OCC must refine mission, expand resources

The mission of the Office of Career Counseling (OCC) is to help students explore career options and assess their skills and interests. Though student perception may claim otherwise, the OCC is not and should not be a job placement agency. Clearly it is not feasible for one office to find ideal jobs for 525 graduating seniors. Most students understand this in principle; you do not find hundreds of Williams students dropping a resume off at the OCC and saying “get back to me in a few weeks.”

Bearing that in mind, many of the criticisms of the OCC stem from an understandable, subconscious desire for the OCC to serve that purpose. The most common complaint – that the OCC only brings investment banking firms to Williams – ignores the vast resources available in their offices for students interested in pursuing other fields. All one has to do is set up a meeting with a counselor and browse the library for a little while.

There are, however, major flaws with the OCC. Most concerning is the somewhat defeatist attitude Fatma Kassamali, director of the OCC, appears to have towards bringing certain companies to Williams. In this week’s front page article on the OCC, Kassamali asks, “Why would an engineering company come to recruit at Williams when they can go to other engineering schools and get a larger variety of students?” The same could be said for any field. Why should an investment banking firm waste its time at Williams when there are a far greater number of qualified students at a Harvard, Yale or the University of Pennsylvania?

Presumably, an engineering company would want to come to Williams for the same reasons a student interested in engineering would. The College offers the opportunity for a student to complete a broad educational curriculum and interact with people from a variety of different backgrounds. This could, in turn, translate into workers with more innovative ideas and a greater willingness to think outside of the box. That the current OCC leadership doesn’t seem to realize this obvious selling point is disconcerting. Williams students need an organization willing to go out and sell companies – any company that will listen – on the strengths of our college.

It is mind-boggling, for example, that GE does not recruit at Williams. GE Plastics has its world headquarters in Pittsfield; that the OCC cannot get a representative to drive 30 minutes up to Williams to describe one of the most well-respected post-collegiate career opportunities is disappointing. The majority of students who want to pursue science professionally go on to graduate school. This could simply signal a preference of Williams science majors. It does, however, raise the question that perhaps the OCC simply doesn’t do a good job informing science majors of programs run by companies like Procter & Gamble, GE and IBM.

Students also have raised concerns about the OCC’s ability to help them with the small details involved in transitioning out of college. In an article written last year, Jamin Morrison ’02 complained some OCC staff members “were not very helpful, often missing spelling errors in resumes and not being able to offer any help with application essays” (“Students troubled by lack of OCC support in job search,” Feb. 26, 2002). This is simply unacceptable.

The OCC also needs to increase its role in guiding students through the graduate school process. Though it has sponsored several informative panels about graduate school admissions and finances, as well as with alumni currently enrolled in academic advanced degree programs, the OCC does not have specific information about graduate programs and degrees. Instead, students are directed to talk with Peter Grudin, assistant dean of the College, who advises on post-graduate fellowships and programs, or with faculty in the discipline they wish to pursue a degree.

The latter advice seems to be common sense. It would be foolish for a student interested in knot theory to not discuss graduate school with Colin Adams, a professor of mathematics specializing in the field. Such a logical contact, however, does not always present itself. For example, which professor should a student talk to about pursuing a Ph.D. in the political science of Southeast Asia? Or African art? The OCC needs to take a more active role in directing students to resources, which can help them along the graduate school process. To that end, a graduate school advisor should be included under the umbrella of the OCC; or, at the very least, the OCC should compile a comprehensive list of faculty with their areas of specialization for students to contact.

Clearly, career counseling, especially in today’s tough economy, is a largely thankless job. Unfortunately, in its zeal to avoid becoming a placement agency, the OCC ends up failing students all too often.