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Focusing on Fundamentals

W&M Alumni Magazine
Winter 2022

William & Mary has a long history of innovation, evolving to meet the pressing needs of our commonwealth and country. In 1779, William & Mary pioneered legal education. Roughly 160 years later, a faculty member established a world-class institute of marine science to study the state’s water ecosystems. Adaptations like these have advanced William & Mary’s mission over the centuries: educating complex thinkers, principled professionals, well prepared to sustain our pluralistic democracy.

Mission fundamentals guide such successful adaptations. In this second winter of pandemic, William & Mary is keenly aware of our fundamental responsibility to ensure that our students thrive in their chosen professions — from the first job they land after college to those that follow — in the rapidly changing workplaces of the 21st century. The value of the education we offer, grounded in the range of the liberal arts and sciences, has never been clearer: We equip graduates for the transformations ahead.

Alumni and friends know well that William & Mary educates for impact. Talented students grow their abilities to problem-solve collaboratively. They sort data with sophistication and name solutions clearly — even and especially at times of uncertainty. In a recent Inside Higher Ed podcast, Ardine Williams, vice president for workforce development at Amazon and a member of the university’s Board of Visitors, described how William & Mary is positioned to “create a graduate who is exquisitely capable for the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow.”

Adaptation requires resilience, and William & Mary students have brought their resilient spirits to every challenge of the past 20 months. Theirs is a generation of unusual grit, maturing through uncertainty. These qualities will serve them well as they enter the workforce.

The lessons gained under pandemic position William & Mary to lead the nation in expanding career readiness. Accordingly, during our final phase of strategic planning we have focused on the fundamentals of our mission to equip students for lives of meaning and distinction. Building on the roaring success of the university-wide Career Pathways Initiatives created under pandemic, William & Mary’s Career Development & Professional Engagement team is scaling up the innovations they piloted last year. Above all, they will focus on expanding internships and other hands-on learning experiences. As multiple studies have shown, meaningful work-based learning experiences are the most important step to landing the first job after graduation.

In recent years, William & Mary has established a terrific track record in integrating applied learning into a wide range of programs:

William & Mary is the No. 1 public university in the nation for internships, something we take great pride in.

Programs such as the William & Mary Washington Center, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, pair rigorous academic learning with intensive experiential components. The Washington Center expands our reach in the nation’s capital. Their track record is compelling: In a 2018 survey of alumni, 63% of respondents said that their study in D.C. experience had a positive impact on their career opportunities.

Through research labs, such as GeoLab, students lead discoveries in the high demand areas, including spatial data, satellite data and AI.

Yet barriers remain for many students that prevent them from pursuing such valuable experiences without extending their time to degree. Financial constraints limit opportunities. Those whose families do not have broad professional networks are limited in their access to internships. William & Mary must do more to lower these barriers.

We are fortunate to have incredible partners in this effort: our 100,000+ alumni network, the best representatives of the impact of a William & Mary degree. Our parent and family communities are committed to ensuring we prepare our graduates to thrive. So too, business, political and higher education leaders are aligned to recruit and retain talent in our commonwealth.

During Charter Day Weekend, William & Mary will unveil a new, ambitious strategic plan, Vision 2026. You will see, among other goals, our commitment to expanding career pathways for all students, as we strive to provide every student with a fully funded internship experience. I hope you will join us virtually or in person in February, as we outline these and other key priorities for W&M’s next half-decade.