Going into undergrad I had a plan. I was majoring in Environmental Economics and Management and I was going to be the person that gets called to environmental disasters in order to put a dollar amount on all of it. I was going to take over the world one company at a time. Clearly this plan was A) not well thought out and B) nowhere near where I ended up. Where I am today and where I thought I would be do not even exist in the same solar system. So what happened?
Halfway through Master’s degree number one, I woke up and said to myself “I am so not ready for this.” I was about to be 24 years old, graduating with a Master’s degree, and expected to finally make Plan A a reality. However, Plan A no longer appealed to me and I did not know what to do. So, I joined the Peace Corps…because that totally made sense in my head. No clue what to do with your life? No worries, just hop on a plane and live in a foreign country for two years. HA! That’s what happened though and it is why I am where I am today as I write this blog post.
My internship program has brought many students my way who do really have it all figured out and their Plan A is the traditional academic/career path and they see it through to fruition. Great! If that’s your student then tell him or her to rock on! However, a lot of students wind up working on Plan F v.2.9 or we have students who want Plan A to be non-traditional. How do we help those students? What is out there for the student who wants to do things a bit differently?
I am not talking about internships, externships, fellowships, or job shadowing. There are certainly wild and crazy opportunities that fall into those categories. But, these are what I would consider to be mainstream, part of any solid traditional academic plan. What do we do for the student who has no choice but to do things a bit more “out there” in order to gain credibility in their chosen field? You do not get a job in international development by never leaving the safety of your classroom and textbook.
Let us take a couple different students and a couple different opportunities and see where it takes us…
The student who wants to go to medical school but needs to stand out. Have you ever thought about AmeriCorps? AmeriCorps seems to be most widely known as the volunteer organization for those new graduates in the teaching field who want an alternative career start. That is not the only experience they provide. AmeriCorps is an extensive national volunteer organization providing experiences in health, education, public safety, and the environment. At the moment I am writing this, there are over one hundred volunteer opportunities listed in the health field. A recent graduate can boost their resume by providing health education services at a non-profit clinic or by being on a team providing HIV testing services in a major United States city. The skills gained could make a medical school application review committee sit up and take notice.
The student who wants to do graduate work that includes international development.
Have you ever thought about the Peace Corps? In my experience, the least known facets of the Peace Corps are their university programs. One program, Master’s International, allows a person to combine Peace Corps service with their graduate work. A person starts by completing their coursework at their graduate institution, moving into their two years of service, and then returns to their academic institution to finish whatever culminating project or paper is stipulated by the graduate program. Your student now gets to apply for their dream job at an international aid foundation already having a graduate degree and two years of development experience under his or her belt.
Obviously two examples does not an exhaustive list make. It is just a starting point for where to look when trying to help a student find a different way. As higher education professionals, we all come in contact with students in a variety of contexts. Our roles might be as a career and internship advisor, academic advisor, or a student union staff member overseeing a cadre of student organizations.
We all have students we meet with regularly, who will seek our advice, and we risk falling in to the trap of focusing on what they can do right now. But, stop and think. What were some of the more eyebrow raising decisions you made that brought you to where you are right now and what are the most beneficial building blocks to add to that specific student’s path forward?
We try to jam pack their four years with as many opportunities as their summer and academic curriculums can handle so that they are prepared the second they graduate. Learning does not need to be a sprint to the finish line. It can be, and I argue we can encourage it to be, a cross-country marathon that does not necessarily have to end with just a cap and gown.
About the Author: Brianne Neptin graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a B.S. in Environmental Economics and Management and from the University of Connecticut with an M.S. in Agricultural Economics. After spending 2 years in Eastern Europe volunteering with the Peace Corps, she was hired as URI’s Coordinator for the Coastal and Environmental Fellowship Program. That position helped her realize her true passion was working in higher education and chose to enter into the College Student Personnel program for Master's degree round two. She enjoys spending her free time cooking, writing about cooking, and getting crafty. Feel free to connect with her @brianep.