We think that colleges like the one where we work now have a greater obligation than we realize. We offer our first-generation students a career-launching liberal arts education but we do not address with enough deliberateness how our students will transition from our institution into employment or graduate school.
Where will they live? Should they return home? How can they navigate their friendships from before and after college?
What about their families back home? Yes, we have career services offices. Yes, we match academic programs with careers. Yes, we have graduate fairs and job fairs. Yes, we do mock interviews.
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We do GRE prep. But what we are missing is what would have helped Robert Peace: an effort to focus on the transition from college to graduate school or the workplace in terms of its psychological dimensions. We should know better. We have experience with our younger veterans now returning stateside.
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Many of these veterans understandably struggle to navigate effectively from military life to civilian life. Settling into and then succeeding in college are mighty challenges. This reinforces the need to pay attention to our college seniors — preparing them not just for graduation and a career. Robert Peace was left to figure that pathway out on his own and he failed.
Interventions from friends and family did not help. First, if student success has been accomplished on campus by helping students believe in themselves and believe they belong in college, then the mentors who have enabled this to occur need to keep in touch with these students post-graduation — in person, online, via Skype. This is part and parcel of the workload of these mentors.
Distance does not change, then, the commitment mentors have to their mentees even when those mentors themselves move on to different positions. This accomplishes several goals. It gets graduates back to campus, back to a place where they experienced success. It creates an expectation at the beginning that with success comes a commitment to pay it forward. But here is the key: in paying it forward, graduates can appreciate how far they have come, and that in and of itself can shed light on their comfort with their own pathway into the future.
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Both the graduates and their mentees benefit. Perhaps there was nothing that would have saved Robert Peace.
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But whether or not that is true, there is now one college president, one program director and one campus reflecting on how future Robert Peaces could be helped and what is it we can do on our campuses to improve the odds that that difficult post-college transition can be navigated more effectively. Getting a degree is a major accomplishment; using that degree and finding a place outside the protections of academia where one can flourish and contribute meaningfully to society and handle the complexities of the different worlds in which we all move would be a success.
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Sadly, this is a victory denied Robert Peace. Karen Gross is president of Southern Vermont College.
Ivan Figueroa is director of diversity and the Mountaineer Scholar Program at the college. Be the first to know. Get our free daily newsletter. Advice to highly sensitive academics for avoiding burnout opinion. How to write an effective diversity statement essay. Racial inequality, at college and in the workplace.
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