By Molly Igoe and Brooke Schultz
News Editor and Editor-in-Chief
As a way to develop Washington College’s 750 student employees’ professional repertoire, the Center for Career Development has introduced a new, mandatory program for all student workers.
“We don’t want students leaving here and taking jobs where they are underemployed, [we] don’t want them bagging groceries, [we] need to ensure they’re doing everything they can do to position themselves for success,” said Nanette Cooley, executive director of Career Development.
Student workers were notified by email on Sept. 27 that they must attend two professional development workshops during the academic year. One must be completed in the fall or, according to the email, students “will not be able to work on campus for the next semester, even if you already have a position.”
The decision to introduce the program came at the start of this year, according to Lisa Moody, assistant director of employment relations and outreach.
“[The requirement] wasn’t laid out in the beginning of the semester, because this is our first semester actually rolling out the process,” she said. “Darlene [Ashley, assistant director for campus student employment,]and I had to take some time and walk through that process; she has been swamped with getting students hired, getting them through the process at the beginning of the year; when the dust cleared, we walked through what that requirement was going to look like.”
The requirement is based on a previously established policy for Federal Work-Study students, Cooley said.
In 2014, the Center for Career Development met with Natalie Story, associate director of Financial Aid, to create a requirement for students to participate in order to retain their aid. They decided to start with FWS because it “was the only centralized student employment process,” Moody said.
“Other students were spread across the departments, so it would be difficult to manage a program when it wasn’t centralized,” she said.
Since then, Moody said, the implementation of this requirement was part of the discussion, it was just a matter of getting a department to head it.
In four years, student employment has been centralized through several different offices. Until 2016, the Business Office handled student employment. The following year, it moved to Human Resources.
Director of HR Carolyn Burton described the department’s relationship to student employment as a “transactional” process. To make it a more “optimal experience” where students could “build skills, experience,” the Center for Career Development was a better place, she said. This year, it switched over to Career Services.
“There, it’s more supportive than transactional,” Burton said.
Burton said that the Board of Visitors and Governors is also interested in providing “top notch” Career Services, and this fits in with that.
“It’s setting you up for success,” she said.
Cooley said their goal is not to “burden students,” or “fire students,” but to “position our students to be successful very early on in their undergraduate experience…[and to] ensure that they’re getting what they need when they need it, so they are competitive in today’s market.”
The requirement, which was announced five weeks into the semester, did come as a surprise to some.
Dr. James Allen Hall, director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and associate professor of English, did not know about the change before the email was sent out campus-wide.
He said, as director of the Literary House and chair of the Board of Publications, that students can only benefit from the professional development workshops.
“My own personal opinion — as James Hall the human being, not as the director of the Lit House or as a professor of English — is that one cannot have enough professional development, especially regarding: interviews, ways to navigate the social media job market, and constructing effective application materials,” he said. “…I am glad to see the Career Center offer these kinds of opportunities for students, and I hope that students keep an open mind and take advantage of these workshops.”
However, Dr. Hall said that the policy seemed strict, given how late in the semester it was announced. Some of the students he advises have “concerns about the line of terminating employment if, at this late stage, one’s schedule can’t fit with the Career Center’s schedule of workshops. Another concern is that many student employees are gaining professional development through their on-campus jobs,” he said.
According to Ashley, a few students have approached her with questions about studying abroad. Moody said that if a student is studying abroad, they will be exempt from that semester’s required workshop.
Resident Assistants are not exempt from these requirements, even though they go through extensive training throughout their employment in Residential Life. Ursula Herz, director of Residential Life, said the requirement is “not onerous” and that many of the sessions are relevant to the training Resident Assistants receive.
“An employer always has a right to set requirements for employees; that is just the way that the world works,” Moody said. “The employee has three choices: [they] can comply, can respectfully request a meeting to discuss that, or they can decide that they no longer want to work there; WC is a real work place that is hiring and paying students to work on campus, so students are employees of the College; this is a decision that WC has made.”