Sponsored Content. It’s been said that the only constant is change. This is certainly true of the personal development that happens throughout our lives. People grow and change over time based on experiences, changes in circumstance and just plain, old-fashioned personal growth. St. Olaf College recognizes this and has developed what can only be called a career development program on steroids; it’s based on the overarching goal of comprehensively developing the student for post collegiate work.
Through a program called the Main Street Initiative, St. Olaf College is helping facilitate their students’ growth not just academically, but socially, personally, and professionally. The Main Street Initiative is comprised of a steering committee charged with developing a program and presenting proposals to the college for implementation toward these ends. The program and the college aspire to be leaders at “intentionally and comprehensively preparing its students for life after college.” The Main Street Initiative draws together multiple elements to achieve a goal that “includes strategies for continued assessment and development.” This program is designed to continue to guide students, even after they graduate from college.
There are three domains of institutional life identified as areas of concentration for achieving the goals of the overall program:
- co-curricular programs and services, and
- community connections.
Within each of these three segments of student life, the Main Street Initiative identifies existing programs and services that could be targeted for improvement and suggests new initiatives to enhance student readiness for the transition from school to career.
In terms of the curriculum, there is an early emphasis on the “Big Questions” that face a liberal arts student. So that the student might identify, through personal introspection, what will make them successful in a professional career and how coursework might facilitate that, students are asked to focus on the larger picture. The scope of the initiatives suggested is extensive and covers a student’s entire academic career from many perspectives. For example, suggested new initiatives include a “curriculum to career” academic concentration, surrounding an internship or summer job that would be worth four credits. A half credit for summer internships would be a part of this, encouraging students to prepare early and reflect on their experiences while at college by linking academics with real-world experience.
In terms of “Co-Curricular” programs, there are new initiatives that pace a student throughout their extra-curricular career at St. Olaf. An internship boot camp, a sophomore retreat, a senior survival guide, as well as a four year “online journal” are all parts of the initiative that flow from student activities outside the classroom. In addition to this, the college uses existing work programs as opportunities for enhancement of professional readiness. The idea here is to utilize all of a student’s experiences while at college, and to focus the student on the overall goal of a successful post-graduate career.
The “Community Connections” aspect of the program includes strengthening connections to alumni, and making vocational and career services available to both students and alumni alike. Mentor Networks and online Networking Guilds are two unique ideas that the Ole’s developed and actively promote. Cultivating relationships with top employers is one of the more common but still important ideas that fill the extensive list that St. Olaf has developed in the community connections aspect of the program.
For those of you that are interested, there is a complete document outlining all of the ideas and proposals promoted by The Main Street Initiative at St. Olaf College. While we have mentioned many of the key concepts here, the specifics are well worth exploring for their unique qualities, their variety, and their broad spectrum.
St. Olaf is by no means original among liberal arts colleges in their desire to connect academics with professional success, but St. Olaf takes this connection seriously. The Main Street Initiative takes the relationship between academics and a professional career to a whole new level that few colleges can match. For years, the knock on a liberal arts education was that it did not provide the student with anything like experience or readiness for the workplace; St. Olaf clearly confronts this misconception in a meaningful way, and takes steps to correct the misguided idea that liberal arts students are not ready to “hit the ground running.”
Moreover, the connection between professional and student is strengthened to the benefit of both, creating a sense of community that extends beyond graduation day, and allows for continued development well beyond the college years.