Helping Students Navigate Paths to a Job, and Beyond

Michael Sciola, associate vice president for institutional advancement and career initiatives, Colgate U.

April 12, 2017

Produced by Carmen Mendoza and Julia Schmalz

As the world of work goes through fundamental changes and students face unprecedented challenges in employment, colleges' career centers need to reposition themselves to be more effective, says Michael Sciola, associate vice president for institutional advancement and career initiatives at Colgate University. Colleges should be engaging students “early and often,” he says, to help them discover their interests and talents, and how those might connect to a lifetime of satisfying work.

The Chronicle’s latest report, The Future of Work: How Colleges Can Prepare Students for the Jobs Ahead, features predictions from economists and technology experts on the labor market; insight from employers on the skills they are looking for among recent college graduates; thoughts from college administrators on how career services must change; and more. Purchase the report here.


SCOTT CARLSON: I'm Scott Carlson, from The Chronicle of Higher Education, and for the past few months I've been working on a report about the future of work and colleges' connections to it. And Michael Sciola, an associate vice president at Colgate University, who oversees institutional advancement and the career center, is one of the people in that report. And we're here to talk today a little bit about what we've learned. Michael, thanks for coming.

MICHAEL SCIOLA: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

SCOTT CARLSON: So the career center at Colgate holds a pretty prominent place on the campus. I'd be interested in your assessment of higher education as a whole. Where does the career center sit on campus, in terms of its prominence? Does it get the resources it needs? Is it sort of engaging students in the way that it should be, given today's challenges?

MICHAEL SCIOLA: Right. If we're talking globally, the simple answer is no. Career centers, for the most part, are not central to the mission or the strategy and are not supported or resourced appropriately, I think, for the coming disruption in the workplace and our responsibility to prepare students for that. At Colgate we're actually thinking about it even broader than career services.

I oversee career services and our entrepreneurship program, called Thought Into Action, as well as a skill-based program where we're providing our students with some specific skill opportunities that our employers are looking for. I think that universities and colleges are starting to realize that the career center needs to be better resourced and more closely aligned with the overall institutional goals of educating our students. But I would say at this point, no, most colleges don't have the career centers in the right place.

SCOTT CARLSON: And why is that? If you think about the emphasis on gainful employment, if you think about the way that people view a college degree as a ticket to a job.

MICHAEL SCIOLA: Sure. So there's the practical outcomes, the value base, the ROI, if you will, which has been used in higher education, or as a critique recently. So absolutely. Outcomes is a big reason for it, and you want to think about that. Academic mission of our institutions is primary. At Colgate we have some of the best faculty in the world. I would never be successful if I didn't have my faculty colleagues. I think, however, that it's a more nuanced and a more complicated answer to that question. The world of work is fundamentally changing.

This generation of college students is facing a workplace where not only they're going to have to have the technical skills and, I guess, the strategic skills of how you find a job, but in reality they're facing a landscape where they're going to have to invent opportunities for themselves. So this is where the entrepreneurship piece comes in at Colgate.

Whether our students go on to found their own companies or if they are employees for other folks, we know that our students, to be successful, are going to have to think of themselves as self-employed for the rest of their lives. So that can either be a scary thing or a really positive thing. We're choosing to take the positive road and to help our students start imagining a life they haven't lived yet much earlier, and to give them some essential skills about self-awareness, and also understanding how the world of work is organized and changing so that they can find those great on-ramps and entry points but be successful as their lives are moving forward.

SCOTT CARLSON: So we've talked a bit about this great disruption that's coming to the employment market and how, you know, students might be working more gig-type jobs, how the relationship with an employer might be more tenuous. Practically, how do you prepare a student for that kind of work? What do you tell them? What do you work with them on?

MICHAEL SCIOLA: The very first thing is you need to engage them much earlier. So our mantra at Colgate is "early and often." We have very specific strategies and processes that are connected with our students as they're matriculating. So the summer before they get in, and then for each of the years that they're on campus, we have specific signature programs that are developmental and sequential. We are engaging across all the curriculum as well as looking at all the unique populations we have on campus.

So we're in a situation now at Colgate where last year 97 percent of the entire student body connected with career services. So over 90 percent of each of the classes engage with us in an appointment or as an event attendee or workshop attendee or one of our immersion trips or tracks or through our recruiting programs. This has turned into a much more robust and nuanced conversation with our students.

We're not talking to freshmen about the job they're going to retire from. We're not talking about jobs at all. We're talking about passion. We're talking about skill. We're talking about experience. We're helping them unpack those initial impressions of Colgate, the things, the takeaways that they're getting from their first classes, from their first engagements as athletes or as student leaders. From there we're helping them to start building a different kind of an understanding of who they are. From there we're moving them into very strategic engagements with our alumni.

Almost every campus, I think, has some kind of a job-shadow or immersion program. We are specifically positioning our first- and second-year students to go out into the world and have the short "entree-ships," if you will. We're there engaging with alumni and parents so they're getting a much better idea of how a liberal-arts education translates into career and work at a much earlier point in their college career.

In their sophomore year, we have a signature program called Sophomore Connections, where we invite the entire sophomore class back to campus the weekend before spring semester begins. And we bring back about 150 alumni and parents and faculty for our students. They have this very robust career-discovery immersion experience in a conference setting. And we prep our students for that by doing pre-event orientations. We have baked into this reflective components, so that students can go in and not just listen to job titles and roles but start discerning what the differences are and how they might connect.

So in our junior and senior year, we've set up a series of immersion programs where we're taking students into some of our major cities so that they can have a multiday experience in connecting. Throughout the four years, we're also engaging with our alumni groups for networking opportunities where our students are able to start knitting together all these components that we've been sharing with them throughout their four years.

SCOTT CARLSON: Colgate is an elite institution that often attracts really well-prepared, well-resourced kids to go to school there. How do you prepare students for a career if you're capturing low-income students or first-gen students who just don't have the kinds of supports that some of Colgate's students might have?

MICHAEL SCIOLA: Sure. So let me back up a little bit. Colgate is a very diverse student population. And we're very intentional about making sure that we're attracting talented students, regardless of where they're coming from. Nearly half of our students are receiving some form of need-based financial aid. So I think — I'm not sure about the "elite institution" piece of this.

That being said, at career services we're well aware of the different preparation levels or the different support structures that our students may have. They're coming in with different experiences from different high schools. So a lot of our programming starts with this assumption that we need to lay a foundation for all of our students — invite them in and be helpful as they're engaging with us. It's that we're building a unique program that speaks to their individual interests, but also skill level and awareness level.

We think that we're evening the playing field by starting in freshman year engaging our students with a common set of discernment questions about passion and interest. Everybody comes with a unique set, regardless of their background. And then what we're doing is we're making sure that there's full access for all of our students.

We're raising significant funding for students who have an unpaid or a low-paid internship opportunity. We're giving out thousands — actually, last year we gave out $622,000 in grants for our students. The idea there is to make sure that the ability to afford an unpaid internship is not a barrier for students to have one. So we're also making sure that each of our programs is affordable and accessible to all of our students. We're not making any assumptions that our students are or are not able to go on our trips, for example.

Part of the strategy at Colgate — actually part of the action that we've taken in career services and our entrepreneurship program is part of our institutional-advancement arm of the institution. So I am sitting with folks that are running our annual fund and folks that are running our major gifts. The idea is that we're able to access folks that have means that want to support our students.

I'm also sitting with the folks that are running our alumni-relations program and our parent-relations program. So I'm able to connect in a very strategic and high level with my colleagues that are working with influential people around the world. So as we're working with students, we have this intergenerational access to folks so that we're connecting students in ways that are very powerful and meaningful and have great outcomes.

SCOTT CARLSON: Thanks, Michael. Thanks for showing up here at The Chronicle.

MICHAEL SCIOLA: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you.

Scott Carlson is a senior writer who covers the cost and value of college. Email him at