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New career director stresses planning

Students take note: Investment banking, consulting and law and medical school are not your only career options.


That's the message Sheila Curran has brought to the Career Center in her first month as its new director. Curran--who held the same position at Brown University before being lured to Duke by Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta in the fall--hopes to stress to students the importance of thinking outside the box in picking a career path.


To help facilitate that shift in mindset, Curran wants to get students thinking about their careers earlier in their Duke experience, foster greater connections with alumni, create a peer advising program and build a new facility as part of the future "student village."


Curran explained that when students do not begin thinking about a career until senior year, they often overlook the not-so-obvious career paths.


"They need to start career exploration early, get out of those boxes and explore other options academically and extracurricularly," she said.


Career Center staff and Students Affairs officials agreed.


"Career counseling really needs to begin in the freshman and sophomore years, because choosing a major is practically choosing a career," Moneta said. He noted that in the fall, for example, the annual Career Fair was held the day after the Majors Fair.


As part of the initiative to start earlier, the Career Center will also focus more on helping students plan for their summers. Curran hopes to work with the Office of University Development to help ask alumni and corporations to endow $2,500 summer internships, a program similar to one at Brown. A student involved in such a program would need to write a culminating evaluation of the experience, which would be sent to the donor, thereby creating a career connection for the student.


Building strong links with alumni is another major priority for Curran. She explained that she hopes alumni who are just five or 10 years into their careers will take the opportunity to come back to campus to speak with current students more frequently.


"We want to expose students to the wide variety of things of what alumni have done and not just [in the current] three events a year," she said. "We want much more of a continued kind of thing."


Further, with the addition of a new staff position devoted to alumni, recently graduated students will have greater access to Career Center services.


Curran added that she hopes to partner with officials in schools like the Fuqua School of Business, the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, and the Pratt School of Engineering, to provide guidance to students interested in those fields.


Another kind of guidance will come from a peer advising system the Career Center plans to institute next year. About 20 trained students will serve as liaisons between the center and their peers--participating and spearheading career discussions in dormitories and quads.


"This volunteer core will be able to evangelize on our behalf and work with students on a one-to-one basis," said Donna Harner, associate director of the Career Center. "Students sometimes place more credence in what another student says than what we might say."


While Curran hopes those changes will lead students to look at a broader range of careers, she realizes many still will opt for the most popular career choices, like consulting and investment banking. Therefore, she hopes to make the Career Center more attractive

  to top national recruiters with a new facility in the planned student village.

The center is currently split among three tightly compacted levels in Page Auditorium that are "not conducive to a symbiotic system in which everybody is helping everybody," Curran said. Interviews, for instance, are now held on the grungy bottom floor.


"We want the Career Center to become a destination point for students, where they can speak casually with staff, read career journals and grab a little something to eat," Curran said.


Career Center staff said they were enthusiastic about the approach Curran has brought to her position.


"She's very energetic, creative and has the ability to look at the big picture," Harner said. "She is able to look at how we can establish long-term goals as well as address the immediate needs of students."



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