Introducing Students to the World of Work: Q&A with Michelle Bata, Clark University
As enrollment and state funding become more reliant on student outcomes, many universities are giving their career services a makeover. But in order for a college to help students develop skills for future employment, career preparation and guidance can’t be limited to the career services office.
According to Michelle Bata, from Clark University, career readiness needs to be a part of the school culture. Michelle Bata is the Associate Dean and Director of Clark’s LEEP Center, which stands for Liberal Education and Effective Practice (LEEP). The department is dedicated to connecting the benefits of a liberal arts education with practical skills students can use to build their futures “whether in college or beyond.”
This year at the LearnLaunch 2018 conference, we spoke with Michelle Bata about the LEEP programs innovations, and how the school is creating a culture around career exploration.
Play the podcast episode above, watch the video below, or download the interview on iTunes for the full interview.
Hannah Nyren: [00:00:00] Welcome to the EdTech Times podcast.
Hannah Nyren: [00:00:05] Hi. This is Hannah Nyren with the EdTech Times. And today I’m speaking with Michelle Bata from Clark University. How’s it going, Michelle?
Michelle Bata: [00:00:13] Good. I’m happy to be here with you.
Hannah Nyren: [00:00:14] So, tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do at Clark.
Michelle Bata: [00:00:18] So I’m the associate dean and executive director of Clark’s LEEP Center and LEEP, L-E-E-P, stands for Liberal Education and Effective Practice and LEEP is basically Clark’s version or model of undergraduate education, thinking very critically about how we can put liberal arts into practice. But in the LEEP center we’re home to the offices of academic advising, career services, community engagement, study abroad, and the writing center. We’re broadly known as the Clark center for advising, experiential education, and careers.
Hannah Nyren: [00:00:48] So what do you think you’re doing at the LEEP Center that’s different than what other schools might offer?
Michelle Bata: [00:00:54] I think there are two fundamental streams or initiatives that we’re working on that are different from what other people are doing. The first is a very intentional and deep focus on student advising.
Michelle Bata: So when you think about, like, the college to career transition, a lot of schools focus on “Okay well what do we do, need to do academically to get students to kind of think about how the academics connect to careers? How can we beef up career services?” And both of those things are really necessary. But they’re forgetting the most important player — which is the student. And students need help navigating this maze of information and opportunities and experiences. They need to think about it, reflect on it, get some guidance, get some feedback and so that’s what we do.
Michelle Bata: We kind of consider ourselves very student-centered. And in terms of our advising model, we put students at the center of it. And think very critically and developmentally about, you know, what do they need when they’re in their first semester of their first year. You know, at that point, you don’t want to talk about internships or careers, because they’re still figuring out where the library is. So how can we kind of scaffold all the things that they would need in a very intentional developmental way so that when they’re really ready to think about making that transition they’re already prepared and we’re not scrambling or doing any kind of remedial work. So that’s the first thing we’re working on.
Michelle Bata: [00:02:10] And the second thing that we’re working on, that I think is different, is what we think about is really kind of proactive career readiness that takes place or preparation that takes place outside the classroom. You know we’ve, we’ve done a lot of work really trying to leverage our contacts with employers and with our alumni to try to increase the number of opportunities available to our students. And, um, a lot of people have been stepping up to the plate which is fabulous. But with that comes a certain obligation to ensure that we’re putting our best foot forward with regards to our students. And you know, we want to make sure that as we trade on our reputation and they trade on theirs, our students actually have an appreciation for all of these efforts. So we’ve been putting a lot of emphasis into guided learning. Making sure that our students are not just being placed in these opportunities, but that they’re able to make connections with their academics and they’re prepared in terms of the world of work and their professionalism and that they understand and can articulate what they’re learning and leverage that for opportunities later on.
Hannah Nyren: [00:03:09] So what kind of success rate have you seen with students getting into careers successfully since this program started, or since you changed the way that you approach career readiness?
Michelle Bata: [00:03:22] It’s a difficult question to answer because, smack in the middle — so we’re in five years in to the effort — and smack in the middle of that effort, the National Association of Colleges and Employers changed the definition of first destination outcomes. So our first destination outcomes before don’t match our first destination outcomes now, so it’s a little hard to measure. But I can say that, that we’re very proud of our first destination rate. We’re going to have 97 percent of our students launch six months after graduation with an 85 percent knowledge rate. It doesn’t get much better than that. Where we see some of the biggest changes with our students, and this is actually what we were really hoping for, is more of a cultural shift. When I first got to Clark, one of the new initiatives that Clark started was a funding program. We were going to pay students to do internships and undergraduate research projects. We couldn’t give that money away. It was April and we were hunting down students and saying “Hey, we have this fantastic opportunity and we’re going to pay you to do it . ” And they’re like, “Yeah, no thanks.”
Hannah Nyren: [00:04:14] Seriously?
Michelle Bata: [00:04:15] Seriously. Nowadays, they’re banging down our doors in October. We have more than doubled traffic to our office. You know we’re, we’re actively turning students away. We have an average of a three-week wait to get in to see us. We, last year for the first time ever, held a reverse career fair where we invited employers to come speak to student groups. We engaged over 50 new employers and the room was packed with students. The students were so excited to kind of talk about what they were doing and how it connects to the workforce. So it’s for us…you know, the stats are fine, you know, where our students go. We always have these great stories of students who end up at Ernst and Young and Amazon. So do other schools. But for us, it’s the culture of, like, “This is what I can do with a Clark education” that has been most impressive and most important to us.
Hannah Nyren: [00:04:58] And I think there is a difference between being a good student and taking the right classes, and getting into a finance job or something like that. And, you know, taking the initiative to do more and to get involved and to get work experience before graduation that can lead to more leadership opportunities in the future.
Michelle Bata: [00:05:20] Exactly. I totally agree.
Hannah Nyren: [00:05:22] So we are here today at the LearnLaunch Conference, and you were speaking on a panel. So can you tell me a bit about what that panel is about and what conclusions were made from it?
Michelle Bata: [00:05:35] Sure. So the panel was on connecting colleges to the workplace. And I was on a panel with the CEO and co-founder of uConnect, with the CEO and co-founder of PeopleGrove, and Christine Ortiz who is a professor at MIT and also one of the cofounders of Station1, a new, um, opportunity for students in the sciences. So it’s a fantastic panel. And what’s interesting is that we’re all working actively on the same problem, just coming out from different dimensions. And it really is “How can we get students.” So there, I think, there are two things. So “How can we get students to really connect to or start thinking about and start connecting to career-related opportunities and information?” Right, so that comes from a uConnect. How can we kind of take this landscape in this universe of information and bring it to students in a way that that makes sense for them and with PeopleGrove, same thing with mentors. Like how can we connect them with other people who can be helpful? You know Christine and what we’re doing at Clark is how can we connect students to opportunities that would be helpful to them. And so you know one of the big takeaways from, from the panel or this particular session is that there is so much out there and a lot of what’s incumbent upon all of us who are in the field is to try to make everything easily digestible and deliver it in a very targeted way to our students to really help them. It’s not the case that our students don’t have opportunities and don’t have resources. We’re just not doing a good enough job of getting it in front of them. So that’s one takeaway.
Michelle Bata: [00:07:06] Some of the other things that we talked about were you know “How can people who are in this landscape be much more intentional about connecting these efforts to academics?” So I talked a little bit about that in terms of the work that Clark has been doing in terms of the curriculum. Adam talked about that in terms of getting alumni incorporated into courses, and the courses, and then connecting to the major. And then, of course, Christine talked about that in terms of Station1 and some of the work that they’ve been doing at MIT. And then we all kind of agree that going forward over the next five years, you know, what are going to be some of the biggest trends, you want to- perhaps one of the biggest trends would be an intentionality with regard to a college to career approach. Particularly since the 2008 recession, everyone has been talking about this. You know colleges, and universities, and influencers, and thought leaders you know how can we kind of operationalize a return on investment in higher education. And so a lot of people have been pumping resources into this area for a while now and that is in terms of a lean implementation, a smart approach to doing that. But now that you’ve already have a kind of a base level or foundation established to go deeper into it. And more importantly, to bring on board some of those people who have been resisting some of that language there has to be a more targeted nuanced intentional approach to connecting colleges to the workplace.
Hannah Nyren: [00:08:22] So what do you think is the number one thing that higher-ed leaders or universities can do to help connect their students to the workforce?
Michelle Bata: [00:08:32] That’s a tough question. So and I suspect the answer would be different depending on the student population in the school. For us at Clark, and I’ve, and I’ve said this to our president, if I had to put my money on any one thing that we had to do to really change the culture of our students and connecting them to the workplace earlier it would be really making sure that students had exposure to the world of work earlier, in their first year and their sophomore year. And it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean placing students in internships, it doesn’t mean sending them to the career fair. It might be something a little more nuanced. They do a lot of programming in the residence halls. Why not do- they do a lot of volunteer opportunities. Why not connect them to an employer in that way? You know they have leadership conferences, bringing in an alum who’s in the workforce and have them connect leadership to what they’re currently doing in their employment. There are a lot of more covert ways that we could build career education into the undergraduate student experience at a much earlier level. And what that does is it opens them up and it makes them understand that that’s part of their undergraduate trajectory. It removes a lot of the anxiety associated with a job search or figuring out where they’re going or figuring out who they are and more importantly it gets them connected to potential resources earlier on. So that would be my bet.
Hannah Nyren: [00:09:49] So what would you like to see most colleges doing to ensure that their students are ready for careers?
Michelle Bata: [00:09:57] So I would go back to the comment I made earlier about taking a more intentional and nuanced approach. And also go back to this idea of not forgetting, you know you have colleges, and the academic space, and the employer space, but not forgetting about the student.Because you can put all these programs in a place, you can bring all these employers to campus, you can bring all the mentors together. But if the student is not able to see a clear path forward they’re not going to move no matter what the resources are. And that’s important. And so when we put ourselves- when you take a student centered approach, particularly with a liberal arts student, we have to remember that they’re not motivated by career. They’re not motivated by profession. They’re motivated by passion. Right? They approach their undergraduate career in terms of “What, who am I? What is my question? What am I interested in?” And they’re really turned off when you start talking about jobs. We shouldn’t try to change that culture for them. We should start where they are , meet them there, and say “Okay this is your passion. How are you going to see it played out?” So that’s what I would like to see some emphasis placed on. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. Thank you for having me.
Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.