By Luke Gair
Walking into the Career Center, a gentle voice offers up a coffee or a tea. The fireplace on the wall flickers softly and the room is warm. One typically assumes that such a venue conjures anxiety from undergraduate students, but in true Sewanee fashion, the personable ambiance ensures a comforting and productive experience for all who pass through. While the office has undergone changes, the charm has undoubtedly stayed the same.
Recently, the Center for Career and Leadership Development evolved into the streamlined Career Center, where they focus on working with students to plan and carry out a successful career after their time on the Domain. Kim Heitzenrater (C’89) joked that in honing in on career development itself, the name also becomes “easier to say, and [is] certainly less of a mouthful.”
In 2017, a donor heavily tied to the University gave a generous gift that allowed for an external review. The University then formed a campus committee composed of Academic Dean of the College Terry Papillon, faculty and staff members, a student, and alumni; the group then brought a consultant who then made recommendations, which according to Heitzenrater “were adopted by the external review committee and [they] had been working systematically since the spring of 2018 to incorporate those changes.”
Much of the support for the Career Center is rooted in parent and alumni relations, and this includes requisite funding for programming and internship opportunities. Notably, the Class of 1970 allocated their reunion gift toward “career readiness and internship funding,” and it was a significant piece of their donation.
“The genesis of taking a look at both what we were doing, and what we could and should be doing,” said Heitzenrater with a smile, “began with an alum who decided to invest.”
These donations allowed the Center to implement new software programs that assist students in preparing for interviews, finding internships, and getting connected with employers. With Tigernet laid to rest, Handshake now serves as a way for students to connect with the 800 and counting employers on the platform.
Similar to LinkedIn, it allows employers to search for candidates to fill available positions. She noted how during an era where there is a “war for talent,” Handshake serves as an ideal vehicle for recent graduates and those seeking jobs to get noticed.
While Handshake focuses more on student to employer interactions, the “new vendor for the Sewanee Gateway,” PeopleGrove, focuses more on getting students connected with alumni. Coming later in 2019, Heitzenrater went on to explain that “there will be an alumni directory, [and] a way for students to identify people who would be willing to have mentoring or micromentoring sessions.”
Heitzenrater also discussed plans for a pilot mentoring program that goes beyond computers and software as well; through working closely with Susan Askew (C’86) in the Alumni Office and parents and alumni in Nashville, “[she would] love to see a way where the students who are in Nashville [for the] summer to have a network of support while they are there… as a way of being supported and welcomed to the city.”
Bringing in a slew of implemented software and technology is a feat in itself, but in the midst of doing so, the Career Center also worked to bring on four new staff members: Rachel Fredericks, Sallie Williams (C’06), Kate Reed (C’08), and Shanna Abramson. Fredericks will be working with first and second-year students and Reed will focus on juniors and seniors, but both will collectively assist in student engagement. Williams will continue Melissa Webb’s decades-long project to “expand capacity in employer engagement and internships.”
Beyond career-focused expansion, Heitzenrater discussed the “re-envisioning of integrated advising… pre-major advisors won’t only advise students only on registering for classes and academic matters, but that they’ll have a more holistic look at the student.” In creating such an experience, the Center allows the student to consider their all of their time at Sewanee as a building block for a career rather than just their junior or senior year.
“So many areas across campus are working together to help them begin their Sewanee careers and think about using all four years to prepare for the next forty or fifty,” said Heitzenrater, “we hope that people are lifelong learners and that they continue to build their skills.”
With a series of robust plans on the horizon and several productive developments to date, it’s no surprise The Princeton Review recently named the Career Center as one of the top twenty in the nation. They’ll only continue to grow.