Last year, Joseph Castleberry decided to make a change.
For decades, the Northwest University president had been acutely aware that many businesses don’t feel students are adequately equipped to contribute to the workforce immediately upon graduation.
“As a theologian, I’ve been thinking for years about the meaning of work and have been very involved with businesspeople in the faith and work movement,” Castleberry said in an email. “But last year, I decided the time had come to act even more intentionally to respond directly to employers, prepare students, and to help students market the hard and soft work skills they gain at Northwest. The faculty agreed with me, and we got busy making changes.”
These changes will officially coalesce this fall through the Career Readiness Initiative. As described by the university’s career development and corporate relations director Levi Davenport, the initiative changes the university’s core curriculum to require all students to have at least one internship experience by the time they graduate.
Additionally, the university provost will make students a supplemental transcript that delineates the professional skills, certificates, and other notable achievements they’ve amassed during their time as an undergraduate.
“What we’re doing with this, we’re bridging the gap there to make that onboarding process a much quicker pace,” Davenport said. Although NU’s new efforts to prepare students for the workforce might not sound that radical, most universities don’t make interning a graduation requirement, and don’t emphasize certificates and hard skills as much.
NU’s senior marketing director, John Vicory, said national surveys around graduate readiness were informative. A recent Gallup poll he cited in an email found that 13 percent of Americans feel confident that recent graduates are prepared to enter the workforce. Another Gallup survey noted that students who had had an internship or a professionally relevant job in school were twice as likely to acquire a “good job” upon graduating.
NU’s initiative works to ameliorate these concerns while ensuring students have the resources necessary to do so. Although NU already had, per Davenport, a “robust” internship program, where the Career Service Office connects students with relevant companies, the initiative stresses student autonomy around finding internships if a different opportunity comes their way. (An internship found outside of the office must be approved before a student can use it toward their graduation requirement, Davenport said.)
Twenty-five skills-based certificates also are available to students, covering topics ranging from audio production to conflict resolution. (A full list of available certificates is on NU’s website.) Although it’s still too early to tell what the long-term impacts of the initiative will be, Castleberry and Davenport both agreed they’re prepared for revision if necessary.
“One of the chief characteristics of colleges involves constant assessment of our activities,” Castleberry added in an email. “This program centers on utility and practicality, so we won’t keep doing anything that doesn’t work. ‘Ready to Work’ is (NU’s) slogan, so the program has to work, too.”