Jill Blondin, Ph.D.,
Interim Executive Director of Global Education Office
Virginia Commonwealth University
Christina Marino, M.A.
Assistant Director of Residence Education, VCU Globe
Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU Globe is an innovative, award-winning, and interdisciplinary global education living-learning program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) that focuses on building students' cultural agility through coursework, volunteer work, and co-curricular activities. A key outcome of the program is helping students to prepare for careers in an increasingly globalized world. With more than 300 students in 65 majors participating in the program, VCU Globe is devoted to preparing a diverse group of participants to succeed in their chosen field. In fact, the student population of VCU Globe has more ethnic diversity than the larger VCU campus at 66% and 43% respectively. Furthermore, 46% of VCU Globe students are Pell Grant eligible, while overall the campus has a 33% Pell Grant eligibility. VCU Globe has graduated 180 students who are pursuing advanced degrees in their fields of study or working in their desired industry. In this article, we will share strategies for creating professional development opportunities and career readiness in the context of global learning for a diverse population of students.
In 2015, the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) contracted Hart Research Associates to survey employers in order to understand which learning outcomes employers believe are most important to succeed in today’s economy (Hart Research Associates, 2015). This research revealed that 80% of employers felt that it was very important for recent college graduates to demonstrate the ability to apply learning in real-world settings (Hart Research Associates, 2015, p.6). Experiential learning and career preparedness are at the heart of what VCU Globe provides its students.
Since VCU Globe is an interdisciplinary program, this means that the staff and faculty must be prepared to assist and guide students of all majors. This assistance takes place early in a participant’s involvement in the program. In the first semester, students take an introductory course in which they are required to complete an “Industry Assignment”: they must interview someone in their prospective field and ask them specific questions about the way in which they developed and benefited from intercultural competence. This assignment is designed to help students develop professional networks, learn about their desired career from a professional in the field, and begin to connect curricular learning with careers. This interview experience often translates into a longer relationship, and sometimes mentorship or employment, for the student.
Students are also required to attend a number of career-focused workshops. From resume writing to networking to applying for national scholarships, such as the Fulbright, opportunities are provided to each VCU Globe student. These workshops bring experts to the students where they live and this helps to eliminate barriers and promote learning. These workshops are as diverse as our students and we try to bring in as many relevant opportunities during their VCU Globe experience. VCU Globe partners with VCU’s National Scholarship Office, VCU Career Services, VCU Libraries, and many other units to lead the workshops and share the services of their offices with our students. These workshops are required: in fact, they are tied into the curriculum as a graded assignment in specific courses. This highlights a comprehensive investment in our student’s professional lives: our goal is to ensure that each VCU Globe graduate is ready and able to compete for their dream job.
The capstone course of the program requires reflection, resume writing, and the completion of an electronic portfolio (e-portfolio) that documents a students learning while also being something tangible a student can share that demonstrates their career readiness. The e-portfolio in particular allows students to tell their stories of volunteer, curricular work, study abroad experiences, and co-curricular experiences that they have had. Hart Research Associates found that 80% of employers would find an e-portfolio useful in determining success (2015, pg. 13). The capstone course also works with students to encourage their own individual reflection on the program and begin translating their growth and experiences to potential employers or graduate programs. In the capstone course, we do a comprehensive review of all of each student’s resume and cover letter or professional statement. Through this process we work to ensure that the student has materials that are concise, tailored to their potential career path, and descriptive of their experiences. The capstone course also brings in campus experts from VCU University Relations and Career Services to discuss how social media impacts careers and how self assessments can assist in the job search and graduate school search process. Overall the capstone course really attempts to help students explain in professional documents the work they have done while at VCU and relate it to their desired careers.
VCU Globe is a Peace Corps Prep program and 78% of VCU Globe students are also working on certificates of completion from the Peace Corps. This Peace Corps Prep certificate is another way for students to highlight to potential employers that they have had a hands-on learning experience, served a diverse population, and focused on professional preparedness. There are opportunities to engage with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) and speak with them about the challenges and successes of living and working abroad. As a Peace Corps Prep program, we work closely with the Peace Corps Recruiter in the area and provide a variety of opportunities for students to learn more about serving in the Peace Corps. Many of the VCU Globe students also work on campus as Campus Ambassadors for the Peace Corps. Furthermore, there is a competitive advantage for students if they decide to apply to the Peace Corps. Even if the student is not planning to work for the Peace Corps, this certificate highlights the cultural agility skills that the student has spent a significant amount of time working intentionally to improve.
The program also provides special career development opportunities that are designed to enhance a students’ resume, build leadership skills as well as communication skills. VCU Globe staff members work to utilize the resources in the Richmond metropolitan area to foster new relationships with employers, faculty, and non-profit organizations. Each year, for example, VCU Globe offers engaging visits to local Fortune 500 companies with global interests, such as Canon in Newport News, Ocean Network Express (ONE) in Richmond, and even U.S. Embassy visits for students participating in study abroad programs. The program also works with nearly a dozen non-profit organizations that serve the immigrant and refugee populations to place students as volunteers. Many of our students work with English as a Second Language (ESL) students in local Richmond Schools or Adult Education programs. There are unique opportunities for VCU Globe students to utilize their Spanish or Arabic language abilities in local clinics and community centers.
All of these strategies create professional development opportunities and career readiness in the context of global learning, and can be applied or adapted at different institutions depending on curriculum, faculty expertise, and students’ needs. Such student-focused career development opportunities embedded into global learning, prepares students for careers in an increasingly globalized world. VCU Globe students have a mean GPA 3.09 compared to 2.94 for the larger university. Since the first participants graduated from VCU in May of 2016, the success of VCU Globe’s professional development strategies has yielded 3 Fulbright Scholarship recipients; 1 Goldwater Honorable Mention; 7 Peace Corps Volunteers; 7 jobs with service organizations, such as AmeriCorps and Teach for America; 57 working in their desired field; and 33 pursuing advanced education in graduate or professional school.
Works Cited (APA Style)
Hart Research Associates (2015). Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success Selected Findings from Online Surveys of Employers and College Students Conducted on Behalf of the Association of American Colleges & Universities. Washington, D.C.: Hart Research Associates.