Published: Mar 24, 2011
Here's a classic SCAD story:
Matt Ward, acclaimed animator and SCAD alumnus, traveled back to Savannah to address the incoming class of 2014. During his visit, he met an M.F.A. student in sequential art named Nick Kay. Nick sent along his portfolio, and Matt introduced Nick to his colleagues at Imagemovers Digital. Matt also shared Nick's work with his circle of industry connections, using their feedback to carefully hone his portfolio. Nick has one quarter remaining at SCAD and reports that his ever-expanding connections have been "incalculably helpful" as he prepares to graduate this spring. These connections happen at SCAD every day.
Yet a recent survey titled "The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010"1
revealed that, nationwide, today's freshmen are more stressed about finding employment than any previous generation. It's easy to blame the lackluster economy, but the results reflect a growing gap between traditional university priorities and the job market - a gap that SCAD has long sought to bridge. At SCAD, where our mission is to prepare talented students for professional careers, you will not find starving artists. You will find thriving artists, students and alumni who are making valuable professional connections.
Still, in a planning session last year, a group of our senior administrators decided we could do even better. Our aim was to extend SCAD's mission beyond the relatively few years our students spend on campus, to serve our students even better from their first year to their first job, and to shine the spotlight even brighter on SCAD grads when they succeed.
The proposal? We've merged the once separate career and alumni services departments into one: the office of career and alumni success. Our alumni will not be contacted by a fundraising office, but by a career services staff member to check in and see how SCAD's resources can help them at every stage of their career. It's a different way of thinking about the alumni experience, but an idea that makes perfect sense for higher education. Graduates five years out and twenty years out need different services from their university. We're not just asking for something, we're offering news about competitions, openings at companies for possible promotions, and more.
We've also developed a system that enables us to set parameters for students to track their way to securing employment, and devised a system for advisers to record every contact they have with students. These methods may not seem completely revolutionary until you consider the long-held misconception that students at art and design schools spend their days painting, sketching in parks and strolling through museums. Yes, SCAD students do all of these things, but their primary pursuits are focused toward a more concrete and tangible goal: employment. Success is measureable. Last week I sat down with Alison Hopton Davis, associate vice president for the office of career and alumni success, and a SCAD alumna herself.
: Hi, Alison. How is this merge of career and alumni services advantageous to SCAD students and alumni?
: Many people may not know that the employment of SCAD graduates six months after graduation is typically around 80 percent. While that's an impressive statistic, the goal of this new department is 100 percent employment at graduation. Improved access to alumni is a major factor for this success, and students will see their career preparation accelerate through a new system of benchmarks beginning as soon as they set foot on campus. And as for alumni, they'll have improved access to reference guides in our online resource library, workshops and networking opportunities, and advising sessions on professional development.
: What's the most unique feature of the new structure?
: It's our new Career Advising Benchmarks system, or CAB as we call it. The CAB system charts a student's preparation each year through specified areas, emphasizing development such as marketing, career research, personal confidence and internships at the appropriate time of their academic career. It's a continuum necessary for intelligent career development and success. This way, there's no mystery surrounding the process, and our students feel confident and secure in their prospects.
We've also just launched a system that allows advisers to record every contact they have with students to better gauge and measure where their professional interests lie, and monitor their professional development. The system then enables advisers to send targeted correspondence to students or groups based on a number of variables, from majors and minors to activities and achievements. This also helps create more meaningful one-on-one sessions that can focus directly on a student's needs.
: What kind of relationships and opportunities will arise from the new office of career and alumni success?
: The name of our office reflects its two critical constituents: career success for current students, and career success for alumni. By creating a natural channel for information and connections between these two groups, we'll be able to proactively encourage SCAD students' professional development from the very beginning through the rest of their career, including and beyond their time at SCAD.
: How do you see the merge as an intuitive move for SCAD?
: Joining our efforts to ensure student success and enrich alumni relations is smart growth. Given the present state of the economy and changing industry trends, a clear avenue to alumni-to their experience and to their connections-is a valuable benefit to SCAD students. And for our alumni, we plan to expand our offerings of workshops, advising sessions and networking opportunities as well. It's a two-way street.
: How have alumni responded to this new focus?
: They're delighted by it. Among other exciting opportunities, the merge allows them to play a vital role in SCAD's process of developing new courses. Through panel discussions, departmental presentations and one-on-one conversations with students, job shadowing and mentoring, alumni convey knowledge and experience in real time, even as their own careers continue to evolve. By sharing industry trends and exploring the resulting curricular impacts, our alumni from around the world provide the eyes and ears SCAD needs to keep our graduates ahead of the curve.
1First-year college students' self-ratings of their emotional health dropped to record low levels in 2010, according to the CIRP Freshman Survey, UCLA's annual survey of the nation's entering students at four-year colleges and universities. The survey, part of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP), is administered nationally by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies.