On occasion, students with whom I work ask me to recount the most unusual career counseling experiences I have had over the years. While there have certainly been many unusual situations over the past thirty years, my training in counseling psychology still has a strong grip on me, and I prefer to maintain the confidentiality I promise every individual that confides in me. Instead, I take the opportunity to share an unusual set of circumstances I encountered with a large group of undergraduates 30 years ago.
This is that story, and I choose to share it because it provided me such a rare and unexpected learning experience. While this story could not describe the status of a college as historic and presently strong as Oberlin, it does describe what happens to institutions large and small every year.
As a 30-something career-changing graduate student at a university in upstate New York, my supervising mentor delegated to me what he described as a quite unpleasant task. As it turned out, this “assignment” became a style-shaping, profound, and rewarding experience for which I have always been grateful.
Over the course of that spring semester, I became the “go-to” career counselor for 150 students of a nearby four-year liberal arts institution. Eisenhower College, founded fifteen years earlier in 1968 as a women’s liberal arts college, was about to close its doors following the 1983 academic year. Despite efforts of Congress (literally) and those of the former President of the United States for whom it was named, the College was struggling mightily and had at that point already begun paring back its support services for students, including their career advising. That’s where I came in.
The University of Rochester, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and my institution divided the student body equally (though Alfred University was far smaller than either U of R or RIT) and offered every “Ike” (Eisenhower’s equivalent of “Obie”) our support on all matters career. As a result, I spent much of that spring semester coaching undergraduates who were asking how they should explain that their college/alma mater no longer exists. Effective that June, the only office at Eisenhower that would continue operating would be the Office of Records (transcripts).
My “Ikes” went through more than a case of tissue boxes during that stretch. I do believe I helped them find their voices and uncover ways to positively represent their college and themselves to prospective employers and graduate schools. I learned more from them than I would have ever anticipated, certainly more than they learned from me.
I took actions of my own. From that spring forward, and ever since, I donate(d) to my two undergraduate alma maters, to Alfred, and to the four colleges I have served as a staff member. The day after my only child graduated from Denison University, we sat down together at his computer as he made a $5 contribution to the Denison Annual Fund.
You see, I learned that spring that even venerable colleges are vulnerable. I learned that I needed to participate. I learned that no gift is insignificant. I learned that caring and giving matter … a lot.
With Oberlin Illuminate, I have another opportunity to be part of an “insurance policy” that my present venerable institution will veer even farther from vulnerability. Oberlin is part of my present, will too soon be part of my past, and will inevitably become part of my legacy. Essentially, it is part of me. While I often feel like I leave my blood, sweat and tears here, I choose to leave a modest gift as well.