Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Mentor's Mentor weighs in on College Opportunities

The Real College Cheating Scandal?
Students Are Cheating Themselves
By Ignoring Priceless Opportunities

Career Coach Dr. Adele Scheele, author of Launch Your Career In College, Provides Antidotes, Strategies

They are the so-called “smart” college kids. They aren’t majoring in beer. They can ratchet up a GPA on command. And they predictably do what they’re told instead of taking initiative.
But these seeming fast-trackers are often “cheating themselves,” says acclaimed career strategist Dr. Adele Scheele, who has regularly appeared on The Today Show and Good Morning America.
The author of six books, including her most recent, Launch Your Career in College, Strategies for Students, Educators, and Parents (Praeger), Scheele points out that many students are blowing off a priceless aspect of college that could easily boost their careers. These students are failing to develop relationships with their professors, the very people who are paid to mentor them. Scheele has also found that many students are neglecting other perks colleges traditionally provide, the not-so-obvious opportunities that can similarly speed them to their dream jobs…sometimes even before they graduate.
Yet most students are not good at being good consumers of their college experiences. Why are they not making opportunities for themselves? They’re forgetting that they’re paying to be counseled and to be mentored. The young women don’t think they deserve that much attention. The young men, most of them would rather drink beer and party,” says Scheele, a private career coach based in New York City who works with clients throughout the world. She has lectured at hundreds of campuses, from small liberal arts colleges to top-ranked business schools. In fact, she has frequently addressed students at UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Management and at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, which voted her the Best Presenter for its Executive MBA program three years in a row.
Scheele knows first hand just how desperate students can be when it’s time to graduate and they didn’t bother to show up after class—for volunteer work which could provide valuable experience, for clubs and other activities in which leadership could be learned and personal networks could be formed and, perhaps most significantly, for those discussions with their profs who could have provided great advice and recommendations for internships, apprenticeships or terrific first jobs.
As the former director of The Career Center at California State University at Northridge, Scheele knows exactly what students are likely to be missing out on. She has counseled thousands of them and knows what they’re predictably doing right and where they’re regrettably going wrong.
“Most students are getting some things right,” she observes. “By graduation, they know they have to write a resume, come to career fairs, and some know there is a career center on campus. But because there is little emphasis in college on making college pay off, they don’t know how to do that before graduation. They think that if they just do what they’re told and act like a regular, passive student, they will automatically be promoted to a good job at the end. But life isn’t anything like that. They need to learn success skills.”
To help students acquire those skills, Scheele has provided dozens of suggestions in every chapter in Launch Your Career In College. Almost all of these recommendations require students to be proactive, even if that’s initially outside of their comfort zones, because the rewards can be so enormous.
Among other things, Scheele wants students to figure out ways to write papers on topics that truly interest them, asking special permission if necessary. That’s because such papers could actually excite them –and could result in research that would give students an edge when it’s time to apply for a job related to the paper’s topic. The same homework might help a student qualify for door-opening internships before graduation. And, such a paper might be worthy of publication while the student is still in school.
Scheele is so fond of seeing students do work in areas related to their passions that she even recommends they also do it outside of class--for free if all else fails. “Working for no pay is better than not working at all,” she writes. “It provides experience, and it is as valuable as the classroom work that you pay for. In these ways, you are learning how to link to ideas and people, who might, in turn, help, even inspire you.”
As for connecting with those professors, Scheele lays out specific protocol: “Once you find professors whom you respect, it’s up to you to initiate the relationship. The best way is to visit during office hours and talk to them. They expect you to visit and talk; it shows you are committed to learning. Ask them to share how they got started, surprises they found along the way, trends they recognize, advice on your best academic or career bets, names of people, organizations and books that can guide you, course and career recommendations.”
In each chapter, Scheele offers lots of possible action steps so that each student, no matter his or her major, can begin to try out the strategies and learn to make them work. She emphasizes that what she’s recommending is not a one-stop-come-in-and-get-a-recommendation deal. Rather, it’s a sincere relationship cultivated over time. As she frequently tells students, “Each major university has within its faculty a core of people who are among the most excellent in the world. It’s your job to get to know them, build genuine relationships with them and make them want to have you in their academic families. You can’t go in and say, ‘I want you to help me with my career,’ but there are ways to create that result without being manipulative.”
For those who maintain that talking with professors brings up too much fear and anxiety, Scheele emphasizes the importance using the gentle steps she recommends to get over the fear and learn to interact with authority figures anyway. As a coach who has counseled receptionists to CEOs, she knows the life-long importance of being able to assert oneself.
“If a student can’t talk to professors, it means that later on the student probably won’t be able to talk to bosses or the president of his or her firm,” she says. “If students don’t build the skill of finding mentors while they’re in college, they probably won’t be able to do it later on without thinking they’re manipulating people or as it’s called, sucking up.”
What sort of difference might talking to a professor make?
In the case of Frank Gehry, the world’s most celebrated living architect, a professor’s suggestion resulted in his changing his intended career from chemical engineering to architecture, which he had never even considered. Scheele interviewed Gehry about the switch which occurred at the University of Southern California where Gehry was working with his observant professor on a project to develop glaze fittings. The professor pulled strings for Gehry to enroll in a colleague’s architecture class. The results were instant. “For the first time I was a great student,”Ghery recalled. “I was skipped into the second year.”
The architect further told Scheele that he then got to know his architecture professors so well that he became included in “everything from working on projects to dinner at their homes.” A dean eventually became a mentor as well and helped Gehry to get a job with a well-known, progressive architecture firm and to get paid for writing a thesis (which led to Gehry actually taking part in the developing a Mexican town).
Legendary feminist Gloria Steinem, whom Scheele also interviewed, originally thought her years at Smith College in the 1950s were “a washout.” When Scheele spoke with her, Steinem did not think she’d had any college mentors. But when Scheele asked Steinem if she had any favorite professors, the founder of Ms. magazine and co-founder of the National Organization for Women remembered the profound influence of a professor who taught a class on the history of India. When Steinem was nearing graduation, the professor recommended that Steinem go to India on an experimental fellowship rather than pursue two possibilities the professor considered to be dead end jobs: getting married and/or working as a researcher at what is now Time Warner.
Scheele reports that Steinem was told by her professor that, at the very least, the venture in India would teach her “how to quell caste riots.” But when Steinem returned from India, she discovered she had fundamentally changed. “It was the beginning of my political life,” she recalled. It wasn’t long before Steinem would become one of the world’s most renowned political activists.
Scheele herself can trace key elements of her own success directly to college, particularly her doctoral work at UCLA. By then, she had discovered that her passion was helping people to figure out what they wanted, assisting them in getting it and then celebrating their successes with them. So when she was accepted in UCLA’s innovative Change Management Fellowship program, she was inspired to turn every course into a dance with her favorite subject.
For instance, to research her dissertation, Careering: Critical Competencies from Everyday Lawyering, Scheele interviewed 47 highly successful attorneys. Without exception, each had strategically used school activities as a springboard to later achievement.
Even in their undergrad years, these future lawyers were hardly passive, do-as-you’re-told types. They had been student body officers and fraternity presidents, campus newspaper reporters and editors, champion debaters, athletes and athletic team managers, club officers and more. Many had been law review contributors.
For a while Scheele was puzzled about why law review was such a big deal. But as she learned from the attorneys, being a law review writer wasn’t so much about being published as it was about the opportunity to work and spend time in the law review office. That’s where the law review sponsor could be found and relationships forged.
As Scheele further learned, the law review sponsors were inevitably the most revered, most connected professors in the law schools. In short, they were the perfect mentors.
Scheele gleaned more than a few tips from those attorneys. With the completion of her dissertation, she knew she held in her hands what was essentially the first draft of her first book. She quickly expanded it, signed with a top literary agency, and got the dissertation published as a popular, critically heralded book, Skills for Success, A Guide To The Top (Morrow). It is still in such demand that Scheele is now in the process of revising it.
But that was hardly the end of the domino effect. The publication of Skills for Success led to a national book promotion tour, through which the author landed: a King Features syndicated newspaper column, a career column in Working Woman magazine, countless speaking engagements to appreciative audiences around the world, regular gigs on Today and GMA, repeated appearances on CNBC, her own ABC Talkradio show and much, much, much more.
Not bad fallout from a college paper, which by its very nature has to be self-assigned. Or as Scheele modestly puts it, “Every step, traceable to that one paper, has been valuable.”

Author, Adele Scheele, PhD Career Strategist and Coach


Anonymous said...

As one of the "fast track" kids that got good grades but didn't take advantage of the chance to have career mentors in college, I can really relate to this advice. I wish I'd read it in college! I think this is why a Master's or post-graduate degree is so important. It's much easier to understand these issues and lessons learned the "2nd time around". Thank you for this post.

Anonymous said...

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Question Details:
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