Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Interview with Mallory Bower: Student Affairs Professional

Mallory Bower is new to the field of Student Affairs. In her role as the Assistant Director of Career Services at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Mallory helps students navigate the process of discovering rewarding and personally meaningful careers. She is also an active advocate in the field and seeks out opportunities to network and learn from other Student Affairs professionals. You can check her on her blog: Declaration of Interdependence or on Twitter: @MalloryBower. Meet Mallory Bower.

Will: Who is Mallory Bower? Why Student Affairs? Why Career Services specifically?

Mallory: My name is Mallory Bower and I am currently the Assistant Director of Career Services at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

I am a new student affairs professional and college career coach who works with students to create strategic plans for success. In my role as the Assistant Director of Career Services at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, I help students recognize their strengths and turn interests and passions into meaningful, fulfilling careers.

I am an advocate, resource, teller of difficult truths, and figurative cheerleader. I am a strong believer that education, hard work, and a healthy dose of support and challenge can be the best recipe for success.

I spent a lot of time in college struggling to figure out what I wanted to do as a career. My interest in student affairs happened by accident. I landed an event planning internship with my university’s career center. In addition to my task of planning career and internship fairs, I was required to meet with students and give group presentations. Turns out, I liked this part of the job the most. Both of my supervisors had student affairs backgrounds and they pointed me towards graduate programs and opportunities that would help me break into the field.

Why Career Services? For a lot of people, their careers are a huge part of their life. I think it’s really cool to see a student’s face light up when they finally figure out what they’re meant to do.

Will: How long have you worked in the field? What is your Student Affairs philosophy?

Mallory: I am a new professional. I’ve been working at UNCP for a little over a year, but I have worked in various career centers for the past three years.

I believe that a student’s environment and experiences shapes his or her identity. My approach to working with students is simple: I always assume that I am the first person they have met at the university. If the interaction is a good one for them, they are more likely to make a connection to an office, a person, or an experience. This helps students to become more comfortable in their environment and encourages them to seek out other resources. The more connected and involved a student becomes the more productive and satisfied they are.

Will: What do you find students need the most help with?

Mallory: The students I work with are struggling to find their identity as adults. In terms of career and adulthood, it is sometimes difficult for them to separate what they want from what others want for them.

I think faculty and staff need to do a better job of connecting classroom and out-of-classroom experiences. There needs to be a better tie-in—how will the curriculum help students achieve their career goals? What skills will they need to become hired in their field of choice?

Will: What is the toughest part of your job? What have you learned that you wish you knew coming into the field?

Mallory: The toughest part of my job is convincing students that they need to begin career planning now. Many wait until the last minute to start thinking about careers and job searching. It truly breaks my heart when I meet with graduating seniors who don’t have a plan. Not sure where they’ll be working or living.

Will: There are a lot of strengths and personality tests out there. Are they legitimate? Which one do you use the most in your practice?

Mallory: We use a variety of interest inventories in my office. We use online assessments such as DISCOVER and Career Liftoff to explain Holland codes to students. We also give the Self Directed Search and MBTI. Looking more into StrengthsQuest.

Will: How do you negotiate the impasse of a student loving an academic major and that major not directly leading to a career field? What do you tell those students? Have you ever told one to change their major?

Mallory: I will never tell a student to change his or her major. My job is to listen and to provide alternative/additional options for the student. It is truly heartbreaking when a student has a clear passion for something but will not pursue it because their friends/family want something different.

My role is to support them and to help them think outside the box. Everyone deserves to have a career doing what they love—I just show them how to get it.

Will: We all know that it is tough out there for everyone seeking full-time employment. How has the economic downturn changed how you do your job?

Mallory: I have a lot of honest conversations with my students. About 40% of our May 2010 grads didn’t have job offers or acceptance into graduate school. And that is scary.

The thing is, they know that it’s rough out there. Many students are afraid to fail, so they don’t even try.

It will always be a struggle for career services professionals to reach students early. Students just aren’t focusing on these things early enough. Some aren’t even sure what they can do with the degree they are earning. Beginning to job search two weeks prior to graduation is a surefire way to end up living with Mom and Dad again.

Will: How are you using social media, and what are you teaching students about social media?

Mallory: My office has a Facebook page, Twitter account, and Linkedin group. Our Career Peers are looking to start a blog about students in different stages of their college career.

Our students definitely need to start thinking long-term. We talk about online identity in our Introduction to Career Development course, in Freshman Seminar, and in our presentations to student groups. In our class, we have students complete an “Online Identity” assignment. They are required to type their full name into three different search engines. After viewing the results of the searches, they write a reflection from an employer’s point of view. This has seemed to work very well.

Will: So, what’s next for you? Do you plan on staying in Career Services? If not, what other areas in Student Affairs peak your interest?

Mallory: I’m not sure where I’ll go next or what I’ll be doing. Right now, I love what I am doing, so I’ll be around for a while.

Recently I discovered my particular interest working with first-year students. This is when the magic happens, when we can make a positive impact. Within the first minutes, hours, days on campus… this is when we validate students’ decision to attend college.

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