March 11, 2020

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | Let’s Rethink How We Prepare Cornellians for a Life After the Hill

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As does every year, in just two months, a new cohort of Cornellians will finish their studies and venture out into the world. Regardless of what the future holds for them — joining the workforce or seeking a graduate or professional degree — 3,500 Cornellians will be starting a new, exciting chapter of their lives. But how is Cornell readying its students for what lies beyond?

Not many students are aware of the intricacies of the career counseling system at Cornell. For starters, it is Cornell Career Services that has the daunting task of helping students find employment or pursue graduate and professional studies. But CCS isn’t the only campus office that does this: When students think “career advising,” it’s probably their college offices that first come to mind. In the aggregate, 60 advisers, coordinators and assistants in 8 offices located in 14 different buildings advise Cornell students on career-related matters. In Cornell’s convoluted hierarchy of career services personnel, it’s unclear what’s more difficult: finding a career path or finding an adviser to help you identify that career path.

As another class departs for a world beyond the classroom and recruitment season approaches for those who remain, Cornell must make a bold commitment to reimagining how we prepare Cornellians for life after the Hill.

Cornell is not unique in its struggles to meet the high expectations of today’s students, but we face unique organizational challenges. For instance, Arts and Engineering colleges’ career directors report to CCS — which in turn reports into a university vice president — and they receive financial support from the central University. Simultaneously, these directors have a dual reporting relationship to their respective college deans, who report to the provost. In contrast, four other colleges have directors that report just to their deans. But Dyson and the Hotel School have two layers of dean-reporting: once to their respective school deans and then to the Business college dean.

Career advising is a difficult enough task, but Cornell’s advisers are disadvantaged and overburdened when our human and financial resources are scattered all across hundreds of acres. In a decentralized and convoluted reporting and budgeting structure, new and innovative ideas die, responsibilities are diffused and advising efforts are duplicated. With a dozen independent decision-makers that run career offices out of their budgets, it is incredibly difficult for a central career advising entity to step up, take the helm and act as a control tower for reforms that are much needed.

Given this structure, it does not come as a surprise that career advising remains a mystery to many undergraduates. Instead of spending time and effort to capitalize on the University’s investments in career services, Cornellians do so navigating the entanglement of college and university offices. On numerous occasions, students have come up to me to ask why we have both college advising offices and a central career service office. Many times, students haven’t even heard of Barnes Hall.

For students in Cornell’s multidisciplinary colleges, the current advising model presents additional challenges. For example, it would be fair to say that most architecture majors intend to pursue a career in architecture. But for a college as diverse as Arts and Sciences — that houses 40 majors ranging from chemistry to Africana studies — a mere affiliation with the school does not reveal much about one’s career interests. This reality constrains the Arts college to keep its advising efforts broad and “exploration-focused,” while other colleges devote significant resources to narrowly tailored and practical counseling.

So, a truly practical solution that works for every Cornellian — and not just ones in specific colleges or majors — will inevitably involve a career services organization that transcends college boundaries. Let’s take our cue from peer institutions, like the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University, which unite their advising efforts under a single central department. We’ve already seen the savings and synergies that we can achieve when Day Hall takes leadership in consolidating services that are duplicated by each college. When we pool our dispersed, college-owned resources for the common good of the University, we result in an institution that is greater than the sum of its parts.

In re-envisioning career counseling at Cornell, let’s not feel beholden to our current college-based approach, but think freely and broadly. What works or doesn’t work in our current model? If we could build one from scratch, what would an ideal career services system look like? As we reflect on how Cornell prepares our graduates for a world beyond the Hill, I welcome an open discussion on career advising at the University.

 

Jaewon Sim is an undergraduate student-elected member of the Board of Trustees and a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Comments may be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com. Trustee Viewpoint runs every other Thursday this semester.