Shift to Advancement Allows W&M Career Center to Support Students and Alumni in New Ways

September 26, 2022 | By Kevin Gray

An illustration of a college student.

TAGS: best practices, elevating career services, nace insights, strategic positioning,

William & Mary (W&M) has recently undergone a shift that has elevated career services, alumni engagement, internships, and applied learning at the highly selective, Research 2, public, residential research university. 

Named W&M’s president in 2018, Katherine A. Rowe expressed her desire to have the career center report to advancement from the moment she arrived on campus. Prior to President Rowe’s arrival, the Cohen Career Center reported to student affairs and was led by Kathleen Powell, then associate vice president for career development.

Some within the university were surprised by this recommendation because, under Powell’s leadership, the W&M career center had been considered high performing, and W&M has been consistently ranked as one of the top public institutions for internships for the last several years by the Princeton Review

“My initial reaction was a bit of hesitation,” Powell recalls.

“In fairness to our president, my optics were based on other colleagues who had moved from student affairs to advancement with limited success. I realized that was ‘their’ experience and there was a wonderful opportunity to lean into advancement, develop relationships with new colleagues, and be a part of the alumni engagement fabric in a more concerted way. I am happy to report the move has been a resounding success.”

Although President Rowe recognized that the career center was doing well, she thought the realignment would allow the career center to become even more effective for several reasons, including:

  • Closer coordination with advancement would provide increased access to the W&M alumni network to scale job development and engage alumni who wanted to assist students with career-related issues;
  • Collaborating with a large advancement team would allow the career center to expand its reach considerably; and
  • Realignment would elevate the status of the career center and send a strong signal that career education is a university-wide priority, not just the domain of the career center itself. 

“The shift has involved many moving parts, including a new reporting structure,” Powell explains.

“Formerly, I reported to the vice president for student affairs for seven years. Now, I report to the vice president of advancement. I have new colleagues in advancement HR who work with central HR, new executive leadership team colleagues, and 130+ new colleagues advancementwide. I now have optics into the world of advancement to include fundraising, events, donor strategy, communication, web, and design. It’s a whole new world that is fascinating and moves at a rapid pace. Behind the scenes, all budget indexes were changed to align with advancement indexes.”

While President Rowe was engaged in conversation with Powell and senior leadership regarding changes in reporting structure, she was simultaneously guiding the university through a new strategic planning process, culminating in the release in fall 2021 of the framework for Vision 2026.   

As a result of this comprehensive strategic planning process, the career success of W&M students has been elevated to one of only four cornerstones of the university’s five-year strategic plan. The career education initiative states, in part, that William & Mary will lead in the preparation of lifelong learners equipped to navigate rapid change and thrive from their first job to their last.”  

This represents a profound shift regarding the importance of career education at research universities. Few research universities currently identify career education and success as a strategic university-wide priority like this. By integrating career success into the strategic planning of the university at the highest level, W&M is signaling how important student career development and success is to the overall university’s mission. 

The value proposition is “W&M will be known as the best university for lifelong career engagement” and it has taken several key steps to achieve this, including:

  • Facilitating a significant financial infusion of priority dollars;
  • Increasing staffing to support career initiatives and career readiness to include a fundraiser/gift officer assigned to the Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement;
  • Redesigning the website; and
  • Identifying stakeholders as students, alumni, employers, and faculty. 

Significant personnel changes are underway to ensure this vision receives the support it needs. As a result, Powell has been named the inaugural chief career officer at W&M. She is also a member of the President’s Cabinet and interacts regularly with senior leadership and the Board of Visitors, Foundation Board, and Alumni Board, and is positioned on campus as the leader for career development universitywide. The new structure also gives her access to alumni, donors, volunteers, and dollars on a scale that was simply not possible when the career center resided in student affairs. 

The office currently has a total of 12 staff members and functions as a career cluster industry model; in addition, the career center now has approximately 130 new colleagues to work with and learn from and will have a matrixed model to do its work. The career center is expected to grow considerably in the next few years with regard to both staff and budget since career education is a key priority of the capital campaign. 

“Career development has always been strong at W&M,” Powell points out.

“President Rowe was at the tip of the spear, moving our office to advancement, setting up the inaugural chief career officer, and spotlighting career as one of the four cornerstones in the strategic plan. The infusion of strategic priority dollars, being able to expand our human capital, results in increased capacity to serve our students, alumni, employers, and faculty.”

Powell continues that internships and other applied learning are front and center, and staff are working with faculty to set up an early academic internship course; creating a discoverable internship and applied learning website calling in all campus partners, employers, and alumni to support this effort; and working with faculty to create an ambassador program where faculty are educated on career center resources and can infuse the resource discussion into their academic advising conversations. 

“We are excited to be building our career capacity with an expanded focus and energy to support students and alumni in new ways,” she says.

“We will always be anchored to serving students and the move to advancement has opened up the aperture to alumni for career engagement with our students. Because we have partners in advancement, when we are thinking of programs and opportunities where alumni engagement is needed and wanted, we have a complement of colleagues who work with us to support student success.”

She says that corporate and foundation relations have become a stronger partner as the two departments  have shared goals of engagement with students and engagement with the university. 

“We are one unit working toward career success and engagement,” Powell says.

“The move to advancement elevated our work. Being a part of the President’s Cabinet has elevated our work. Vision 2026, being named the inaugural chief career officer, and leading the career cornerstone of the strategic plan has helped the community to understand the function and importance of career development for our students and our alumni.

“We want to pull our 100,000+ alumni back to the Alma Mater of the Nation to give back, get support, and know we will be with them, supporting them on lifelong career engagement. From their first job to their seventh job, W&M will be their career partner. The framework and scaffolding that is being created at W&M leads to a culture of giving back and an affinity to the university that matters to our students and their career success.”

Powell has learned several lessons throughout this process. First, she says career services needs to educate and share the career story repeatedly. 

“As much as we think we are sharing the good news and achievements for our work and the success of our students with our community and constituents, we find there will be some who missed the memo,” Powell says.

“We also learned that what we do, career development/readiness, is important to our students and stakeholders. We know we make a difference and are recognized as difference makers; it matters. We have grit and are resilient. We pivoted in October 2021 and continue to do so today. We are presented daily with new opportunities, new challenges, and new ideas to contemplate. We understand the pace of change needs to move at the pace of our constituents.”

For her colleagues in career centers—especially those at research institutions—who may be experiencing a similar shift, Powell points out that the shift will only be as good as their intentions to make it so.

“Listen, learn, be open, educate, and understand,” Powell recommends.

“Knowledge sharing is a two-way street. You will thrive in the new environment when you collect great colleagues and partners along the way. Your new team will need to understand the work that happens in your center, and you’ll want to learn theirs. Change is a constant and you’ll need to navigate that change.  Talk to others who have made the shift.” 

NACE24 Virtual Faculty Attitudes and Behaviors: The Integration of Career Readiness Into the Curriculum NACE's NEW Coaching Certification Program