By Joy S. Jones
When Debra L. Hollister, professor, psychology, received the Freeda Louise Foreman Endowed Chair in Family Resource Development, she set out to help students answer the seminal question, what do I want to do with my life?
“Most students in community college change their minds about majors many times and have no idea about what they want to do career wise. At some point, they’ve got to make a decision,” she said. “We need to have some way that they get an idea of what’s out there, what it’s going to take for them to reach their goals; and one of the best methods is career exploration.”
At the beginning of each semester, Hollister uses a bit of creative problem solving to help them on their way. The students take a career assessment tool called the Career Assessment Inventory, which presents different career paths that help students explore their interests, strengths and weaknesses.
Students are also asked to research their prospective career’s availability in the future, how much training and education will cost and whether the job preparation and criteria for the vocation are of interest to them.
Hollister then takes an informal survey of what students think they want to do in their future careers and develops a guest speaker list comprised of professionals from many different areas and invites them to speak to the classes.
Her approach dovetails with general, as well as developmental, psychology. In both classes, students examine changes that occur in people over the course of their lives.
“In general psychology, we look at research, experimentation, intelligence, abnormal psych, learning and developmental psychology; and I’ve put this in the area of developmental processes and social psychology.”
To date, participants in the speaker series have been wide ranging: lawyers, engineering researchers, civil engineers, psychologists, physicians, pharmacists, higher education administrators, finance majors, business managers, doctors, professional athletes and entrepreneurs. The question Debra asks of each of them is “What did it take for you to get where you are?”
“The professionals are often brutally honest about their struggles in school, how they spend their days and what it takes to succeed in their fields. In general, I’ve never had anyone turn me down to come talk.”
These frank discussions about what it takes to be real-world ready is much needed given the stagnant economy, wages and job prospects for even the most well educated who remain unemployed.
“I have a hiring manager come from a huge corporation who talks about how to interview — whether it’s an internship, job shadowing or phone interview — who shares that businesses now are using telephone interviews as the first step in getting that all important one-on-one interview. This manager informs the students that she relies on the energy of the applicant to determine whether they’ll move the candidate forward. After hearing this, I’ve had surprised students say, I thought it was just a phone call.”
The opportunity to interact with these professionals has been well received by the students — and not just those in her classes — she’s opened up the series to the entire Lake Nona Campus.
“Dr. Hollister has always been a great contributor to campus life at the college,” said Mike Bosley, executive dean, Lake Nona Campus; “and this year has been a stellar year. The speakers she has welcomed to campus have been insightful and have provided our students with a taste of a real world experience. I had the opportunity to attend these programs with excited and interested students and am hopeful that many of these students will be inspired by these speakers someday will look back on them as someone who may have changed their life.”
The exposure has also helped Debra remain current and improve interdisciplinary knowledge.
“It teaches you ways of knowing in all disciplines and professions and allows me to keep abreast of what’s happening and interestied so that I am constantly being challenged to learn more in other areas that may interest my students.”
She has also kept pace with the College’s efforts to globalize the campus by writing and sharing information at the Eighth International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Modeling and Using Context (CONTEXT ’13) in Annecy, Haute-Savoie, France. The research that was presented was “Looking for Synergy Between Human and Artificial Cognition,” in conjunction with colleagues from UCF with whom she teamed on a National Science Foundation Grant.
What’s more, the collaborators will have a display opening up at the Orlando Science Center before summer 2014, a kiosk that seeks to interest students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors by building their own avatars. This kiosk will target those students who show an interest in STEM majors but may not know where to find the information they need to have in order to make the decision to focus on that field of study.
“Finding the next challenge is the fun part. It’s interdisciplinary, and one of the most important things for students is seeing how different disciplines cooperate to come up with fresh new ideas that will lead them into the next big idea!”