From Individual Counseling to the Classroom
Beginning counselors may find teaching career courses challenging due to the limited opportunities in course development (specifically related to customizing the experience to individual students’ needs). Often, courses are categorized by a student’s year in school, which can be problematic given that one’s place in their career journey may not always align with their academic progress. Additional issues can arise when, in an attempt to address a wide range of career interests, the curriculum becomes overbearing or too broad. Well-intended efforts to meet everyone where they are can result in students finding courses to be irrelevant or not timely in their career planning process.
Beginning counselors may be particularly discouraged by negative student evaluations and question their competency as an educator in a classroom setting. To alleviate some of the challenges, I redesigned a career course within the College of Biological Sciences (CBS) at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. My goal was to create a curriculum that was accessible and relevant to students who were at different places along their career development path, in addition to students who had a wide range of career goals. Beginning counselors may want to implement this model when starting out as instructors.
The Track Team Model
Four career development categories were identified as necessary components of a new career course offering: (a) self-assessment, (b) career exploration, (c) internship or entry-level job search, and (d) the graduate school application process. To accomplish this task, a curriculum concept emerged- labeled as “track teams.” Under the track team model, students engage in the same curriculum, but each student selected one of four tracks which determined the major career development assignments they completed independently, outside of class. The track team concept encouraged students to take ownership over their career planning by allowing them to select tasks they see as most relevant to their current career concerns.
The four possible tracks were:
Self- Exploration: Explore skills, interests, and decision-making style while learning about careers in the biological sciences.
Career Basics: Learn the fundamentals of how to find opportunities and prepare application materials for future experiences of interest.
Organizing the Process: Internships or Entry Level Employment: Focus on career planning skills and prepare application materials for internships or entry-level positions.
Organizing the Process: Graduate or Professional School: Engage in organizing the application process and prepare application materials for graduate or professional school.
Challenging Classroom Assumptions
When future counselors transition from the one-on-one counseling environment to the classroom, they may struggle to balance the role of empowering students to cultivate their own knowledge with an expectation from students that the instructor is the primary disseminator of information. To challenge this perceived dynamic, an individual’s track selection is used to place them within a smaller working-group where students navigate various career topics together. By creating track teams based on current career development needs rather than major or year in school, students are more likely to encounter information and resources that are new and germane to their career concerns. Students regularly offer curriculum insights, or share meaningful extra-curricular experiences with classmates which fosters positive networking experiences among students and alleviates the perceived pressure on instructors to be the primary source of knowledge.
Curriculum and Assessment
The Biology 2001 curriculum is designed to resemble a weekly workshop with a strong foundation in student development theory. Undergraduates are introduced to John Krumboltz’s Theory of Planned Happenstance and regularly hear about upcoming opportunities that may serve as their own “Moment of Planned Happenstance”. This is another intentional course component to challenge students to take ownership over the career exploration process.
Participants also take tailored pretest and posttest assessments based on their track selection to assess the specific skills or knowledge attainment associated with each track. At the end, each student is provided their assessment results and asked to complete a reflection piece. This activity asks them to identify concrete examples of how they have built career knowledge and topics where they would like to continue their development. The use of the reflection purposefully encourages the student to take an active role in recognizing areas for growth and appropriate next steps in their career development process.
Student Reception and Recommendations
Since the Fall of 2015, 87 students have taken Biology 2001. Feedback demonstrates that allowing students to customize the classroom and homework experience creates a higher likelihood that students see the immediate relevancy of the course to their career planning needs. One student stated, "Excellent class. I wish I could take this class continuously just to keep working on the skills here and keep myself thinking about my professional future."
Counselor Educators who support beginning counselors who waiver in their enthusiasm or confidence in a classroom setting, may want to challenge the assumption that a lack of teaching skills is to blame for others' dissatisfaction and may instead encourage critical assessment of course design.
Rebecca Dordel is a Career Coach in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Previously, she was the Assistant Director of Health and Law Professions Advising at the University of Virginia. For more information about Biology 2001: Career Planning for Biologists, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.