Trustee Task Force Considers Mandatory Career Planning for Pomona Students

The Pre-Professional and Career Development Trustee Task Force is in the process of devising reforms to Pomona’s career development program. The content of the reforms is not yet well-defined, but their basic purpose will be to mandate that students participate throughout their college career in structured planning for life after college. The reforms would institute an integration of career planning into student life that is unprecedented at Pomona and novel from a country-wide perspective.

Among the task force’s objectives is to work out the details of and discuss how to implement “a four-year developmental plan for students in terms of their work/life/career planning, from their arrival on campus through graduation.”

The purpose of implementing such a reform, according to Dean of Students and task force member Miriam Feldblum, is to drive students to “think about life beyond Pomona in a structured fashion, and provide the best tools and opportunities to them for this purpose.” Emphasizing the mandatory nature of whatever reforms are produced, Feldblum stated that, “there are some things that need to be required of students–rather than 'if you’re interested, try and do it.'”

Every year for the last three years, the Pomona College Trustees have set up a task force to focus on a particular issue. This year’s task force, which is composed of trustees, student representatives, faculty, and staff, was assigned the task of improving career services. According to the “Charge to the 2010 Pre-Professional and Career Development Trustee Task Force,” this improvement should make it so “the full onus…to initiate and drive” student career planning will no longer be on students.

The charge, which is primarily the collaborative effort of Dean Miriam Feldblum, Career Development Office Director Carl Martellino, task force co-chairs Scott Olivet and Lynn Yonekura, and Board of Trustees Chairman Paul Efron, articulates that “the College is now seeking to ensure that we provide the most effective career services and move toward a robust integration of career development and work/life planning within the student experience.”

“What we aim to do,” task force member Martellino said, “is to take one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges with the brightest students in the world, and to make sure they’ve intentionally thought about how to apply their liberal arts degree.”

One student, David Breese PO ’13, questioned the motives of the intended reforms and the necessity of mandatory requirements.

“This just seems like a way to improve the college’s job placement statistics relative to other colleges,” he said. Career services, he continued, “are a good thing to have available, but I don’t see a need for them to be mandatory.”

“I think it should be your decision when you want to think about your future and when you don’t,” he added.

Martellino contested this analysis.

“This is not about helping the college in enrollment and retention. These are already good,” he said. “We can take this from the very top. We can be the very best academically and do this extra thing for our students.”

“The best thing about this is that Pomona College doesn’t have to do this,” he added.

Both Martellino and task force member and Assistant Professor of Economics Michael Steinberger emphasized the potentially significant positive effect of the considered reforms.

“We haven’t found any college in the nation with anything exactly like this,” said Martellino, calling the new career services mission “huge” and “novel.”

Steinberger echoed this sentiment, saying, “if we do this right, Pomona will be known as the most effective liberal arts school in the country.”

All task force members interviewed emphasized that the content of the reforms is still undefined, and that further work at least beyond the end of the school year will be necessary before any changes are implemented or the exact nature of any changes is articulated. Nevertheless, some potential proposals have been discussed.

The most detailed description of a proposal came from Steinberger. He recommended requiring students to participate in a “four-year program of student learning objectives,” which would entail “student support one-on-one from their advisors, one-on-one from trained staff, web information, one-on-one alumni conversations and many-on-one workshops.”

He emphasized that, in his view, the program is not intended to force students to treat their liberal arts education as merely instrumental toward acquiring a paying job.

“This program has failed if it makes students think that the only purpose of learning is to help students get a high-paying job,” he said.

Helping students “discover themselves” is imperative, said Steinberger, citing a 2011 survey of graduating seniors, which revealed that 28 percent of subjects were unable to clearly articulate the gains of their education and that 61 percent could not identify five types of employers that might employ a person of their qualifications.

Student task force member and ASPC President Stephanie Almeida ‘11 noted the positive role of student representatives at the trustee meetings in “offering insight and participating critically and actively in discussions.”

“The proposal has good components,” she said. “Personally I am not fully comfortable with the idea of a required program, but I do understand the thinking behind it. There is a lot of concern about Pomona students being ‘lost’ and disconnected from the many resources that the CDO offers.”

Some students expressed support for potential reforms.

“A lot of students don’t get involved with the CDO at all until the second half of college,” said Ariana Jones PO '11. “It would be good for students to be more proactive in their freshman and sophomore years.”

However, some students voiced doubts over the benefits of such a reform.

“I worry that this might just be a lot of paperwork and extra requirements, without really being effective in the way of encouraging career planning,” said Pia Carretta PO ’14.

“I would have to know more about the specific plans,” said Theory Friction Practice PO '12. “If it’s only once a year or something like that, it could be useful. But if we had workshops or other requirements frequently, it could just end up being a burden, especially if participation in planning requirements isn’t that productive.”

Although there is a deadline to make some kind of recommendation on the matter of reforms to the Board of Trustees by mid-May, all participants interviewed emphasized that no concrete plans will be fully worked out by then, and that there are still details to be finalized before any reforms are implemented.

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