What makes a strong leader?

All of the participants at the 2017 NCACE Leadership Institute!

On Monday, December 4th, both Rachel Brown and myself braved the dark 6:00am morning as we drove to Charlotte, North Carolina to participate in the 2017 NCACE Leadership Institute. As we chased the rising sun, many questions crossed our minds: Would we know any of the other participants at the conference; would there be tangible material that we could use in our own practices, and finally, whether the material would resonate with us in our current roles as fellows?


After grabbing my plate of breakfast goodies and settling in, I noticed that I did, in fact, recognize some familiar faces from the NCCDA conference held at Elon not too long ago. (More on that here). With a smaller group of 25 individuals, it made the networking and conversations seem more authentic to me. After all, we were going to be with each other for two days, so it would be in my best benefit to try to foster some meaning in the conversations.

The two days were carefully mapped out with sessions like “Partnership and Strategic Alliance”, and “Setting the Stage for Excellence—Staff Development and Performance”, given by various Career Development professionals representing an array of Colleges and Universities in North Carolina and one representation from South Carolina–Hello, Clemson! Though I definitely found meaning throughout the sessions, I struggled with the definition of the term ‘leadership’.

According to Susan Ward, a business writer for TheBalance.com, “leadership is the art of motivating people to act towards achieving a common goal.” While I do agree with this, I think it’s absolutely necessary to consider the context in which the term is used. That said, I feel I had two major takeaways of what leadership means to me in the context of career and professional development.

First, leadership involves partnerships. If there was one big, bold-lettered theme to the many conversations and discussions at the Institute, partnerships would have been the glittering marquee, and for good reason. In Higher Education, career advisors and professionals need to consider how to help students beyond the resume reviews and individual sessions they provide. Considering how impactful alumni, faculty, employers, and even the student organizations across campuses are, it’s necessary to have conversations to reach a common goal of serving students. Sometimes, this may mean having a difficult conversation to ensure all parties are on the same page. Often, though, this occurs when career and professional development teams meet together under the direction of a strong leader to dive deeper. This could also mean focusing on already-established partnerships or sometimes innovating to discover new pathways of success.

Second, the notion of trust was something that was maybe less obvious, but still absolutely necessary in fostering leadership. In order to have a relationship in which both the supervisor and employee can grow professionally, the lines of communication need to be clear. Honesty is always the best policy, and in leadership roles, one must weigh the pros and cons of how transparent to be. For example, there are times where the staff should be integral in the decision-making process regarding office changes and politics, however, there are also times where it’s unnecessary to place the burden on the staff when the leader should own their decision.

I’d like to wrap-up my thoughts on leadership and the NCACE Leadership Institute with a quote I heard during one panel session by Tiffany Waddell Tate, Associate Director of Career Services at Davidson College: “you sometimes have to be your staff member’s hype man and bring them to those crucial meetings with you.” In this context, she’s referring to bringing staff members to meetings with upper management to let them take a chance and guiding them in the process. I felt this especially ringing true as I’m embarking on my journey to plan the College of Arts & Sciences’ Career Trek; my supervisor, Ross, and colleagues on the Arts & Sciences team have allowed me to take the reins and conduct a meeting on my own. I can honestly say that I work with an amazing team of individuals who constantly support, encourage, and empower me to take ownership of projects and try new programs.

What are some other major themes you think of when you consider the makings of a strong leader? And further, what does leadership mean to you?


Conference Confidence

Elon University hosted the North Carolina Career Development Association Annual Conference on October 13th, bringing together career professionals from across the state to network and hear from leaders in the field of career development. Throughout the day, attendees could choose different presentations to attend, including a presentation by Elon SPDC’s own Danielle Golinski connecting Gestalt techniques to online interviewing. Coffee was served at the beginning of the day and lunch in the middle, two critical factors. And though the coffee and lunch were nice, but I had more takeaways besides what I took away in my stomach.

First, I took away knowledge. I took notes on all the presentations I attended, which included three presentations of my choosing plus the two keynote speaker presentations. I learned new information about developments in the field and how to best work with students.

Elon 1
A great place for the NCCDA!

Second, connections. I was able to speak with some of the presenters, and many of them gave us their emails. I was also able to talk with other attendees, many of whom had different backgrounds than I and worked in various schools across the state. I know I can find these individuals on LinkedIn or on their schools’ websites if I want to stay connected.

Gaining knowledge and building my network led to the third and most important takeaway, a confidence boost. Sheryl Sandberg talks about the importance of confidence in the workplace in her book, Lean In for Graduates, which I’ve started reading because it applies well to the population with whom I work here at Elon. Some of her tips are applicable to attending professional conferences. A professional conference is a good place to start to lean into your power because you’re surrounded by individuals who want to see the field advance, which means they want to see you advance because you’re in their field. They are also the people who are most knowledgeable about their field and thus are the people who are able to answer tough questions you may have.

Sandberg asks readers, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Perhaps that thing for you is attending a conference or perhaps it’s something else, but either way, the question is relevant.

My fellowship provides ample opportunities for me to attend professional development events, such as the NCCDA. My supervisor recommends a couple conferences to us, but he also encourages us to explore conferences that align with our interests and skills, which is encouraging and empowering. All of these conferences are chances for attendees and presenters alike to increase their competence in their career fields. I’m grateful I was able to grow my knowledge, my network, and my confidence through this conference, and I highly suggest attending conferences in your field of work.

Lifelong Learning – Professional Development

By: Amber McCraw, Career Advising Fellow 

Throughout this fellowship, Danielle, Kristen, and I have been encouraged to take advantage of any opportunities we have to continue to develop ourselves professionally.  We knew coming into these positions that we would be spending the next 10 months immersing ourselves and learning as much as possible about career services and other areas or topics that are beneficial to our development. The amount of time and resources we utilize to participate in these activities is indicative of how much this position and office encourages our growth as professionals.

Between the three of us, we have attended:

In addition to the formal conferences and workshops, we’ve also conducted informational interviews at 3 universities in the surrounding area.  We’ve had meetings with and continue to communicate with over 30 professionals throughout the various offices and departments across Elon’s campus to promote partnerships and collaboration.  Finally, we share helpful articles and resources as we are come across them.

Professional development is important no matter how much experience you have.  What are your suggestions for lifelong learning?  How do you stay up-to-date in your career?

Lots of Updates!

Created by: Katie Smith, 2012-2013 Career Advising Fellow

You could probably guess how I’m going to start this post.

You would be right.

We’re busy!

The last couple weeks have been chock-full of workshops, presentations, conferences, programs and events, and student appointments. I’ll run through a few here:

Kernodle Center for Service Learning Partnerships and Presentations:

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to present a StrengthsQuest workshop to students who will be facilitating First Year Experience programs for incoming first-year students. The workshop was a lot of fun and allowed me the opportunity to help these future facilitators to recognize their own strengths and the ways in which such strengths can be used for effective teamwork and collaboration.

The following day, Mikki and I both presented at the Kernodle Center’s  semesterly Elon Volunteers! Training. I led two workshops, “Marketing your Service Experience,” teaching current students how to articulate and leverage their community service and associated leadership positions and skills to be viable candidates for jobs and internships in a variety of fields. Mikki presented “How to Conduct an Interview,” helping guide current student leaders through being effective interviewers and identifying the best candidates for leadership positions.

Professional Discovery Week:

A series of 13 informational and educational programs on career and professional development topics, our annual Professional Discovery Week programs took place last week. Programs ranged from tips on networking, to case interviewing, to careers in the legal realm. Approximately 500 Elon students participated in programs throughout the week.

As part of PDW, Mikki and I coordinated our own program on Careers in Higher Education by organizing a panel of three speakers, Vice President and Dean of Students Dr. Smith Jackson, Associate Mathematics Professor Dr. Alan Russell, and Director of Greek Life Shana Plasters. Sixteen students attended, including several involved with Elon’s Executive Intern Program. Each of the three panelists shared his or her education and career histories, as well as advice for students seeking to enter the field.


NCCA Conference:

As well as participating in and supporting Professional Discovery Week, Mikki and I attended the NCCA (North Carolina Counseling Association) Conference in Greensboro last week. At the two-day conference, we attended sessions on a range of topics including resiliency and self-care, working with first generation students, and working with millennials on preparing for careers after college. The conference was an excellent opportunity for us to learn and connect with local counseling and career professionals.

LSB Connect Conference:

LSB Connect Conference 2013 012
Students share their strengths during the StrengthsQuest presentation

To cap off the week, on Saturday, approximately 50 sophomore students got up early to board a bus to the Downtown Greensboro Marriott to the site of the Love School of Business Connect Conference. I have been working collaboratively with Jane Mehringer, Sarah Thomas, and other LSB staff to plan this conference and was excited to finally see it in action.

The Conference started with keynote speaker Scott Wittig who encouraged students to reflect on their interests and follow their passions. Mikki and I presented next, leading the students through a StrengthsQuest workshop and helping them see the connection between their strengths and articulating themselves effectively in an interview situation and through writing resumes and cover letters. UNC Chapel Hill Senior Assistant Dean, Academic Advising Program, College of Arts & Sciences and General Gary Miller presented next, sharing tips on using social media as a self-marketing tool.

LSB Connect Conference 2013 039
Students participate in roundtable discussions with alumni and employers

Susan Richardson, a visiting speaker from Wisconsin then led an etiquette luncheon, advising students on gracefully handling interview and professional meals. The final speaker, Gary Tomlinson, a self-described “strexecutionist” spoke to students about effective communication and networking skills. Lastly, the students had an opportunity to participate in roundtable discussions, followed by a networking event, with visiting alumni and employers representing a range of functional areas within the business realm.

The Connect Conference was a fantastic opportunity for sophomore students to gain tips and ideas for professional development early in their college years. Armed with great information, students can be better prepared for their time after graduation.

LSB Connect Conference 2013 020

LSB Connect Conference 2013 023

As you can see, there are a lot of excellent events and opportunities taking place both within our office and beyond! It’s a busy time for the Student Professional Development Center, for Student Life offices across campus, and for students as well.

NCCDA Conference

Created by: Katie Smith, 2012-2013 Career Advising Fellow

On October 26th, Mikki and I had the opportunity to join several of our colleagues at the annual North Carolina Career Development Association (NCCDA) Conference held this year at High Point University. NCCDA is a branch of the North Carolina Counseling Association (NCCA) and is a professional association for career counselors in North Carolina and surrounding areas. Our supervisor Ross Wade is the current President-Elect and Conference Chair of NCCDA and his hard work in organizing and coordinating the conference was critical to its success. He did a wonderful job.

Dr. Patrick Akos, Professor of School Counseling at UNC Chapel Hill, was the conference’s keynote speaker. Akos kicked off the day by presenting a variety of approaches to career counseling, having us practice several techniques along the way. During his workshop, I met a career counselor from another institution as we shared our life-career stories in narrative form, titled “Amazed and Confused: Everything Sounds Good” (mine) and “The Trained Teacher Who Doesn’t Want to Teach,” (hers). Surrounded by others who value careers as an integral part of life, discussion was lively and enthusiastic.  Akos summed up the values that many of us shared as he stated “the key to happiness, is determining what you do, who you do it with, and where you do it.”

The keynote speech was followed by a panel on career paths in career counseling (a meta-career counseling session?), a lunch/business meeting, and an afternoon session of our choice. Here, I had the opportunity to see Darris Means from Elon University’s Elon Academy present on diversity issues within higher education and strategies for supporting the career development of underrepresented college students. The day ended with a presentation from Rebecca Cooper, a representative from a North Carolina nonprofit career exploration organization, Futures for Kids.

Overall, the NCCDA Conference offered a day of learning, networking, and reflection.  Throughout the conference I was able to connect with independent career counselors, current graduate students, and professionals from local institutions such as High Point University, Guilford College, and Virginia Tech while sharing my own experience as a Career Fellow at Elon. I look forward to continuing to build these relationships and becoming more involved in NCCDA.

Dr. Patrick Akos as Keynote Speaker

Managing Your Future

By Marianne Brigola, Career Fellow 2011-2012

This past Saturday  I had the opportunity to present at the “‘Managing Your Future” conference hosted by Sigma Iota Epsilon, the honor and professional fraternity for management. The student organized conference featured a variety of topics including negotiating salaries, social media, and panel discussions.

Panelists included representatives from LabCorp and Lockheed Martin and two Elon alums


I presented on creating strategic resumes. I was very impressed with the turnout for the event overall, especially considering it was held on a Saturday. Over 50 students attended, including management and non-management majors.  Congratulations to Sigma Iota Epsilon for such a successful event!

126th Annual American Historical Association Conference

Created by Ashley Pinney, 2011-2012 Career Fellow

I was given the incredible opportunity to attend the  American Historical Association’s 126th annual conference in Chicago, IL January 5th-8th. What an experience! I am teaching COE 375 D: Transition Strategies for History Majors next semester and the conference was offering a slew of helpful and interesting workshops that would enhance my knowledge as an instructor. In addition, there were presentations on the Internationalization of higher education and Perceptions of American students and scholars abroad, personal interest areas of mine. The conference lasted four days and I took pages and pages worth of notes but it would be nonsensical to go over everything I learned. Instead, I’ll highlight my favorite parts of the conference experience.

126th AHA Conference!

1) Interviewing in the Job Market in the 21st Century Presentation

A year ago I knew little about career services. Interviewing, crafting resumes, LinkedIn, etc. were foreign concepts to me. During the interviewing workshop at the conference it was cool to see how much I knew about what they were talking about and how much I have learned this year. I was even able to offer participants’ suggestions about how to do successful skype interviews.  The presentation talked about the struggles of marketable applicants in a terrible market. Persistence and networking were points they kept reiterating, but they also talked about the importance of not settling. For example, a person in my group got offered a job at an institution in a big city. She applied because she was casting a wide net but at the end of the day decided that she couldn’t see herself living happily in a city. Sometimes I forget about the importance of knowing yourself and where would be the best fit for you. It’s easy to say “I need a job. I’ll work anywhere.” but the truth of the matter is we need to cognizant of the non-negotiables in our lives, things that would not make us happy.

The presenters shared with the group a few great resources. The resource that will be most beneficial to my T.S. Class is Careers for Students of History. It gives a lot of detailed information about the types of jobs students who majored in history can pursue. I’m excited to use it in my T.S. class!

2) Internationalization of Higher Education

In my training during the summer, I took the Strengths Quest assessment and one of my top 5 strengths was “Context”. I think this talent is why I enjoy history so much. Learning how things originated and how things got to be how they are is something I am constantly doing. For my capstone presentation during graduate school at the University of Virginia, I wrote about the social integration of international students at the University. Attending the Internationalization of Higher Education panel discussion gave me further context for this unique population and how they came to be a staple at most American institutions of higher education. One of the panelists wrote a paper specifically on Chinese, Japanese, and Phillippino students who came to the US to study in the late 19th century and the difficulties they endured due to discrimination. These students (along with tolerant American students) started Cosmopolitan Clubs (the root of our cultural clubs on campuses today). What I found to be incredibly interesting was that education in China in the late 19th century and hundreds of years before that taught Confucianism and prepared students for the civil service exam. It wasn’t until Chinese students came to the U.S. in the late 19th century when they learned science, math, engineering, etc. It was because of the modern education Chinese students learned here in America that helped strengthen China as a whole. This is interesting when examining the relationship of the two nations today.

This discussion also explored the relationships between American students and international students and the importance of integrating students in the classroom. Intentionally integrating these two groups in the classroom has proven most effective to increase cultural understanding and tolerance. Multicultural clubs, fairs, etc. are still important but mixing cultures in the classroom is key and has shown the best results.

3) Networking

In addition to informing people where Elon University is and helping them pronounce it correctly, I met a myriad of interesting and charismatic people with history backgrounds. High school teachers, university professors, consultants, etc. were all great to talk to. I am going to encourage my T.S. students to join a professional organization no matter what they end up doing with their lives. Membership in an organization is extremely valuable and beneficial. I plan on staying in touch with my new friends and using them as resources in my professional life.

Lovely Chicago