Wanted: Davidson Grads

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Where does a Davidson education in the liberal arts and sciences fit into an employment landscape that is shifting faster—much faster, in some sectors—than the four years it takes to earn a degree? As President Carol Quillen often points out, graduating seniors are applying for jobs that didn’t exist when they began college.

“Parents ask, ‘What are you going to do with that major?’” says Vice President and Dean of Admission Chris Gruber. His answer is as nimble, flexible and cheerful of heart as, well, a Davidson student: “Davidson alumni are smart, articulate, quick thinkers, fast at processing, ask good questions, savvy, conversational, fun, unpredictable in a good way… You’re always wondering where they’re going to go next… They can find the good, they can spot the problem, and they can match a solution to a need.”

And they can tell you all about it, meaningfully and compellingly, adds Aimee Weaver Ertley ’94.

“Looking at it from an employer’s perspective, it’s fundamentally about communication,” says Ertley. She is senior vice president for public relations with Sage, an Irvine, Calif. software company that works with a nationwide variety of small- to medium-sized businesses. “I would prefer to have someone who can communicate rather than someone who just wants to ‘do’ public relations.”

A particular history seminar comes to mind from her Davidson days.

“We had to do a 30-minute oral presentation that was a majority of our grade. We couldn’t say ‘like’ or ‘um.’ Now, whenever I do a public presentation, I know I can be ready,” she says. “At a school like Davidson, you have to speak up, you have to be part of the conversation, and you have to be comfortable with that. There’s no place to hide.”

Ertley says it is clear that the human resources department at Sage and many of the wide variety of companies Sage deals with also recognize the market value of educationally well-rounded employees who can think and speak on a wide variety of topics.

LaShena Smith, a recruiting specialist at Sage, agrees.

“People think of HR just as policy, but there’s a lot of judgment that goes into that. There are a lot of gray areas,” says Smith, herself a liberal arts alumna of Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University. “A lot of times, it’s easy to look for someone with a very specific type of degree, and people want to take the easy way. But that’s not the kind of people we want to hire. You don’t want everyone to agree!”

The attributes of mind and heart that flourish during a liberal arts education are a lifelong gift. Their more immediate value can also show up right away in the critical job interview, says Mike LeFauve. He is an area vice president for DJO Global, a leading provider in the burgeoning medical services and devices industry.

“Hiring is a very personal process,” says LeFauve. “I like to sit down with HR to talk about what’s important to a particular manager. We try to match it up in some almost subliminal way. We need someone who has presence.

“At the entry level, the education itself is important,” LeFauve says. “Farther along in a career, the person’s story is the important thing. In either case, I want to hear about the process of how they decided on their major and how they got to where they are today—and how they tell that story.”

That story gives him an idea of the bottom line he’s looking for: “What you know is critical. What you can learn is more critical.”

As one who is “farther along in a career,” David Roche ’74 can speak to persistence, creativity and lifelong learning.

A biology major who “got an excellent education in spite of” himself, he especially recalls the campus relationships available to and expected of him as a Davidson gentleman. After he went to work right out of college as a biologist for the old Duke Power Co., he built his reputation with many people in his industry based on those relationship skills, as well as continuous on-the-job learning.

“Environmental regulatory work was just taking off then,” he recalls, “and if you went to work for a big public utility, people thought that would be a job for life.”

In the early 21st century that turned out not to be the case for Roche, but his solid business reputation and relationships served him well. He returned to his native New York to work at Con Edison, then at Public Service Electric and Gas.

“What really helped me to persevere and adapt to change and be of value to other employers was the ability to communicate, first, to be a good analyst and figure out what the situation was to react to, then to be able to write and speak and communicate with employers and build relationships,” says Roche. “The Honor Code is the other thing that’s more important than ever in these times of close scrutiny by so many parties. Integrity is a big issue and ethics are a big issue.”

The Edge: Internships

Anecdotes from the wide world of work ring out on campus as prominently as the peal of the Chambers bell, or the click of a smartphone browser navigating to davidson.edu/careers.

Davidson boasts top national figures—“metrics,” in current parlance—in terms of graduation rate (consistently over 90 percent for the last five entering class years); career-related employment (68.64 percent at six months out for the Class of 2012); graduate school enrollment rate (25.5 percent); and that gold-standard marker of long-term alumni satisfaction, the annual giving participation rate (a top-ranked 60-plus percent for a decade and counting).

This year, the newly renamed Center for Career Development continues a robust, multi-year expansion in resources, staffing, programming and facilities, moving to the high-profile Brown Atrium level of the Alvarez College Union.

Opportunities for students to gain real-world experience are increasing, as a result of a concerted effort by Davidson and in reflection of the work world itself—supply and demand.

“Most of our success and most of our connections are through our alumni and our parents,” Nathan Elton, director of the career development center, says.

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For example, a drive to create new internships that adhere to strong guidelines up to Davidson snuff received nationwide acclaim. Ashley Neff, assistant director of the Center for Career Development, managed the “100 Internship Challenge” in academic year 2011-12, and the initiative won the “Members’ Choice Award” at that year’s annual conference of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Vincent Benjamin ’04, a member of the Davidson Alumni Board, suggested about two years ago that Davidson’s Center for Career Development should follow the lead of the college’s successful Fund for Davidson (formerly the Annual Fund) by challenging alumni, parents and friends to “raise” internships for Davidson students. Benjamin branded the initiative the “100 Internship Challenge” to set a numerical goal, and worked with the center’s staff to develop effective outreach strategies.

Hired to the staff in March 2011, Neff took on management of the initiative. It ended up topping its goal that first year because, Neff says, “The Davidson community really wanted to help.”

She continues, “There are a lot of alumni and families out there who wanted to support students’ career development, but didn’t know how. We just gave them a specific opportunity, and they responded enthusiastically.”

The first year’s recruitment drive netted 120 volunteers posting internships, and—renamed as the “Davidson Internship Challenge” in its second year—the program grew in 2012-13 to 141 internships. More than 60 percent of the internships posted resulted in actual internships for Davidson students.

Neff acknowledges that it’s not unusual for collegiate career offices to ask alumni to help students obtain internships. Davidson stood out, she believes, by couching the effort in a challenge to alumni, parents and friends. In addition, Davidson made it possible for alumni of all ages and at all stages of their careers to join the challenge by specifically suggesting three ways they can help. “You don’t have to be a CEO with hiring power to participate,” Neff explains.

Alumni can join the challenge by serving as a resource for students applying for the internship program at their organization through actions such as answering questions about their experience, reviewing a resume and helping students prepare for an interview; taking an active role in facilitating Davidson student applications through the internship host’s selection process by answering questions about the strength of a Davidson education, or encouraging the corporate human resources department to interview at Davidson; or creating or helping to arrange an internship specifically for a Davidson student.

The alumni office assisted with efforts to advertise the program in cities that most interested student participants, like Atlanta and New York. And when President Carol Quillen mentioned the program in an email to all alumni, Neff says “My phone was ringing off of the hook for a couple of weeks!”

Neff noted that internships are the single most important way for employers to identify future employees, and for Davidson students to explore career options.

NACE research shows that new graduates who have completed at least one internship during their undergraduate education are significantly more likely to receive job offers than those with no internship experience.

The Edge: Special Programs

More and more, current students, too, are exploring their individual “transitions to impact” well before graduation, under a thematic umbrella of the same name.

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• The Davidson Impact Fellows program is emblematic of President Quillen’s leadership in marshaling alumni forces for “disproportionate good in the world.” (See story, page 32.)

• The Education Scholars program is modeled partly on the successful Sustainability Scholars program begun in summer 2012. In summer 2013, eight undergraduate students were placed in internships with education-affiliated groups in and around Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). The students lived in community, conducted a project in their organization and participated in regular enrichment workshops.

• A new Innovation and Entrepreneurship Internship Program placed students in full-time paid internships for the summer with social venture and innovation-oriented companies. Eleven students were involved in its first year, working with Davidson alumni and friends in Charlotte, New York and Kenya. OrthoCarolina in Charlotte hired four to assist with organizational process improvement. Technekes hired a student to do market research and competitive pricing of a new product. iMedicare, a New York City company developing pharmacy software, hired a student to support various aspects of its early development.

• Two students even “hired” themselves—as entrepreneurs! The Davidson College Venture Lab is a start-up incubator designed to accelerate aspiring entrepreneurs through experiential education. Located in Packard Place in Charlotte, the lab offers help from mentors, networking opportunities and office space in which to work. Joe Morrison ’14 launched PAX backpacks, a for-profit company that donates 22 percent of profits to a community partner working to help disadvantaged students. Tori Mayernick ’14 expanded Hives for Lives (H4L), a student run non-profit that sells local, natural honey to raise money for cancer research.

• On campus, Mark Williams ’86, Ph.D., founder of Modality, Inc. in 2006, joined the campus community on Aug. 1 as Davidson’s first Entrepreneur in Residence for the 2013-14 academic year. Williams will serve as an adviser on the Entrepreneurship Initiative, develop and implement the Davidson College Venture Fund, and support the development of strategic health and entrepreneurial partners.

• Alumna Abby Jones ’10, in a dual role based in Philadelphia, is Davidson’s first regional admission assistant dean as well as serving as an employer relations officer for the college. “Networking is a huge piece of any career today,” she says.

• A winter-break job shadowing program of the career development center has 193 hosts this year, its third. An exploratory program, it has already yielded internships and even full-time job offers for students, says Neff. The Center for Civic Engagement also has a community engagement fellowship program that engages students in summertime opportunities.

Technology continues to redefine how humans relate to the world, but with change comes a need for, perhaps surprisingly, more of the same—creativity, critical thinking and communication skills. So, which will it be: left brain or right brain? STEM or humanities? Business or art, spirit or science?…

The answer is “yes.”

And Davidson students and alumni, as usual, are ready for whatever’s next.

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About Author

John Syme '85

Senior Writer John Syme graduated from Davidson with a French degree in 1985. After gigs in newspaper, advertising, translation in France and cross-country travel writing in the United States, he returned to alma mater in 2001. He has no immediate plans to graduate again.

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