This Year’s Assistantship: The Cohen Career Center

At the start of every academic year, students in the American Studies Program get assigned a new part-time assistantship. Over the past three years, I’ve been at the Mariners’ Museum, served as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate class, and worked at the Equality Lab. This year, I’ll be serving as a Graduate Assistant at the campus’s Cohen Career Center, and more specifically as the Fellow for the W&M/St Andrews Joint Degree Programme.

The Cohen Career Center, where I’ll be serving as a Graduate Assistant for students enrolled in the W&M/St Andrews Joint Degree Programme. Image: A building constructed of brick and glass in a streamlined style surrounded by trees.

As the name suggests, the Cohen Career Center focuses on career advising for undergraduates and graduates alike. It does this through a variety of services, including one-on-one career advising, workshops, and providing various online resources. In addition to scheduled appointments, the Center also offers Quick Advising, where students can come in for 15-minute walk-in appointments. The center also has rooms that students can reserve for different purposes, from studying to conducting virtual interviews. Employers will also sometimes come to the Career Center to conduct interviews and meet with students, though this has admittedly happened less frequently due to the pandemic. In short, the Career Center helps students transition from their academic studies to the working world, and encourages students of all years to use their services.

Looking down into the Atrium, where students can meet with advisors for quick advising. Image: A large atrium with glass walls and a fireplace made of wood and stone.

While I’ll be available to assist all students, I’ll primarily be working with those currently enrolled in the W&M/St Andrews Joint Degree Programme. The result of a partnership established between the two universities, students enrolled in this program divide their time between the two schools and graduate with a degree that lists both universities. It gives them an opportunity to experience both the liberal arts education of William & Mary and the more specialized pedagogy of St Andrews, all while getting to explore two different countries. While it’s an opportunity that can be very rewarding, it also poses its own unique challenges. Students are expected to navigate the logistics and bureaucracy of two universities and two different countries, each with their own expectations in terms of coursework and degree completion. Because students divide their time between two different schools, moreover, they can sometimes feel somewhat disconnected, as they’re never in one place for all four years. My job is to help students feel more at home in their respective programs by being available to answer questions and offer resources.

St Andrews University, image courtesy of W&M and St Andrews continue relationship with study-abroad program | William & Mary ( Image: a large stone building at dusk with a crenelated rooftop.

So what will I be doing to accomplish this? On the advising side, I’ll be helping students with anything from helping them explore different careers, to offering guidance on resumes, interviews, and networking. I’ll also work with the program’s Peer Advisors, seniors enrolled in the program who have been hired by William & Mary, to help get a better sense of what students need in terms of resources and access. I’ll also work with both the Career Center and the staff at St Andrews University to provide workshops and other events catered especially to students enrolled in the program, whether they’re focused on showing students how to leverage their study abroad experience to potential employers, or just letting them know about the resources available on campus. Finally, I’ll reach out to alumni of the program to help maintain a resource pool for current students, as graduates of the program will have experiences and insights that no one else can share. All of this will build on the work of previous fellows, and it’ll definitely keep me busy over the next two semesters.

Of all the assistantships, this one has by far been the most intensive in terms of training, and for good reason. Career advising is not to be taken lightly, and the Center wants to make sure its assistants are prepared before talking to students. Two weeks before the semester started then, my fellow graduate assistants and I went to the Career Center every weekday to learn from other career advisors, read through the various resources on the center’s website, and get familiar with its in-network documents. Training has also continued since the semester started. I’m currently sitting in on Quick Advising sessions, with the understanding that I’ll participate in the future. I’ve also started sitting in on some of the Career Center’s various Crash Courses, 30-minute workshops covering various topics, again with the understanding that I’ll be available to present them if needed. In short, I’ll always have something going on, even if I’m having a slower week with the Joint Degree Programme.

The Graduate Assistants’ shared office. My desk in the one on the lower right. Image: an office with large glass windows and four desks with computers arranged in a cubicle.

Probably the biggest adjustment for me so far has been returning to an office setting. I’ve been working from home since January 2020, when I started reading for comps, so I’ve definitely had to get used to being “on” again in terms of social interaction. At the same time, it’s been refreshing to interact with other people in-person (albeit fully masked at the moment), and it puts some much-needed variety back into my week. It’s been a welcome change and I think I’ll enjoy it, provided the campus doesn’t shut down again.

Overall, I’m actually really excited for this assistantship. As someone who spent several years working, I’m familiar with the job search process, and have definitely learned a lot from having gone through it multiple times. My role as a senior staff member at the Roswell Museum also means that I’ve been the interviewer as well as interviewee at various points in my career, which has given me a much more nuanced understanding of the interview process. And while I’ve never participated in an international joint degree program (though the idea of studying medieval history in Scotland sounds really appealing to me now), I did spend a semester in Europe during my junior year of college, so I have at least some understanding of the emotional impact of studying outside the country.

At the same time, there’s plenty for me to learn about career advising. The job search process has changed a lot since I last perused the market, and there are a lot of resources out there that I didn’t know existed. Additionally, my job hunting expertise is limited to the museum field, so working with students from a variety of majors and backgrounds will encourage me to learn about different kinds of careers. I don’t expect to become an expert in all fields, but if I can share some of my own insights while also learning from both the Career Center and the students who visit it, I think I’ll be doing just fine. Ultimately everyone has to make their own decisions and what worked for me won’t work for everyone, but if I can help students by either pointing them toward the resources that they need, or just listen to their questions and concerns, I think I’ll be doing some good.

This year’s assistantship even gets its own nametag. Image: photo of a nametag from William & Mary, with the name reading “Sara Woodbury, JDP Fellow”.

In short, I think this is going to be a fulfilling assistantship, and I’m looking forward to guiding students on their journeys from campus to careers.

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