Graduate School Connections Vital for Student Development

We must turn our gaze outward.

That was President Carmen Ambar’s message as she prepared to ship a group of nearly 1,000 people — including first-years, Peer Advising Leaders, staff members, and volunteers — to Cleveland for the inaugural Connect Cleveland trip during New Student Orientation. The pilgrimage was part of Ambar’s initiative to build stronger ties with the Northeast Ohio community.

In a massive 20-bus caravan, students connected with local organizations and alumni all over the city, visiting a total of 39 different sites, including the public radio and television broadcaster Ideastream, the Cleveland Museum of Art, an urban farm, and a Cleveland food bank, to name a few. The goal was to help students learn about the city, meet local Oberlin alumni, and expose students to possibilities for internships and volunteer work in Cleveland. Along with the Orientation programs, Oberlin has forged a recent partnership with the Summer on the Cuyahoga internship program, a program that connects students with paid internships in Cleveland.

Although these are all good steps in helping Oberlin students make connections for post-graduation, the College and Career Development Center must do more in developing post-grad connections for alumni. Both current and graduated Obies frequently complain about the lack of connections and job opportunities available to them; as a top-ranked institution liberal arts, this should not be the case.

Despite these problems, the Career Development Center seems to be taking some steps in the right direction. It is looking to strengthen community ties, for example, through its pilot Career Cluster program. With this initiative, the Career Development Center hopes to connect students with internships and alumni in their chosen fields. The center will also be hiring a new faculty member to help manage the Business Scholars program and advise students interested in Business, Finance, and Consulting.

These new initiatives are crucial for students, and as we build networks both internally and with alumni we should look to do the same with our neighbors in Cleveland and the rest of Ohio. Doing so would not only improve the entire undergrad experience for students, but also help set Oberlin students up for professional success post-graduation.

In particular, Oberlin should pursue relationships with nearby graduate programs. Ohio is home to some the best universities in the world; Case Western Reserve University is less than an hour away, and The Ohio State University — one of the best state universities in the country — is less than two. Developing stronger ties with these institutions would better prepare our students to take their first post-grad steps, both in terms of familiarizing themselves with the graduate admissions process and getting to know faculty and staff at local institutions.

While Oberlin does have amazing opportunities for research, funding, and connecting with professors, the reality of a small liberal arts school is that we can’t do everything. Students come to Oberlin because of its small class size, personal connection with professors, and hands-on learning opportunities. But it’s no secret that in doing so, we often sacrifice some of the resources that are available at larger institutions: accessing significant grants and funding, working in large labs or hospitals, and interacting with professionals in a city setting.

Because of Oberlin’s academic rigor and opportunities, students leave here ready to do significant work and research — the kind that happens at big research institutions like OSU. Starting relationships with nearby universities would allow students easier paths to translate the passions they cultivate here to a larger scale, in graduate school and beyond.

The new initiatives undertaken by President Ambar and the Career Development Center are steps in the right direction. But in order to set students up not only for success both at Oberlin, but after graduation as well, it is crucial that we help them build a professional and academic network that will allow them to continue to explore their interests in meaningful and financially sustainable ways.

So, we concur with President Ambar — we should look out, both in terms of space and time. Obies have a lot to share with the world; let’s make sure they have access to all the tools to do so.