A New Leadership Role, a New Structure, a New Challenge

By Drew Poppleton posted 08-07-2018 08:01


On June 4, 2018, the career center at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) officially became “Post-Graduate Planning and Experiential Education.” It was more than a name change. We were part of a large-scale integration of core undergraduate student services (advising, career services, research, first-year experience, and educational services) intended to break down silos and bolster student success.  Driven by our president, with full support (including financial) from the board of trustees, this student success initiative is expected to increase retention, graduation, and student satisfaction. It’s a significant change to our structure and, considering our rates aren’t particularly low in any of those three areas, speaks to the commitment our president has to our students and the ambition she has for our institution.   

It’s an exciting time to be at CWRU. And it’s an exciting time to be in career services. The changes underfoot reflect a larger movement in higher education in general—a movement to both elevate and propagate the importance of career development in a student’s undergraduate education. Just skim the career services postings on and you’ll see what I mean: Institutions are no longer looking for the prototypical director of a career center to manage a small staff of similarly trained professionals; they’re looking for “change agents” and “visionaries” to step into newly created dean- and VP-level positions overseeing the merging of career services with areas such as academic advising, experiential learning, corporate and alumni relations, admissions, and more. And at the same time that they are raising the profile and power of those overseeing career services, institutions are also making career the business of all who educate in their name. Again, exciting.

But also challenging—because, let’s face it: we in higher ed are not often accustomed to change at this pace or scale. In trying to think and move more like the organizations our students aspire to join post-graduation, we are likely to experience some growing pains. And, while there are politics in every industry and organization, the politics encountered while trying to move the needle on a college campus can be uniquely complicated and frustrating. Patience and tact become just as critical as vision and innovation. 

At least that’s what I’m learning as I attempt to lead our newly formed unit through this transformation. You see, as part of the re-org at CWRU, I was named interim director of Post-Graduate Planning and Experiential Education. Having worked at CWRU for more than a decade, progressing through the ranks within our career center and taking on leadership roles within our division, it’s a role for which I am ready and to which I’ve aspired for some time.  As anyone who espouses the transformative benefits of experiential learning will attest, you never know what a position will truly be like until you’re in it, fully immersed in the experience.

One of the ways I’ve decided to work through this change process is to write about it. For me, writing helps to clarify my thinking and focus my attention on what matters most. In sharing what I write with the membership of NACE (at least those members who choose to read it!), I hope to contribute to the larger conversation currently buzzing within our profession and help advance the movement rolling through our field. This blog post marks the first of several I plan to post, in which I’ll share in greater detail how we at CWRU are navigating this change and how I, as a new leader, am attempting to influence the future of our work.  Please let me know through the comments what you’d like to hear about and share ideas and feedback you have to what I write.  Until the next post….