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Career Pathways help students and alumni find their community

Last fall, the College embarked on a community approach to helping students find the best fit not only for their interests and skills, but also for the types of people they feel most comfortable with.

By Linda Blaser


A star on the basketball court as well as in the classroom, Michael Rueffer ’17 had a lot of options when it came time to choose a college. Not only was there a list of schools interested in having this academically accomplished athlete run their basketball team’s offense as point guard, the high school senior knew from the start what he wanted: solid academics, a location near a major city, and a good job after graduation.

After visiting Lake Forest, the 6-foot-2 teen knew he found where he wanted to play basketball and earn his degree. The tipping point that set Lake Forest College apart? The Career Advancement Center (CAC). “To have a designated area on campus that helps you get jobs and internships is the most unique thing about this school,” said Rueffer. That, in a nutshell, was the clincher. Now in his senior year, Rueffer has completed three career-related internships and has real-life job skills. Not only does he have a handle on where he wants to focus his job search, he has the experience and network to get there.

Lisa Hinkley, associate vice president for career and professional development, heads up the CAC in Buchanan Hall. “The College is committed through its mission statement to help all students attain productive and rewarding careers,” Hinkley said. “That is our charge: to help all of our students, not just the ones who show up here.”

The CAC team is taking responsibility for students who are entering a competitive job market. “There was a time when anyone could get a good degree and they were going to get a job, and it was going to be a good job and everything was going to be fine,” Hinkley said.

But that’s not necessarily the case anymore.

“Today’s graduates are expected to perform what, based on research, is equivalent to the standards that top-performing mid-level managers were held to in the 1990s. Students are expected to have their act together in a way that graduates of past decades really weren’t expected to do,” Hinkley said.


Last fall, the College embarked on a community approach to helping students find the best fit not only for their interests and skills, but also for the types of people they feel most comfortable with. Here’s how:







“Career Pathways bring thousands of career options down to five. More than five would be overwhelming,” Hinkley said. “The pathways align with the College’s four-year career planning program.” Following the pathways, first-year students focus on their career and academic options. In their second year, they target one or more professional pathways. In their third year, they refine their path and strengthen their relevant skills through meaningful hands-on internships, then polish their credentials during their final year at the College.

Nathan Haberman ’17 is a good case in point. He started college thinking he wanted to be an engineer, so he took a lot of physics classes. Still exploring, Haberman signed up for an economics class and quickly realized he liked business more than engineering. After researching the different specializations, Haberman settled on finance as the right fit for him. “It’s more about concrete figures,” he said. The finance major and physics minor admits his major is “something he grew into.”

During the time he was grappling with his choice of major, Haberman had an important and meaningful constant in his life through theatrical pursuits, including the Garrick Players and a student improvisational group. “It’s a lot of fun,” he said of the theatrical and artsy side of his life. In a perfect combination of his schoolwork and personal interests, Haberman worked full-time at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in the accounting department during the fall 2016 semester while he was in the College’s In The Loop Program. Haberman specifically sought a meaningful for-credit internship where he could use his finance major and combine it with his love for the arts. Today, Haberman considers seeking a finance position in a creative atmosphere as the perfect job opportunity and a true demonstration of the Career Pathways process.


The Career Pathways are communities made up of students, professors, coaches, alumni, employers, trustees, and friends of the College. “With 80 percent of jobs never posted anywhere, most people find positions through networking with their community, by reaching out to people they know,” Hinkley said. “If we position our students in communities, then they’re going to be more connected to a broader network, which will position them to tap the hidden job market. They’re able to identify career opportunities they never would’ve known existed. They’ll always have a community of people they can turn to.”

Katherine McCauley Najjar ’02, formerly at William Blair and PepsiCo and now a stay-at-home mom, is heavily involved in mentoring business students at Lake Forest. She frequently returns to campus to talk with students and connect with faculty. “The critical component to getting any job and getting your foot in the door, especially at a large company, is through a personal contact—a mentor, an alum,” she said. “Making those relationships is key to success. Bringing alumni back to campus to meet with students allows for these relationships to develop. Making meaningful connections with alumni in their field of interest is one great tool students can use to find rewarding jobs right out of school.”

Assistant Professor of Politics and Chair of Legal Studies Debra Levis welcomes the Career Pathways for students who are interested in law-related careers. “It could never hurt, in this job market, to put people into groups and allow networking, brainstorming, and connections to start early on,” she said. “Rather than being pigeon-holed into one career, this gives students options. I think it’s an excellent way of approaching one’s career, which takes various twists and turns because of the people you meet.”

Professor of Music Don Meyer supports the pathway approach and grouping similar majors together. “One of the goals is to build connections among creative arts students at the College so that rather than looking at themselves as music majors, or art majors, or theater majors, they see a community,” he said. “One of the positive results of getting students to interact across discipline boundaries is to build alliances to help them in their careers,” he said. “Going forward, maybe an entrepreneurial grad will start a theater storefront. They can turn to their Lake Forest ‘creative arts community’ to hire a theater major to direct, a music major to write a score, and an art major to create scenery. Seeds of future collaborations are sown in college.”


For-credit internships have been an important option at Lake Forest College for more than 40 years. “We’ve had an internship program before it was on trend,” Hinkley said. Today, internships are expected. “There was a time when internships were a nice add-on to other things you did,” she said. “Today students are expected to have more than one internship or research experience.”

Anna Schoen ’16 is a prime example of a student who found multiple internships critical to her success in landing a meaningful career at a job she was trained to do. She completed three internships before graduation. “Each internship I had was a great learning tool, because I was able to try out a career for a little bit,” she said. Schoen learned about different career paths, and a lot about herself and what kind of environment she wanted to work in through those real-life experiences. “By exploring different avenues of work, you are able to see what you like and what you don’t.” Today, Schoen is a marketing manager at Foothills Art Center in Golden, Colorado.

“Students absolutely have to have one internship, if not more,” Professor of Biology Karen Kirk agreed. She typically starts meeting one-on-one with pre-health students early on in their sophomore year. “We talk about different things they can do, different types of internships they can get, whether they’re interested in research or whether they’d like to observe how a medical team works together. We talk about the possibility of shadowing a doctor or other health-care professional.” Kirk often connects students with alums of the College. “If they’re curious what it’s like to be a physician’s assistant, for example, I’ll give them the name of a former student who went onto a PA program. We’ve got alumni everywhere,” she said.

Niah Anson ’18 interned at a Consulate General while studying international relations and social justice, where she learned about her future career goals and interests she can pursue in the future. “I came to the realization that public policy may not be the route I want to continue down and it encouraged me to research careers and opportunities in advocacy and academic affairs,” Anson said.

Her experience working with the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) helped Kirsten Slora ’17 see there are more options for her psychology major and communication minor than she realized. “The skills I’ve obtained in psych classes with statistics was such a big help,” she said. “Nobody else at CARA knew how to do stats or how to construct a survey. Now I know I can apply my skills in a meaningful work environment. I don’t have to get my master’s or PhD to find my dream job.”

The Career Pathways are designed to help students see from their first days on campus how to explore their interests and options in a supportive way. The Career Pathways give students a plan, even when they aren’t totally decided, Hinkley said. “It takes a community to help our students succeed, and I hope alumni and friends of the College continue to understand how important these new communities are for all of us.”

To get involved in the Career Pathways, go to lakeforest.edu/careers/pathways.