02/05/2015 11:42 am ET Updated Apr 07, 2015

Savvier Jobs in College

I was invited to preview a new software program designed to help community college students make it through college by focusing on their interests, their academic program, and potential careers. "Great," I thought, "right up my alley," and looked forward to viewing a program that might guide students to thrive. Arriving early, I used the time to chat with two young women students working there. The first, a cashier in the satellite student store, told me that she had graduated from this community college with her AA degree and had transferred to a nearby four-year university. This was her part-time job, a paying job, she said. But my heart sank as I wondered why she would choose to retreat - to come back to her old familiar campus and settle for being stuck alone in a small store. I hoped she had not been advised to take this job, a big mistake. It would be so much better for her to push herself forward, try to match a paid job to her new major so she might test the waters and make connections to new ideas and people.

The second young woman, pouring me a glass of excellent red wine in the meeting's reception area, revealed that she was an intern here with a culinary arts major. I asked if she were interested in wine, a big industry in itself. She confessed that she was not but that she was looking forward to next semester's externship, waitressing at a sweet neighborhood organic café. I had the same sinking feeling of wasted opportunities. I asked if she would be willing to consider a broader approach to her field, one with the chance of advancement. I pointed to a hotel colleague already seated at a corner table and urged her to approach him for suggestions for breaking into the hospitality field. I told her that starting as a waitress in a hotel restaurant might enlarge her plans and connection to networks not available otherwise. She looked down, thanked me, but said she did not think it was her place to speak to anyone at the meeting.

Both young women, smart, beautiful, and eager, had hoped that college would lead them to a better life; yet as I saw it, both had been dead-ended. Perhaps they had never asked for advice on what or how to choose. Perhaps they had asked, but their advisors did not have enough worldly experience. Perhaps they had not joined any activity that would push them to develop their self-confidence, lessons in courage. But as I saw it, they were both too passive, afraid and hiding, safety wheels in place, just when they should be relinquish their good-girl, obedient-student role and leap onto bigger paths where they would be forced to learn.

The meeting's presentation showed an online navigation for students. While it guided students to track the necessary courses to graduate, it lacked savvy advice on ways to discover their talents, paths to develop them, and ways to make networks come alive. Such skills in learning how to engage in any process - college or work-- are critical so that chances and hope are not squandered. The good news is that they can be taught alongside any academic curriculum to make success possible.

Make your luck happen!