Written By: Career Advising Fellow, Katie Greene
Recently, I visited a local college to attend a professional development summit for minority students, particularly those who identify as African American or Latino/a. Originally, I thought the goal of my visit was to simply observe the event and consider ways in which aspects of its implementation could be facilitated at Elon University. Although the event was superbly organized and wonderfully informative for students, I quickly realized that the career development content of the event was not necessarily the main selling point. Rather, it was the sense of representation and belonging that added unique character to this event, which became evident during the formal dinner event that took place on the first evening of the summit.
During dinner, Mr. Clint Smith presented works from his recent published book of poetry, entitled: Counting Descent. Additionally, Mr. Smith shared anecdotes from his life and made time for a question and answer period after reciting his poetry.I was privileged to be sitting at a table with seven dedicated summit participants, all of whom were African American female students. During one of Clint Smith’s moving and pertinently challenging poems, I found myself observing the intensity with which these women were listening and hearing Mr. Smith’s message. The women sat in intense stillness, many of whom had even paused their movement of raising their fork from their plate in order to be fully present and receive the wisdom being shared. I suppose this was my Oprah Winfrey “Aha!” moment. In other words, I received the inspiration I had been waiting for with regard to a clear direction and purpose for my desired event at Elon focused on identity and work.
Upon returning from the summit, I met with my supervisor to discuss implementation of our “identity and work” event. I explained that, in my opinion, the event should focus around story-telling. Namely, professionals giving voice to students’ lived experiences. In working to address the professional development needs of under-represented students, we need to create opportunities for these same students to be represented. This event is one way to meet this need.
Additionally, I believe the shared stories should emphasize ‘asset capital,’ which is a term I recently became aware of while attending the NCCDA (North Carolina Career Development Association) conference. This term refers to the particular strengths that underrepresented, marginalized or minority students bring to the workplace. These students and recent graduates may not enter the workforce with the same amount of cultural or social capital, but often times they bring more ‘asset capital’ than other new employees. These assets are demonstrated in a variety of ways, such as being bi-lingual, having more cultural “fluency” with regard to fluidly being able to ‘cross’ from one cultural context to another, and understanding true persistence and the power of aspirations, often times instilled in them from family members who have sacrificed for them to reach their dreams and better their future.
Therefore, with the enthusiasm of my supervisor, I am continuing the implementation of a spring semester event, entitled: Work & Identity: Giving Voice to Diverse Lived Experiences. This event will be similar in nature to NPR’s, The Moth, in which invited guests (representing various diverse groups and professions) will share a 5-minute story of their professional development journey from the perspective of asset capital. The purpose of these stories is to increase and solidify underrepresented students’ self-efficacy as it relates to their professional development. After the stories are shared, there will be a panel discussion followed by the opportunity to mingle and network.
This event is scheduled for the end of February. I look forward to piloting this idea and then considering its effectiveness, or lack thereof. Here’s hoping for the former!