Conn College connects students with alumni for 'Career Informed Learning'

New London — Professors Rachel Black and Anthony Graesch wanted their Practicing Anthropology students to know that there are post-college applications for an anthropology degree outside of academia.

So on March 27, they held a Skype call on the classroom projector with Tania Ahmad, senior resident anthropologist with Idea Couture, a Toronto-based design firm.

"What we do can be called market research, but at a higher level," Ahmad said. Her job involves paying attention to how people relate to one another and how they interact with objects, to tell companies what they need to pay attention to.

She helps corporations, pharmaceutical companies and nonprofits design for what's actually happening in spaces, as opposed to the ideal.

After a discussion about her work, the small class broke into groups to work on case studies.

Practicing Anthropology is one of 10 or so classes this semester participating in Career Informed Learning at Connecticut College. The initiative was piloted in one class last spring before expanding to 15 classes in the fall.

The program involves experts in various subjects, many of whom are Connecticut College alumni, presenting classes with real-world problems that students can tackle in their coursework.

Along with Ahmad, the Practicing Anthropology professors have brought in several guest speakers, including an anthropologist and senior research analyst with NBCUniversal Media, a senior communications adviser with the USAID Bureau of Global Health and a senior program manager with the Google Earth Outreach Team.

Sophomore Griffin Taylor said people ask him what he's going to do with his anthropology degree, and hearing the USAID adviser talk about the relevance of anthropology made him feel better. Senior John Rissmiller feels the class has been helpful in applying to different jobs.

Another course participating in Career Informed Learning is Social Justice Praxis taught by gender and women's studies professor Ariella Rotramel. Like Practicing Anthropology, this is the first time this course has been offered.

A key component of the course is a collaboration with the Immigration Advocacy and Support Center and with Erin Doheny – a Connecticut College alumna and IASC volunteer.

On April 3, Doheny visited the class with attorney Mike Doyle to talk about fundraising efforts; the class aims to raise $18,000 for IASC. Their visit included discussion of permits, posters, press releases, stickers and raffles.

The class is holding two story slams, one on campus on April 20 and one at Writers Block Ink on May 4. It's a collaboration with StepUp New London and the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication, for adults and youth to share local immigration stories. The story slams are free, but T-shirts, stickers and posters will be for sale, and attendees will have the option to donate to IASC.

Another class involved in the Career Informed Learning initiative was sociology professor Ron Flores' course Race and Ethnicity in U.S. Baseball.

The president of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., is Jeff Idelson, a 1986 graduate of Connecticut College. Students visited the Baseball Hall of Fame and met with him to learn more about how a player's race and birthplace affect the value of memorabilia, according to a news item from Connecticut College.

Students in an architectural studies class are working on designs to revitalize Hodges Square, and Mayor Michael Passero – also an alumnus – connected them with city planners.

Connecticut College Dean Jefferson Singer said he was inspired to start the Career Informed Learning initiative by the graduate work his daughter was doing at the University of Pennsylvania, because her business courses were using a case study model.

Noel Garrett, dean of academic support, said the initiative was also inspired by a program at Connecticut College in the winter break between 2013 and 2014.

At the beginning of a one-week intensive, he said, Preston Ridge Vineyard presented the students with business issues surrounding finances, social media and wedding traffic. At the end of the week, students had to present the business with their solutions.

Garrett questioned how the college could engage its alumni.

Last spring, botany professor Chad Jones piloted a Career Informed Learning course. Students worked with a co-founder of a renewable energy company and studied sustainability. 

Singer said the college then put out a proposal to the faculty, and the Office of Career and Professional Development looked at alumni lists to see if there would be good matches. As a result, the program has expanded to 15 courses.

Singer said Career Informed Learning is "truly in the spirit" of the college's mission statement of putting the liberal arts in action.

e.moser@theday.com

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