University News

Careers of Usefulness
Bringing a holistic approach to career services

By Christina Paxson / April–May 2022
April 11th, 2022

One of the most well-known lines in the Brown Charter proclaims that the University should prepare students for lives of “usefulness and reputation.” For more than 250 years we have done just that, by providing students with outstanding academic opportunities and cocurricular experiences that develop their capacity to be innovative leaders.

But in this century, comprehensive preparation for life after Brown requires even more focus. Today’s students need internships, research positions, and employment opportunities that will prepare them for their next stage of life. And they need mentorship and advice on how to succeed in a rapidly changing world.

We have made great strides in building a robust career services program. In 2014, we launched BrownConnect, a program that has expanded the number and accessibility of student internship and research opportunities. Since its inception, thousands of students have engaged with hundreds of alumni, parents, and friends to secure highly competitive research projects and internships and provide mentorship across a wide range of professions. BrownConnect also serves as a hub where students can apply for financial support for low-paid or unpaid internships, ensuring that all students can have access to excellent summer learning experiences.

Through the pandemic, BrownConnect has been more important than ever. In 2020, with many students’ research, internship, and professional plans derailed, we created the BrownConnect Summer Institute: a free, immersive, seven-week learning opportunity for career exploration and networking. Not only did hundreds of students learn about various career paths, they also made valuable alumni connections that will continue to serve them.

Success will require galvanizing a larger and more diverse group of alumni to share their wisdom.

I believe we can and should do more to support the career aspirations of our students. Last spring, I challenged a small committee of alumni—led by former Brown Alumni Association President and Vice Chancellor Jerome Vascellaro ’74 P’07—to consider how Brown could make a transformational change in career services. The committee was charged with articulating a vision to put Brown’s career services program among the best in the country, building on our long tradition of preparing curious and independent students to be innovative, purpose-driven leaders.

The concept that emerged, which will be further developed in the coming months, involves moving toward a holistic approach to career exploration. This plan would encourage students to navigate career options using the same intentional methods applied to exploring Brown’s distinctive Open Curriculum. Rather than focusing on a narrow set of career tracks, this transformation of career services will encourage students to consider how to design lives of meaning, usefulness, and service to society while also developing the courage to pursue what truly inspires them.

This means reorienting career services to encourage students to engage in internships and immersive learning experiences that will help them understand which career paths are a good fit—and just as importantly, which are not! It means expanding a new and popular course on exploring career options, which challenges students to consider what they want their lives to look like and how to pursue meaningful work.

This effort will require cross-campus collaboration with career support available earlier in students’ college journeys through advisors, coaches, and affinity centers. It also will involve championing on-campus student employment as a means to career exploration.

Fulfilling the vision will require two things. The first is an addition of resources so Brown’s career services unit has staff to manage mentoring programs, curate alumni and parent engagement, and develop deep connections with prospective employers.

The second and perhaps most important need is the enhanced engagement of alumni and Brown parents. Our experience with BrownConnect and other successful mentoring programs has shown that alumni are eager to share their experiences and help students navigate life after Brown. Success will require galvanizing a much larger, more diverse group of alumni volunteers, from a wide range of industries, to share their wisdom. Stay tuned in the coming months to learn more about how you can be involved with these efforts.

Read the April–May 2022 President's Spread on “International Alumni Make Global Impact” here (PDF). 

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Related Issue
April–May 2022