This spring, prospective students who visit campus can see the College’s refreshed commitment to career and vocational preparation on full display.
For the first time, Wheaton’s Center for Vocation and Career (CVC)—recently relocated and remodeled—is a stop on the tours offered by Undergraduate Admissions.
CVC Director Dee Pierce M.A. ’17 wants potential students to circle back after the tour is over. “We say, ‘If you have questions, or you want to meet with a coach, stop by’,” she says.
That sense of hospitality—and, specifically, the desire for Wheaton students to drop in and stick around—permeates every element of the $2 million redesign, which is part of a $6 million remodel of the Student Services Building. The new space opened in January 2020.
The site is centrally and strategically located on the first floor of the SSB directly across from the Todd M. Beamer Memorial Student Center. College Architect Bruce Koenigsberg designed a long diagonal hallway spanning the northeast and southwest entrances of the building, drawing foot traffic to the CVC as students use the hallway to pass through between campus buildings.
The 5,000-foot space, triple the previous footprint, features natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows; industrial fixtures like exposed pipes and Edison bulbs; reclaimed wood; and tile saved from the demolition of Breyer Hall. Leather couches, soft wingback chairs, a hospitality station, and the open, collaborative workstations are intentionally designed to mirror the millennial-friendly workspaces Pierce researched.
These features were also chosen to entice students in the Gen Z cohort. These students, who witnessed the 2008 recession in their formative years, place a higher value on career development and achieving financial independence than the generation that preceded them.
“They want to stand on their own two feet,” Pierce says. “They care not only about the academic experience they will draw here but also about what will happen afterward as they pursue a career.”
Pierce and her team want students to see the space as a hangout—and, along the way, to experience career development as a routine part of the Wheaton experience. “It’s intentionally a warm, welcoming, and inviting space for students,” Pierce says. “We know from best practice research that engagement with a career center increases about 30 percent when you’re in a high-traffic area, when there’s a lot of glass, when the space is comfortable and enticing so that students want to go in and be part of it.”
Students enter through the “Studio,” an energetic lobby space buzzing with music and activity, where they can drop in for a meeting with a career coach or just hang around with a cup of coffee. Its purpose, Pierce says, is to encourage casual, exploratory interactions. The space includes seating areas and tables, plenty of electrical outlets for laptops, large screens, and a bookshelf with staff-recommended titles.
The flexible space can also accommodate CVC events like mock interview events, job fairs, and Taco Tuesdays, dinners where students connect with alumni over tacos to talk about their role, industry, or career path.
As students progress through the space, they discover open areas that facilitate collaboration among the CVC’s 11 full-time employees and 23 student workers. Associate Director of Coaching Adam Temple ’09 says this part of the center is set up to facilitate impromptu collaboration between the career coaches, who are each responsible for working with majors and faculty in particular academic departments, along with the event planner, and the employer relations manager.
“We’re able to collaborate more easily on questions students are asking us, on our event planning, and on sharing ideas,” he says. The setup was done intentionally to support this open flow of information.
Advanced technology selected with input from the College’s Academic and Institutional Technology department was also chosen to help students present themselves at their best.
“More and more, we’re seeing that employers want to do initial interviews via video, and some of the really big firms are not even putting a person on the other end—you have to record yourself answering questions,” Pierce says.
Five soundproof interview rooms are available for meetings or interviews with employers. Three of them are tech-enabled for video interviews, with cameras and lighting strategically placed so that students know where to look during interviews and can avoid the awkward shadows that can appear when doing interviews on a laptop. A large interview room will allow the CVC team to participate in professional development webinars to keep them abreast of the latest trends in the industry. A “green room” in the southeast corner provides dedicated space for the recruiters and alumni volunteers who come to campus each year to connect with students. Pierce describes the room as an oasis for guests who need to take a break or catch up on work during a full day of on-campus recruiting.
“Last year we engaged 239 alumni in-person with students, and 40 recruiters,” she says. “This is a place to provide hospitality for those who support us.”
Completion of the new location is the latest significant step in Wheaton’s renewed commitment to equip students to use their liberal arts education to thrive in careers.
“About five years ago, we determined that we needed to do a much better job of preparing students for life after Wheaton,” says Cindra Stackhouse Taetzsch ’82, senior director for vocation and alumni engagement and executive director of the Wheaton College Alumni Association.
Wheaton moved its career development center from the Student Development Division to Advancement and Alumni Relations and under Stackhouse Taetzsch’s leadership in 2015. Pierce became director of the new Center for Vocation and Career in 2016, tasked with developing a comprehensive new vision.
The CVC staff more than doubled in size, and, in the words of alumnus Grant Hensel ’15, transformed the operation “from a resume polishing service to an engine of career possibilities.” Generous giving from donors during the From the Heart, For the Kingdom campaign—including a $2 million matching grant—provided funding for the CVC’s new space and operations.
“I’m so excited about this new space because I’m convinced more students will want to take advantage of what’s going on in here,” Stackhouse Taetzch says. “This is what we’re all about: Preparing students to be salt and light, and to have a clear sense of what to do after graduation.”