William & Mary

Center to offer freshmen, sophomores a career 'compass'

  • Program creator
    Program creator  Ashleigh Heck, an assistant director at the Cohen Career Center, created the Compass Program.  Photo by Joel Pattison
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William & Mary’s Cohen Career Center is launching a new program this fall that will help freshmen and sophomores explore their interests and begin thinking about potential majors and career choices.

The Compass Program will offer the College’s first- and second-year students a “menu” of experiences, workshops and guidance, ranging from basic resume writing workshops to opportunities to meet with employers -- not so freshmen and sophomores can start applying for jobs right away, but to ready them for the day when that does happen.

The program is the result of student outcome assessments done at the Career Center over the last few years as well as a growing focus on first- and second-year students at college career centers nationwide.

Ashleigh Heck, an assistant director at the Cohen Career Center, created the Compass Program. When she began at William & Mary last August, Heck said, she imagined the program as being something rather linear where students would follow a predetermined path during their first and second years at the College.

“It only took about three months on this campus to realize that that kind of program wouldn’t work for William & Mary students,” said Heck, noting that some of the College’s newest students are already “wildly experienced,” with some coming to campus with high-profile internships or serious research already under their belts, while others  are developing their first resumes.

“As I developed the proposal for Compass, I shifted away from making this a course or a map for people to go through step by step,” Heck said. “Compass is basically a big menu divided into three categories. Students can mix and match programs and opportunities based on their needs, rather than the Career Center assuming we know what’s best for every student in their first two years of college.”

The first part of the program, “Prepare to Declare,” focuses on helping students choose a major.

“We find that choosing a major is the first major hurdle students face, especially for a school that’s this academically focused,” said Heck.

As a part of “Prepare to Declare,” students will be able to participate in the Major and Career Exploration (MACE) seminar series, which features a revamped six-week curriculum. Students will also be able to participate in programs that focus on pursuing graduate school or workshops like one that focuses on how to declare a major.

The second part of Compass is called “Career Explorer.”

“Career Explorer programs are basically designed to give students a taste of what a particular career field or industry might be like if they choose to pursue it when they leave here,” said Heck.

This section includes some pre-existing opportunities, like the Local Internship Program, which has been open to freshmen and sophomores for years. However, the program is being rebranded in an effort to get more freshmen and sophomores to participate.

“It’s seven to 10 hours a week, unpaid, close by -- it’s tailor-made for a student who’s not ready to do a full summer internship yet,” said Heck.

Students can also explore potential career fields through panels and lectures that are aimed just at first and second-year students.

“The recruiter for the CIA comes and talks just to freshmen and sophomores about what they can be doing now to prepare to get a CIA internship, which has a really competitive application process,” said Heck. “But, thinking about it as a freshman potentially makes a big difference.”

Additionally, as part of the “Career Explorer” section of Compass, students will be able to participate in a program about potentially going to law school as well as Passport Programs for the College’s career and graduate school fairs.

“Our graduate schools and employers are currently registering for those events, and they have the option to designate themselves as Passport participants, which indicates their willingness to speak not only to seniors looking for jobs, but to freshmen and sophomores exploring fields and industries,” said Heck. “They’ll get a designation on the event programs so freshmen and sophomores can see who those employers and graduate schools are and seek them out”

Heck said that the Passport Programs are intended to break down barriers so that freshmen and sophomores feel like they have a reason to go to the career and graduate school fairs that’s not connected to them applying for a job or for graduate school.

The third section of Compass is the “Career Toolkit,” which offers students basic career tools and resources. This will include a resume writing 101 workshop, which is a more basic version of the Career Center’s pre-existing resume writing workshops.

“It’s more a conceptual thing,” said Heck, “like what is a resume? How do you take the list of things that you brought in when you applied here and transmit it to a resume you would use for college activities or internships?”

Heck has already received positive feedback about the program from freshmen as well as juniors and seniors who said they wished it was around when they were first or second year students. Although some have asked Heck why freshmen and sophomores need to be thinking about careers already, Heck said that’s not really the goal.

“By engaging in career development activities early, I’m hoping that students will build confidence about the decisions that they are already making without us, particularly, the major decision,” said Heck. “And because so many students see a direct link between major and career – like they think, psychology, psychology major, psychologist – and they don’t realize that there are other routes, I hope that they’ll start to realize the possibilities within their academic majors. Also, by experimenting, they’ll make more informed decisions about their career choices rather than applying to things just because they need a job.”

Students may learn more about the Compass Program and begin registering for upcoming events at www.wm.edu/compass.