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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Helping students find jobs

With a sense of vocation, ELCA schools go beyond basic career services

Sitting down with students, Cynthia Favre, director of career services at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minn., has learned a lot. “Sometimes students think that if they haven’t figured it all out yet or if they aren’t in a job they’re totally passionate about, they’re a failure as a human being,” she said. “It’s a sad thing.” 

Favre traces much of that confusion to a culture that can make work seem like “drudgery,” and to such well-intentioned sayings as “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” These expectations, she said, “are misleading and pressuring.”

Instead, Favre and other staff members tell students that, for most people, figuring it out and finding fulfillment in work comes over time. “It’s a journey,” she said. “We talk about persistence and resilience so they will be able to sort out whether it’s just circumstances or not the right place for them.” 

Favre and staff members offer guidance that reflects the Lutheran sense of vocation (being called in this life to serve neighbors and the community). They enjoy helping students explore how their skills could be used to develop solutions to world problems. “I also tell students: ‘You have a responsibility to be a force for good in the world. … But what you do for employment doesn’t have to serve all the needs in your life,’ ” she said. 

Frequently students are shocked. “They look at me, totally surprised, and say, ‘This was actually helpful,’ ” Favre said. “I think they don’t realize how much information and support is available to them here.”  

Across the U.S., ELCA colleges and universities are operating from a Lutheran sense of vocation and offering students and graduates more specific and individualized career services than ever. Here are several that tailor their interactions to the individual student, helping each choose a major and find meaningful work as part of a purpose-filled life.

Lutheran, without limits

According to its mission, Augsburg College, Minneapolis, “educate[s] students to think critically, serve faithfully, lead effectively and live responsibly in the world.” 

“Because vocation is such a core mission for Augsburg, we work very closely with students from the moment they’re admitted,” said Keith Munson, director of its Clair and Gladys Strommen Center for Meaningful Work. Center staff work to make their interactions with students more than the typical career services offered at other public or private universities, he added. 

During orientation and in classes, students begin to consider the Lutheran idea of vocation, of lives that serve neighbors and the community. “Our office and staff are integrated into the Augsburg curriculum from the start,” Munson said.

Working with other offices, academic advisers and Augsburg’s Bernhard Christensen Center for Vocation, the center assists students with strength-finding tools, one-on-one coaching, interviewing, internships and more. 

Laurie Barger, a 2013 graduate, majored in math and Spanish, played soccer forAugsburg, studied abroad in Mexico and Cuba, and volunteered at a social services agency doing taxes for low-income families. She credits the Strommen center staff and her professors with helping her land a job as a merchandising and business intelligence analyst at Target Corp.

“Through networking and community involvement, making strong relationships with my professors and peers, as well as being educated in a high-level, real-world environment, I was able to build a résumé that made me stand out from everyone else,” she said.  

Down the road, if Barger or any other Augsburg graduates need help with their careers, their alma mater offers it, at no cost.

“Alumni (about 10 percent to 15 percent of Strommen Center users) are always welcome here,” Munson said. “Most schools have limits on how much they work with alums, maybe only three years out or a limited number of hours without charge. At Augsburg we have always offered unlimited, free career services for alumni too. We work with alumni at different stages of their careers, and they find this extremely helpful.”

Those who haven’t had to do a job search in some time appreciate assistance that can include, but isn’t limited to, how to use LinkedIn and other social media networking sites; practice interviews (in person or online video-conferencing); and help “telling a potential employer their stories of career change, transition or a return to the workforce,” Munson said.


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