Senior adviser Charles Daniel points out some opportunities to sociology major Owen Fessant-Eaton ’19.
Senior adviser Charles Daniel points out some opportunities to sociology major Owen Fessant-Eaton ’19.

After Reed, Then What?

The Center for Life Beyond Reed helps students chart their course before graduation—and after it.

By Romel Hernandez | September 1, 2017

Gabrielle Blackman ’17 had a dilemma. She’d arrived at Reed planning on a career as an economist, but now, in her senior year, she’d begun to feel that going for her doctorate wasn’t right for her. It “didn’t play to my strengths.” An economics major, she viewed the world through the eyes of a policy wonk, but she was also fascinated by art and design. If not graduate school, then what? What was next for her? Where should she start? 

Reed is ranked fourth among undergraduate institutions in the percentage of graduates who go on to earn PhDs—but alumni take many divergent paths once they turn in their senior theses and pick up their diplomas. The great majority of Reedies pursue work outside the academy. 

This is good news for the vast array of employers who want the skills Reedies possess. Employers put a premium on the research, communication, and analytical skills that are the bread-and-butter of liberal arts colleges, especially those with a reputation for rigor and excellence, like Reed. But connecting with employers can be a challenging hurdle for new grads. 

Fortunately for Gabrielle, she could turn to resources in the Center for Life Beyond Reed (CLBR) for help. There, what she found was very different from a typical career center—and also, for that matter, quite different from the career services center that most alumni might remember. Gabrielle visited for résumé help, but she wound up involved in a much deeper conversation about her interests and passions and the sort of environment in which she wanted to work. She realized she wanted a fast-paced, high-energy environment. “Obviously academics are rigorous here, so [CLBR] helped me to slow down enough to actually think about what sort of job to pursue,” Gabrielle says. “I was able to think creatively about how to incorporate my interests in school and my passions outside school in a job.” 

A Whole New Paradigm

CLBR was revamped and rebranded in 2012; its mission was reshaped to engage with students more holistically, in a manner that fit with the ethos of the college. “We want to talk to students about what they really care about,” President John Kroger says, “and try to connect the intellectual passions they cultivate during their time here to successful careers.”

Reed hired Alice Harra, who assumed the directorship of the center in 2015. Coming from Northwestern University, where she headed employer recruiting and strategic outreach, Harra’s own mix of higher education and corporate experience as a publishing executive with Prentice Hall and McGraw-Hill, as well as her work with United Press International and educational outreach work in Kuala Lumpur, gives her a unique perspective that has helped her to continue reshaping the center’s mission. “Most career centers are set up according to the old model, where you have to know what you want to do, but we didn’t want to start that way at Reed,” Harra says. “We believe if you give students a framework for thinking about their greater purpose, students can take that first step.”  

At CLBR, experienced advisers come from diverse professional backgrounds—high tech, health care, government. They offer support and resources, whether students are vying for nationally competitive fellowships or internships, applying to professional or graduate schools, or polishing up their résumés to try their luck in the job market. 

The center serves many of the functions of a typical college career center—helping students with job searching, résumé writing, interviewing. But it is fundamentally much more than that. The center’s advisers encourage students to worry less about job placements or career track, and to think more deeply about where they want to go and what they value. They work with students in an in-depth, individualized way to identify their strengths, focus their ambitions, and develop the strategies to achieve their goals.  

“We rarely start by asking them what they want to ‘do’ once they graduate,” Harra says. “Usually they don’t know the answer, and they certainly don’t know what they want to do the rest of their lives. Rather than starting the conversation by looking 10 or 20 years out, we want them to focus on making a successful launch from Reed.”

CLBR’s advising model is structured around the concept of “communities of purpose” (see sidebar.) Each community focuses on a broad idea or problem and the professional fields that address it. For instance, “Education and Human Potential” explores what human beings are capable of. It includes teaching and counseling, of course, but also speech pathology, adaptive technology, and coaching. Using this framework, students can connect their interests and passions to careers as well as unlock paths for exploring professional fields while still at Reed through opportunities like jobs, internships, job shadows, fellowships, and alumni connections. The communities are “major-agnostic,” Harra notes, so they are not associated with specific majors or disciplines.

That approach is “very Reed-like,” Harra says, in that it links intellectual development to professional development in thoughtful, sometimes unexpected, and ultimately pragmatic ways. “Before you know what you want to do, you have to know why.”

After working with CLBR, Gabrielle realized she wanted a fast-paced, collaborative environment and wound up landing a “dream” position with at Estée Lauder, where she is now a presidential associate, part of a select group of recent graduates who develop leadership skills by working on strategic business projects. 

Don’t Wait Around

A key priority of the center is to engage students during their first and second years on campus, and not just at the end of senior year with graduation looming. Getting that head start means students can take advantage of more opportunities to explore while they’re still in college. That was the thinking behind bringing together student fellowships, internships, campus employment, and volunteering opportunities and making them accessible in a web-based, one-stop hub dubbed Griffin Door, administered by CLBR.

Ashlee Fox ’19 jumped in with both feet early on. The economics major has yet to start her junior year and has already received fellowships to work in corporate finance in New York; urban development in Milwaukie, Oregon; and travel/food writing in Buenos Aires. This summer Ashlee, a Cherokee Nation citizen, secured a research position with the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development in Cambridge.

All those experiences were supported through Reed-funded fellowships, the product of gifts from alumni and friends, that “were there for the taking,” she says, once she walked through the doors of CLBR. 

“I was able to talk to them about my ideas, hopes, and dreams, and get connected to opportunities,” Ashlee says. “The center helps the most when you’re not exactly sure what you want to do, or when you know what you want to do but don’t know how to get there.”

CLBR’s approach is proving successful. A first-destination survey showed that more than nine out of 10 members of the class of 2016 entered jobs, fellowships, or graduate programs within their first six months of graduation. They went to places like the NIH, Apple, Google, High Noon Pictures, AmeriCorps, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. They earned fellowships like the Fulbright, Rhodes, and Sperling, and went to graduate schools including Northwestern University, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Chicago, and many more. 

Outreach to students has been the key to success. A Job Fayre in the fall drew 80 students, and 450 signed up for one-on-one advising at the center, including a sharp increase in first- and second-year students. Griffin Door has proved popular, with two-thirds of students logging into the site for everything from applying for campus jobs to researching fellowships.

CLBR enjoys solid support from faculty, who view it as an extension of the college’s mission, says Prof. Nigel Nicholson, dean of the faculty. “Graduation shouldn’t be a moment where you just drop off a cliff,”  Prof. Nicholson says. “We want our graduates to be prepared to make the transition from college to whatever comes next. The center does a great job of igniting student imaginations about how they can make a difference.”

“It can be challenging for students to think beyond the college bubble,” says Prof. Rebecca LaLonde ’01 [chemistry 2013–]. “They need to see Reed as one step on a journey.”

As someone with both private sector (Dow Chemical) and academic (Stanford, UC Berkeley) experience, Prof. LaLonde sees CLBR as a vital part of the education students receive. “At my very first meeting to advise my first-year students,” she says, “I tell them to go to the center.”

Reed’s Greatest Resource: Alumni

Another top objective for CLBR, in partnership with the college’s Alumni Programs office and the Reed Alumni Association, is expanding outreach to alumni eager to help Reedies just starting out. Spread across the globe, Reed alumni occupy key positions in virtually every industry, from farming to pharmaceuticals. The alumni are the success stories the center’s advisers point to when they want to inspire students.

Brett Kron ’97 has interviewed dozens of Reedies over his 17 years working for Nike. “They come in and ask, ‘I have a degree in philosophy. What’s next? How do I make money?’” Brett assures them that, while it is important to be able to navigate a spreadsheet and extend a firm handshake, there is much more to making a strong impression as a job candidate. “There’s a certain creative person you get at a place like Reed,” he says. “Someone with an independent spirit and an independent way of thinking, the type who tends to do well at Nike.”

The center has fostered a close relationship with Puppet, a fast-growing software firm in downtown Portland founded by Luke Kanies ’96. The college has placed a number of interns at the company, which now employs more than a dozen alumni. Last fall the company hosted a “Reed Women in Tech” networking event for current students.

“Reed produces graduates that are so different from typical college graduates with a business or engineering degree in terms of their analytical approach, the quality of their writing, their level of engagement,” says Stephanie Sarff, a technical recruiter for Puppet. “We really value our partnership with [CLBR] because we get to bring on talent with really unique perspectives.”

CLBR’s combined outreach efforts includes popular “winter shadow” externships, in which students get to spend part of their winter breaks shadowing alumni, parents, and employers working in an array of fields spanning 42 cities and five countries. This year participants included an attorney in Seattle, a bilingual teacher in Los Angeles, a dentist in Philadelphia, and an archivist in Cambridge, England. 

Adam Riggs ’95  conceived one of the first major intersections of alumni and students, a Working Weekend that brought clusters of alumni together with students to introduce them to pathways and opportunities in a wide range of careers. The program enabled students to connect with alumni mentors and explore professional fields and paths. Riggs received the Babson Society Outstanding Volunteer Award in 2016 in honor of his work. 

Building on the foundation of Working Weekend, CLBR and Alumni Programs are now developing relationships with a wide range of industry leaders, alumni mentors, and employers. In partnership with the alumni board’s Reed Career Alliance, led by Darlene Pasieczny ’01, these offices are recruiting career coaches for alumni and developing on-line professional networks to connect Reedies who work in the same industry. With more than 10,000 alumni in the workforce, Reed’s career network is robust, ready, and willing—and growing stronger thanks to Reedies helping Reedies. Vice President Hugh Porter notes, “Who can better articulate the value that a Reed education brings than Reed alumni?  We are grateful for generous support in time, advice, and donations to help launch future generations of Reedies.”    

Helping students explore and prepare for life beyond Reed

Several generous donors have stepped up to support fellowships and opportunities for Reed students to explore life beyond Reed. 

Career Advancement Fund: Michael L. Jacobs ’04 and Michael E. Schreiber

DCR Opportunity Fund: Robert A. Morris ’65 and Celia Hansen Morris ’64

Siegel Salmon Restoration Internship: Paul M. Siegel ’62

Winter Shadows: Suzanne Bletterman Cassidy ’65 and Christopher N. Visher ’65

Student Opportunity Donors: Jonathan S. Feld ’74 and Shelley Longmuir, Steve and Sharon Gigliotti, Deborah Kamali ’85 and Kevan Shokat ’86, Charles and Jessica Kibel, Daniel Krantz Toffey ’07 and Julia Harter, and John Wise.

To help fund student opportunities in career exploration, please contact Gaynor Hills ’85. To hire a Reedie by posting a job on Griffin Door, please contact Brooke Hunter.

Tags: Life Beyond Reed, Students, Alumni