McCormick Offers Expanded Personal and Professional Development For Students

In an effort to make sure students are as prepared as possible when they graduate, the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science continues to expand its personal and professional development tools for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Now, both undergraduate and graduate students will have new opportunities to find research and volunteer opportunities and will have more chances for personal reflection on how to leverage their strengths and opportunities.

The personal and professional development initiative started two years ago when administrators realized that the popular Co-op Program, in which students spend up to six quarters working at one of about 200 participating employers while they go to school, was not enough. More than 30 percent of undergraduates participate in the program, but administrators wanted to offer more.

The McCormick Office of Career Development began offering internship listings and a new course called Introduction to Career Development, which is now a requirement for students who want to participate in an internship or in the co-op program. That course, taught by industry professionals with MBAs and backgrounds in engineering or human resources, includes three major components: how to decide on a career, how to develop tangible skills (like creating a résumé and networking), and what to expect from the transition from school to work. Nearly 300 students took the course last school year.

Now, the office is expanding its services even further to offer students an option to register for a quarter-long research or service learning opportunity. With this new option, students can take a quarter to focus on research in either a McCormick or industry lab, or volunteer their engineering skills around the world. In doing this, they don’t have to take a leave from school, and the research or volunteer opportunity shows up on their transcript.

The Office of Career Development has also hired a new assistant director who will assist with the outreach to graduate students. Most of the 700 students who take advantage of the office’s programs are undergraduate students, and many graduate students don’t know that they, too, can participate in the Co-op program or summer internships.“It gives students the opportunity to focus on one thing at a time,” said Helen Oloroso, assistant dean and director of the McCormick Office of Career Development. “It all falls under the umbrella of work-integrated learning, which gives students more preparation for life after graduation.”

The personal development initiative began as a pilot program two years ago for a subset of first-year students. As part of the program, ten first-year faculty advisers also served as "college coaches" who helped facilitate quarterly group meetings with a small group students. These meetings focused on students' self awareness (through the use of a self-assessment tool) and fostered discussions on issues like cocurricular options and why students chose to study engineering at Northwestern.

"We want our students to develop a strong sense of community and an awareness of the vast opportunities available to them," said Joe Holtgreive, assistant dean of student development. "We also want to provide them an opportunity to reflect on their experiences to learn about themselves and the world around them in the process."

Now, administrators are looking to expand the program to all students. All incoming freshman will have a chance to take an online assessment tool through StrengthsQuest™, a student development and engagement program designed to help high school and college students achieve success. Instead of offering quarterly meetings, the program aims to offer a series of seminars featuring both alumni and industry leaders. The seminar series will also offer a chance for students to break out into teams to discuss what they have learned. The insights gained will help students be more intentional as they plan their college career.  They are also partnering with the Center for Leadership (which is housed in McCormick) to help students become more effective as they work in teams in their Engineering Design and Communication courses.

“We want to make this a third dimension of McCormick’s education,” Holtgreive said. “Our students are already mastering their respective engineering domains through our curriculum, and they are learning innovation through design. This will give them a chance to develop their personal effectiveness, and this third dimension will help them become change agents in both their personal and professional lives.”

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