Learning to Speak Faculty

By Catherine Neiner posted 26 days ago

  

Let’s have “the talk”—the facts of life for working with faculty. When two entities (faculty and career services) respect each other very much, they embrace each other in a very special way. But sometimes they are a little wary, and sometimes they don’t understand each other. Regardless, after about four years, they produce students who are prepared to take on the world after they graduate.

There are a couple of givens in the facts of life for working with faculty:

  • Faculty teaches their discipline and molds minds for the specificities of that discipline. They don’t want to “teach” career. They do not consider “career” within their wheelhouse nor, necessarily, within their expertise.
  • Faculty does not like being told what to do. They especially don’t like employers telling them what their students “need.” Corollary: Faculty feels overworked already given the activities expected of them over and above their teaching and research, and they don’t have the time to do anything else. They really really don’t like employers telling them what to teach.
  • Faculty are fiercely protective of “their” students. They want them to do well in the “real world” because it is a reflection on them and their department.

To help faculty understand what the college-to-career initiative with them as the keystone is and, most important, to support their buy-in, we had to come to several acknowledgements.

 The very first thing we did was to assure faculty they would not be asked to do anything they were not already doing. They were not going to have to retool their syllabi. They were not going to have to fill out reams of documentation. Most important, they were not going to have to “teach” career. We also assured them that we were mindful of the particularities of each discipline and would give each major and each department its due regardless of how many students were majoring in it or how “popular” it was.

But faculty was still a little skeptical, and so one of the most important things we did was learn to speak “faculty.” Let’s face it: talking with faculty can be a “he said she said” kind of enterprise. For example, faculty doesn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about career “competencies.” But faculty does spend a lot of time thinking about how their students become critical thinkers, adept with their related technologies, and able to engage in team projects with others who are from different cultures. Faculty talks in learning outcomes and in discipline-specific jargon. I can’t say we got to be fluent, but we were very intentional in articulating in the terms that faculty could accept.

To make a compelling case, we had to translate, define, and clarify in faculty. For example, faculty isn’t crazy about the word “skills” at an R1 university, and so the use of the word “competency” must be used judiciously. We had long, labored, challenging debates on competencies general or specific. We all finally concurred that we could not get every specific competency for every specific major.  And so, we agreed to the NACE career readiness competencies as university wide and built a structure for each major to tailor others to fit what they teach.

Further, faculty does work in learning outcomes. We, in career services, sometimes feel challenged by learning outcomes. We think more in terms of performance outcomes. And so, it was of great relief (and we gave ourselves a cheer) when three student learning outcomes were adopted for college to career. They are:

  • Students will be aware of potential careers and the actions required to be career ready;
  • Students will connect coursework to career readiness; and
  • Students will demonstrate their career readiness. To make it pithy (and yes, sort of performance-based) for those of us on the administrative side, the student learning outcomes are aware, connect, demonstrate. (In an upcoming blog, I will discuss how we implemented and assess these learning outcomes.)

We wanted students to engage with the learning outcomes across their full educational experience at Georgia State. We all know that it is critical to get students started on their navigation toward a career as soon as possible. For awareness, we looked to the first-year seminar that all students must take. We developed a college to career project that included targeting a career, figuring out what coursework and experiences are needed to pursue it, and making an action plan on how to overcome any barriers. Also, we determined that just getting started can be overwhelming. And so, in the first-year seminar, each student also completed his or her profile in our career management system and crafted a first resume with the help of a peer student adviser who we had trained and assigned to that class section. Because all students take the course, we immediately had scaled to the entire entering class. Best of all, they already had a positive experience with career services. For connection, each department has discretion on where it fits best. Within our degree audit, regardless of major, students will take a course that intentionally makes a connection between coursework and career. Of course, in any given major there can be any number of such courses.

The important thing is that faculty explicitly explains the connection so that students understand how the assignment prepares them for career. Again, we had scaled to all students in a fairly individual way. Students select their major courses based on their interests, and they engage with faculty who care that they become career ready. For demonstration, every student is given an e-portfolio in which s/he can post artifacts and reflect on how to describe their career readiness to potential employers and/or graduate programs. (In an upcoming blog, I will discuss how we made it easy for faculty to incorporate career readiness in their coursework.)

 Takeaways:

  • Develop fluency in “faculty” at your institution. Use their jargon. Articulate the impact on their discipline specifically.
  • Use persuasive points that faculty can accept. Know deep in your heart that will address the realities of our work in career services particularly with employers.
  • Affirm to faculty that they are already fostering career readiness in the classroom. Assure faculty that they don’t have to “teach” career.
  • Make the student learning outcomes easy to adapt to the interests of the faculty.
  • Be careful about telling faculty what employers want them to teach. Instead, tell faculty the competencies that employers want and invite them to share how that is happening in their coursework.

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