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Spring 2013 (April 29, 2013)

Good Advice

By Phoebe Larson

Carleton is expanding opportunities for students to make connections between their education and their career path

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It would have been hard for Theodore Rostow ’12 to eke more out of his Carleton experience. A political science and international relations major who also earned a certificate in classics, Rostow was a resident assistant (RA) and a mentor for local Northfield children with learning disabilities through Eye to Eye. After graduation, he became a high school math teacher in San Antonio through Teach For America.

When asked to name a Carleton professor who was instrumental to his development, Rostow couldn’t name just one. “Liz Ciner [director of student fellowships] was my surrogate mother on campus,” he says. “Professors Roy Grow [international relations] and Larry Cooper [political science] were profoundly influential as to how I think and operate in the world. And there were many other faculty members who influenced me, as well. They all helped me make connections between the disparate parts of my life and education. I am grateful for everything they and Carleton taught me.”

Wedded to a career in international relations, Rostow found he also enjoyed his work as an RA and mentor. “I felt conflicted, but Liz drew my attention to the commonality among my pursuits: connecting with people and building relationships. I decided to accept a teaching position with Teach For America, knowing that I could ultimately move on to something else.”

Rostow points out that he wasn’t shy when it came to engaging with his professors. “Having attended boarding school, I was used to having a close relationship with my teachers,” he says. “I would often stay after class just to chat. I think students who are more comfortable talking to professors tend to benefit more from those relationships.”

Indeed, it may be easier for students to reach that comfort level at Carleton; U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks the college’s faculty members among the top in the nation for their commitment to teaching. A residential campus and a student/faculty ratio of 9 to 1 also help ensure that Carleton students have access to their professors.    

Carleton chaplain Carolyn Fure-Slocum ’82 agrees, but with a caveat. “Those students who reach out for help are served extremely well,” she says. “But we need to do more outreach. We offer a whole smorgasbord in terms of advising, yet some students are unaware of all the options.”

Too often, students zero in on a goal to successfully fulfill their academic requirements without ever contemplating those questions intrinsic to a liberal arts education: What matters to me and why? What am I doing at Carleton? What is this education for? In her role as director of student fellowships, Ciner facilitates such contemplation. “In order to apply for a fellowship, you have to identify what you want to do and why. That gets students thinking. And that’s a valuable process, whether or not they win a fellowship.”

130213_0247_edit.jpgThe college’s recently adopted strategic plan identifies one of its primary goals as allowing more time for student reflection during each term. “We want to facilitate opportunities for students to stop and think consciously about how their life at Carleton—from academics and internships to extracurricular activities and residential life—is helping to shape their minds and characters,” says religion professor Louis Newman, who recently was appointed associate dean of the college and director of advising (effective July 1).

In his new role, Newman will help the college create a holistic system of advising that addresses every aspect of the student experience: academics, career exploration, and personal and interpersonal development. “It’s not about fixing a broken system,” he says. “It’s about expanding our horizons. It’s an opportunity to help students get even more out of their Carleton experience.”

The new system will also attend to students’ developmental stages. “From age 18 to 22 is a big jump,” says biology professor Dan Hernandez. “A senior in college is academically and developmentally more mature than a first-year student who is perhaps leaving home for the first time. Students require different resources along the way.”     

Biology major Lydia English ’13 (Providence, R.I.) was a sophomore when she took her first class from Hernandez, a biology class that explored how environmental changes can affect life on Earth. The course left her disheartened. “I made an appointment with Dan to talk about the class because I was becoming pessimistic,” she says. “I felt hopeless—like there was nothing I could do to turn the tide on environmental decline.”

Hernandez encouraged English to focus on small changes to avoid becoming paralyzed by the enormity of the problem. The summer after her junior year, she became one of his research assistants, studying restoration ecology in the Arb. Working on conservation research in Carleton’s backyard inspired a local focus. “Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the options,” says English, “I’ve decided to refine my interests and work on a local level for a conservation organization or for the National Parks Service and see where that leads.”

Sophomore anxiety is not uncommon. Under a new advising structure, particular focus will be paid to second-year students who, studies show, can experience a “sophomore slump.” Not yet focused on a major track, they also don’t receive the deliberate guidance first-year students get as part of orientation.

When Joy Kluttz, director of intercultural and international life, advises first- and second-year students, she tells them: “I’m going to ask you a lot of questions.” For starters, she wants to know why they chose Carleton, their favorite subjects, and what majors they are considering. If a favorite subject is not on their potential major list, she’ll ask why. “It can be challenging for some students to juggle family expectations with developing interests,” says Kluttz. “Your family wants you to be a doctor and you discover a passion for sociology. As an adviser, I try to empower students, giving them the confidence to negotiate that for themselves.”

Due to rising tuition costs, parents have an even greater expectation that students will be able to find a meaningful job after they graduate. Newman believes an intentional, comprehensive advising effort that guides students to make connections among all aspects of their Carleton education will succeed to that end—and give the college a competitive edge when vying for prospective students. “Fundamentally, we want parents to know that Carleton actively attends to students’ development,” he says. “Your student will not only graduate with a diploma, but also with the skills to put it to use.”

That doesn’t mean all Carleton graduates will land their dream jobs straight out of the gate, but that’s OK, says philosophy professor Daniel Groll. “This type of foundation can ease the stress of indecision or dissatisfaction with a first job, as students recognize that every step connects and leads them closer to meaningful work.”   

Studio art major Dylan Welch ’08 gleaned the most insight from her professors when she worked in the department as an educational associate after she graduated. “I had the time to learn their stories,” she says. “In talking with them, I found that they took many different paths to get from Point A to Point B. One traveled, one worked as a baker, and one got a big break while talking to the friend of a friend at a party. It was compelling to hear how chance helped them along the way.”   

Art professor Fred Hagstrom asked Welch to accompany him on a 2011 winter term trip, Studio Art in the South Pacific. Eleanor Jensen ’01, who had recently earned an MFA in printmaking from Illinois State University, also went on the trip. “Eleanor and I became close friends,” says Welch, who is currently an artist-in-residence at the Mendocino Art Center in California. “She and Fred have given me incredible professional advice and instilled in me the confidence to apply for MFA programs.” (Welch is currently awaiting responses to her applications.)

Hagstrom views advising as simply paying it forward. “The example my professors set was important to me a student,” he says. “They took me seriously and expected a lot out of me as they did themselves. Art is as much exemplified as it is taught.”

Jensen, who now works as a program director coordinating interdisciplinary programs for the Wrangell Mountains Center in McCarthy, Alaska, says her experience as a student on Hagstrom’s South Pacific program led her to adopt printmaking as her medium. “After graduation, I worked for a semester with a printmaking professor Fred knew at the University of Minnesota,” she says. “Fred also helped me with the graduate school application process and provided letters of support.”

Most importantly, Hagstrom gave her a pivotal guiding image. “He brought to class this huge roll of prints—work that he’s made since he started printmaking. He talked about some of the ideas behind them and his travels, his work with migrant workers, and such. It struck me as a tangible record of his entire life. I fell in love with that idea of creating something meaningful and visible slowly, over time, throughout one’s life.”      

In a sense, that’s the goal of the liberal arts, and what Carleton’s expanded advising program hopes to accomplish: To endow students with the confidence to know that every step along their path—both the clarity and the chaos—will ultimately have meaning and serve the pursuit of their goals.

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Finding Your Own Path

Despite the suggestion from her adviser, Roy Grow, the Frank B. Kellogg Professor of International Relations, that she take some time off after Carleton to develop her interests, Brooke Davis ’11 was like a bird taking flight the day she accepted her admittance to Harvard for master’s degrees in public policy and theological studies. “His advice does make sense,” says Davis, who enrolled at Harvard directly after graduation. “Even at Carleton, you start out in one field and various experiences can change your path in an instant. And, admittedly, attending grad school directly after college has been somewhat of a challenge.”

Years earlier, while visiting campus as a prospective student, Davis had sat in on Grow’s Introduction to International Relations class. Then, she took the course during her first year at Carleton and, in 2009, traveled with Grow to China on the Political Economy in Beijing off-campus studies program. He also helped her secure a fellowship with the U.S. Department of State later that year.

“Roy had such a profound impact on me, I can barely describe it,” says Davis. “From all of the things he exposed me to in class and in China to helping me with my fellowship application and talking to me about what it’s like to work for government agencies, he helped shape my Carleton experience. And despite his reservations about my graduate school decision, he was supportive. He is entirely focused on students’ development, rather than putting his own stamp on them.”

Like Davis, chemistry and Chinese major James Lu Morrissey ’12 is a go-getter. Currently an associate at L.E.K. Consulting in Boston, a strategy consulting firm, Morrissey’s résumé includes a string of prizes and scholarships. In 2011 he won the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, which provides support for undergraduates who are interested in pursuing a career in science. Yet he felt disconcerted.

“I realized I wanted to explore my interest in science in a business context, instead of heading straight to graduate school,” says Morrissey, whose focus is the life sciences. “I had become fascinated with business after shadowing an entrepreneur in China following a study abroad program.” 

Morrissey turned to Carleton’s director of student fellowships, Liz Ciner, for advice. “She gave me the confidence to make a bold switch during my senior year from graduate school research to business as a next step,” he says. “As it turns out, I currently consult for biopharmaceutical companies, which satisfies my interests in both science and business.”

Today, Morrissey says he could not be happier. “Advising at Carleton isn’t just a one-stop shop. Liz and others developed a caring relationship with me. They helped me think about my choices and what would be best for my long-term development.”   

Ciner adds her own take: “Carleton students work hard at figuring out how to use their gifts—and they’re terrific at it. They give me hope for the future of the world.”  


Making a Change

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Garrett Hoffman ’08 lucked out when he pulled the last draw to register for classes his first year: “As you can imagine, I didn’t have a lot of choice.” He found himself enrolling in Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies. “I loved it,” he says. “I ended up declaring women’s and gender studies as my major.”

The decision wasn’t an easy one, however. Hoffman had entered college a would-be biology major with a plan to attend medical school. By sophomore year, he was unsure about deviating from his long-held plans and dissatisfied with life at Carleton in general. He turned to Kaaren Williamsen, director of the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC). “I sat down in her office and said, ‘I hate it here.’ ”

Williamsen assured him that his feelings were normal. “College is not only about academics,” she says. “It’s about preparing students to be people of the world—to have the skills and sense of self to navigate a challenging time. They build on those reserves in a safe space with resources and support.” 

“It was jarring to suddenly not know what I wanted to do in life,” says Hoffman. “After talking to Kaaren, I said, ‘Can I do what you do?’ ” That was a pivotal moment, and Hoffman, who became a student worker at the GSC his senior year, began to make connections between his work with Williamsen and his academic courses.

Eventually, Hoffman went on to earn a master’s degree in higher education from the University of Missouri–Columbia, and he now works in student affairs for the University of Maine–Orono. “Kaaren was there for me at a turning point,” he says. “I receive a lot of positive feedback from my current employer as I strive to create similar experiences for my students. I consider Kaaren a mirror for my career.”     

Marlene Edelstein ’11 also credits Williamsen for helping chart her path in life. “Kaaren was hands- down the most important adviser for me during all four years at Carleton,” says Edelstein, who also was a student worker at
the GSC.

Today, as a health educator at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York, she teaches sexual education in Harlem, N.Y. “Kaaren sees Carleton as a place where students can make sustainable change,” says Edelstein. “It’s an amazing gift to give students—the support and guidance to change standards of behavior in their community. That’s something they carry with them into life.” 


 

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