills they need to find, acquire and grow within their job after college.
“It’s in the best interest of our students that we help them consider and explore career possibilities throughout their time at VCU, beginning as soon as possible in their academic journey,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “This pilot program is an important step in our work to infuse transformative learning opportunities throughout VCU academic programs and chip away at that old myth that college learning and career preparation are separate things.”
Samara Reynolds, executive director of VCU Career Services who co-led the development of the C2C Blueprint alongside Michael Southam-Gerow, Ph.D., and Erin Webster-Garrett, Ph.D., said the goal has been to “have internships and career readiness woven into the classroom experience” in a way that is seamless for students.
“We know that internships and career readiness are great for students’ success, and the C2C Blueprint approach will make those even more accessible to students,” Reynolds said. “We already have a shared campus commitment to infusing that into the curriculum wherever possible, and this work will bring additional faculty members and academic advisors into the space to serve as leaders when it comes to career readiness and internships. This effort is really meant to empower them, provide resources, provide connections and make what is a big effort a little bit easier by being able to guide them as partners through this work.”
Reynolds, Southam-Gerow, a professor in the Department of Psychology, and Webster-Garrett, associate vice provost for VCU REAL, began work to develop the program in 2020 after earning a grant from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). Their work, collaborating with project team members Shawn Jones, Ph.D., and LaToya Davis of the Department of Psychology and Krystle Dorsey and Danielle Pearles of VCU Career Services, resulted in the development of a comprehensive, customizable C2C Blueprint.
The next phase of the program launched this year involving intentional partnership with nine departments in the College of Humanities and Sciences, with support from its dean, Catherine Ingrassia, Ph.D., and could expand further within VCU in the coming years.
“We are excited to pilot the C2C Blueprint in the College of Humanities and Sciences,” Ingrassia said. “This new program will enable our students not only to learn more about their passions, but also to equip them with the skills and experiences needed to distinguish themselves on the job market after graduation, giving them a competitive edge to pursue their dream careers.”
For students entering the workforce, there are tangible benefits to exploring internships and experiential learning early, Reynolds said. Internships and other co-curricular experiences provide students with the hands-on learning and social capital they need to thrive after college. Among VCU’s undergraduate students who received their degrees in May 2022 and completed the First Destination Survey, 74% reported that they participated in at least one or more co-curricular experience. Of those students, 26% received offers of full-time employment as a result of their experience.
“Just starting that career conversation, that internship and experiential learning conversation early and often sets them up for success. Our hope is, if students have an internship in their first or second year, that sets them up to have an even more robust experience in their junior or heading into their senior year. All of that is going to set them up for more clarity on what they want to do after graduation and then, ideally, more professional connections and experiences that give them the opportunities they want.”Samara Reynolds, executive director of VCU Career Services who co-led the development of the C2C Blueprint
And data from May 2022 VCU graduates shows the difference experiential learning makes: More than 1 in 4 graduating students who reported participating in an experiential learning opportunity, such as an internship, received a job offer directly as a result of that experiential learning opportunity within six months after graduation.
“Starting that career conversation, that internship and experiential learning conversation early and often sets them up for success,” Reynolds said. “Our hope is, if students have an internship in their first or second year, that sets them up to have an even more robust experience during their junior or heading into their senior year. All of that is going to set them up for more clarity on what they want to do after graduation and then, ideally, more professional connections and experiences that give them the opportunities they want.”
Nine departments in the College of Humanities and Sciences have been engaging in the C2C Blueprint expansion program’s first year (2023-2024): African American Studies, Biology, English, History, Kinesiology and Health Sciences, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology and Interdisciplinary Science.
Students majoring in these areas may see more conversations with their professors about internships and jobs inside and outside of the classroom and more internship courses available to them in their department, Reynolds said. Faculty will receive the latest information and training to stay up-to-date on what’s changing in their fields, which can prepare them to have those career conversations more readily. Five faculty members from departments across the College of Humanities and Sciences also elected to complete the VCU Career Champions training program this semester, showing additional commitment to intentionally supporting students’ career-related interests and experiences throughout the year.
The C2C initiative is one of many transformative learning experiences VCU offers to better prepare VCU students for life after graduation, including a minor in career readiness, first- and second-year student success courses to help students navigate life during and after college and major maps to help students make the most of their experience at VCU. These go hand-in-hand with VCU’s Internship Funding Program to support students with unpaid internships, its Suit Yourself Closet to dress for success in interviews and its network of more than 218,000 living alumni.
“We know that students and their families are looking for a return on investment. They’re looking for those career connections. They want to know if they come here that they’re going to be set up for success,” Reynolds said. “And this is just one more piece of that puzzle.”
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