What does it take to be successful?
While the classroom is a major part of the college experience, there are “soft” skills that students must learn in order to have a successful career. In fact, many students who aren’t “exceptional” in their classes can still be successful in their careers with the right combination of skills. The University of Mobile Student Success Center (SSC) provides students with opportunities for personal growth, academic success coaching, counseling and career development. The SSC also ensures that students with disabilities have appropriate access according to the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
Julia Lucy, Student Support Services coordinator, explains the need for a solid support system outside of the classroom. “Students are often not prepared for the rigorous course load and the various delivery methods employed by professors,” she says. “Coupled with the responsibility of organizing their schedules and managing their time wisely – students often get discouraged or give up.”
Lucy provides academic counseling and support for students with disabilities. In addition to counseling and success coaching, students have access to private tutoring, someone to help process documentation and self-advocacy training.
“With the services we provide, we are able to see ‘ability’ not ‘disability’,” she says.
Brenda Davis, coordinator of Career Development, believes the SSC prepares students beyond the books for success in real life experiences. “How are you going to integrate what you’ve learned academically in the real world?” Davis asks. “Our job is to take them beyond the classroom and do as much as we can to make things practical.”
The First Year Experience
Students begin their freshman year by going through Freshman Seminar, described by Davis as the “bridge class from high school to college.” This class immerses students in the UMobile experience, from introducing students to MyUM (student portal) to studying personal finance, study skills and time management. Students are placed in classes based on their Ram Rush (new student orientation) families, so camaraderie already exists in the class.
Early in the semester, students are required to take the StrengthsFinder and Focus2 assessments. These assessments help students by improving their self-awareness and identifying potential career
opportunities they may not have considered. Additionally, Davis wants to build “emotional intelligence.”
“I think the freshman year is so important because it’s that self-awareness time,” Davis says. “The more we know ourselves, the more we are able to understand others.”
Often, students declare a major as they enter college without having a clear career direction. Lawrencine Mason, career counselor, encourages students to begin the career exploration process as early as possible.
“I strongly advise students to begin their search for volunteer opportunities, externships (shadowing), and internships for hands-on experiences in different areas to determine whether they would enjoy working in a particular field,” Mason says.
Mason encourages students to attend career development workshops provided by the SSC beginning their freshman year. This guarantees that students will understand how to practically apply for jobs and conduct themselves in interviews.
Students are also given internship opportunities, as well as on-campus jobs through the Student Workforce. This on-the-job training develops basic skills in time management, organization and punctuality. Through the combination of workshops and hands-on learning, UMobile students have an edge in job training by the time they graduate.
“The purpose of a degree is to receive the necessary knowledge to help prepare them for their career of choice,” Mason says. “Our job in the SSC is to equip them with skills for cover letter writing, resume writing, networking and interviewing so they will be hired.”
Students entering college today have grown up in a culture leaning heavily on the importance of self-esteem. Trophies and ribbons are given more generously in an effort to make everyone feel like a “winner.” But what about adulthood? At what point does this drive for self-esteem in today’s youth actually harm their perspective?
“Students need to be put in situations where they fail,” Davis says. “I love the fact that students set themselves up for failure.”
While this may seem harsh, UMobile is a place where students can fail safely – and learn from it.
“Failure is highly important and humbling,” Davis says. “Part of this generation’s problem is that we’ve fought so hard to make sure they have self-esteem that we’ve overdone it.”
This fear of failure keeps students on the sidelines and away from taking risks. The collegiate experience is defined by self-discovery and adventure, but many students miss out on opportunities simply because they are afraid to try.
Davis believes the SSC must constantly encourage students to face their fears and take risks. UMobile provides the right environment for those risks to happen safely, without ruining a career or academic opportunity.
“How do we help alleviate that fear, but make that fear healthy?” Davis asks.
When students share a failure or defeat involving their goals and dreams, Davis offers a gentle, but stern reminder.
“What are you going to do after you toss your mortar board?” she asks. “Take a different path, but don’t give up on your dream.”
Davis’ career trajectory gives her a unique perspective on vocation.
She was a high school English teacher for 25 years.
After retiring at the age of 50, she went snow-skiing and whitewater rafting for the first time. Then, she started graduate school.
Next, she served as the college minister in a local church for 10 years.
This experience shaped her passion for teaching and molding students in a new way.
“I think God put me in college ministry to REALLY give me a love for this age group,” Davis says.
When she was approached with an opportunity to lead UMobile’s career development initiative in 2011, Davis was at first resistant.
“I did not want to leave – but He called me out,” she says.
“Dr. Foley gave me a charge of wanting our graduates to stand out above other graduates,” she says. Now, with two career changes – AFTER retirement – Davis believes that each experience has shaped
her for this season of pouring into UMobile students.
“I love college students because I think they have so much to offer.” Because of caring staff like Davis, and the SSC’s vision of holistic development, UMobile students can offer their gifts and talents as agents of change in today’s culture.