by KELLY HERNLEY
Last semester, as I was preparing to register for classes for my final semester at UMW, I found out that my major, environmental science, was offering a new portfolio and career prep class for the fall 2023 semester. I registered for the class, thinking that it was a good opportunity to take a class that seemed interesting and relevant to me, as well as filling a liberal studies requirement, After Mary Washington (AMW). I didn’t realize then how invaluable the class would become.
Melanie Szulczewski, an associate professor in the earth and environmental sciences department, created the course, and this is the first semester it is being offered.
“I was inspired to create this course due to a combination of my own experience applying to grad school and the many questions I got from UMW science students about grad school and future directions,” Szulczewski said.
The class focuses on creating a scientific resume, an online portfolio—which includes a LinkedIn profile and a personal website—and discusses options after graduation, such as internships, jobs and graduate school.
Since the class is tailored to environmental science students, it is on the smaller side, consisting of ten seniors within the major. The class is restricted to seniors and has a cap of ten people. Having a smaller class allows us to have discussions and share ideas more freely, as well as conduct peer reviews and receive feedback from all the students in the class on various assignments.
It is beneficial to have this class specifically for my major, especially because I had multiple classes in earlier semesters with Dr. Szulczewski. It helps that I am surrounded by students who have all taken similar, or even the same, classes and that they have the same general knowledge and similar aspirations as me because it allows us to collaborate more effectively. These commonalities help narrow the class focus to types of paths and careers after graduation.
As a result of my experiences in this class, I have come to conclude that UMW should offer career prep classes that are required and tailored to majors.
While there are some basic personal and professional development courses offered at UMW, they are generally open to all students and are broad in nature, with a few exceptions for healthcare, mathematics, theater, studio art and sociology—which have their own versions of career preparation classes, according to UMW’s course catalog.
Additionally, on UMW’s course catalog, there are only a few classes offered that fulfill the AMW requirement, and unless their major has a specific class offered, students have to take one of the three interdisciplinary courses offered: designing your life through the liberal arts, personal development for life and career and life and career after UMW.
These classes are not offered every semester, and they typically do not have enough seats in them to meet the demands of all the students who need to take an AMW designated course. Additionally, such courses cover general topics regarding career preparation and are not specific to a particular major. I do not consider these courses to be as helpful for students in comparison to major-specific classes because the other students and the professor most likely do not share your major and have different experiences and career aspirations.
Providing additional AMW courses that are tailored to specific majors would benefit students because it would allow them an opportunity to take a class that more directly helps them prepare for their future after graduation. Offering more classes would also give students the flexibility to build the class into their schedule as they see fit.
Additionally, having AMW courses specific to students’ majors helps them reflect on their education while it also prepares them to enter the workforce in their desired field.
“This class has taught me to be more confident in myself and what I have accomplished here at UMW,” said Megan Rinald, a senior environmental science and German double major. “It is reassuring being in a class with other seniors within our major and learning that a lot of us are on the same page in terms of what we want to do in the future.”
It is important to have these classes tailored to each major because it is more productive to have a faculty member who is familiar with the skills and projects that students have completed throughout their career within their specific major. That faculty member can also be helpful to advise students on potential career paths after having gone through the experience themselves.
Szulczewski discussed why this class was created specifically for environmental science majors.
“Grad school process for the applied sciences is very different from applying for undergraduate studies or other post-grad programs,” she said. “It can also be difficult for science majors to know how to highlight their UMW classes and experiences for future employers.”
Szulczewski emphasized the importance of having the class fulfill the AMW requirement, which allows information to be spread to a wider variety of students within the major.
“Instead of explaining it to just my advisees, the new After Mary Washington general education requirement provided the perfect opportunity to present strategies and information to our graduating EESC majors,” she said.
The class is especially valuable to me because it dedicates time to complete work that is beneficial to my future that I haven’t otherwise given much thought to. Before this class, I hadn’t considered creating a resume or a LinkedIn profile, so I am glad to work on these assignments while receiving valuable feedback from my professor and my peers.
The class has also helped me become familiar with and utilize the career center. Being a transfer student, there are many aspects of UMW that I have not experienced, and the course has highlighted the career center and everything that they can do to help me prepare for my life after graduation.
“I feel like this class has helped me think deeply about what getting a career after graduation will actually be like,” said senior environmental science major Martin Eykamp. “If it weren’t for portfolio prep, I’d be staring at these job applications for the first time. It has also helped me flesh out my resume and LinkedIn profile.”
I can honestly say that this is one of the most valuable classes I have taken throughout my college experience. I feel more confident heading into my life and career after UMW after taking this course, and I hope that more major-specific AMW classes will be available in the future so that other students can gain the invaluable career skills that this course helps develop.
“So far it’s been a great experience to teach this course for the first time,” Szulczewski said. “Our UMW students have a diverse collection of skills and experiences and it’s been rewarding to hear about them and help them share their accomplishments with the world.”