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Changing the Statistics: Scholar Retention Through Career Development

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A 2012 study from Global Strategy Group, commissioned by worldwide architectural firm Woods Bagot, found that 96 percent of those of business decision makers surveyed believe students are only "somewhat" or not at all prepared to succeed in the business world. With an increasingly competitive job market during a hurting economy, career development for college students is crucial.

As the manager of Magic Johnson Foundation's Taylor Michaels Scholarship Program, the fall represents my time to focus on both internal and external career development initiatives for our scholars. I work with students who have experienced socio-economic challenges throughout their lives. They may or may not succeed in school and life. Our goal is to support them holistically through scholarships, technology resources, moral support, and career readiness resources. To combat the statistics of student unpreparedness in the workplace, we authored a new Career Development Rubric (CDR) curriculum. By providing resources, tools, and motivation, we've found you can prepare students to thrive in the global workplace upon completion of high school, college, or graduate school.

Step 1: The Basics
The process begins when "Rookie" scholars enter our program the summer before their freshman year.  This is the time to teach core concepts such as networking, self-assessment, and market analysis. We provide opportunities to exercise critical skills like developing one's personal brand, internship prospecting, and the elevator pitch to empower students as they grow through college.

Step 2: Stay Involved
After freshmen are introduced to these methods, we launch them on a developmental trajectory towards continued success. This is the time to build the confidence, knowledge base, and skill sets of our scholars through increasingly sophisticated annual goal setting. Continually engage students with weekly program updates, anytime access to counsel, and volunteer and career opportunities.

Step 3: Establish Accountability
Our annually renewable scholarship awards provide the framework to hold our scholars responsible for consistent progress and growth towards their degree.  Aside from submitting grades after each term, students must attend mandatory advisory sessions to review progress from the current year, and set goals for the future each year.

Personally following up with each of our students ensures they know we care and establishes accountability for their own goals, which we focus on during each counseling session. Our counsel, encouragement, and oversight have resulted in high achievement amongst students at risk based on serious socio-economic disadvantages. Our graduates hold PhDs in chemistry, own small businesses, attend Harvard Medical School, teach children in Denver Public Schools, back-up sing for Katy Perry, hold MWS degrees in social work, attend pharmacy school, work for Paul Weiss law firm, and much more.

We see signs that our career development model will work for high school students as well. Through initial workshops I've conducted in classrooms with 100 high school seniors through our partners at the Fulfillment Fund, we discovered the curriculum motivated and prepared 70 percent of students to take action to develop their future careers. Ultimately, to change the statistics from the Woods Bagot survey and ensure students become valuable members of the workforce, schools, teachers and organizations need to invest in early and extensive career development training.