Editor in Chief
This academic year, for the first time ever, a new career exploration program is available for first-year and sophomore Wooster students: the Pathways Program. What is a Pathway? That really comes down to what any individual student wants to make of it. According to Coral Ciupak ’19, the Pathways coordinator, Pathways is an interdisciplinary program designed to allow students to pursue their academic interests in coordination with valuable experiential learning opportunities and intentional reflection about their future careers.
How does that work in practice? Pathway programs are designed to span multiple semesters and to be structured around three fundamental pillars: 1) coursework, 2) experiential learning and 3) reflection. A typical Pathway might consist of three to four courses, one or two experiential learning experiences — such as internships, off-campus study, campus jobs or service projects — and progressive reflection exercises.
Currently, there are seven Pathways options available to students to choose from: Activism & Social Change, Data Exploration & Communication, Digital & Visual Storytelling, Entrepreneurship, Global Impacts, Museum & Archival Studies and Public Health. These issue areas can be closely intertwined with a student’s major or minor, but they also allow students to explore an interest outside of their declared major.
Students who choose to pursue a Pathway are supported by a team of faculty, staff and peer advisors. This year, there are three Pathways Peer Advisors — Elizabeth Testamark ’22, Megan Zins ’22 and Samuel Boudreau ’23 — available to help students navigate the program. They are available regularly for help between 1:30-4 p.m. on Wired-in-Wednesdays on Microsoft Teams, and can help students choose a Pathway, reflect on past experiences and interests, plan their schedules to work with the Pathway of their choice and work on their resumes.
In reflecting on the academic benefits of the Pathways program, Zins explained, “Students are not required to choose a Pathway directly related to their major. Pathways are more like dynamic supplements to students’ education and career exploration, giving them the opportunity to complement their major or explore something they’re simply interested in outside of their major. That being said, each Pathway takes on an interdisciplinary approach to the career path, giving students an easy way to combine multiple interests through choosing the courses and experiential learning opportunities they complete for the Pathway.”
“I think of Pathways as especially great for students who are passionate about their major and, at the same time, are imagining careers for themselves that may not seem related. What I expect they’ll discover, though, is that there are plenty of meaningful connections to make across academic disciplines, personal interests and career fields.”
Boudreau echoed this benefit, saying, “[In my first year at Wooster] I never really knew when to search for internships and how to apply my personal and academic interests to professional opportunities. I’ve always been nervous about what I’m going to do after graduation, especially with a liberal arts degree, so I was never quite sure where to start when searching for a career field that matched my interests. Pathways initially interested me because it helps students explore a broad career field early in their Wooster career.”
Testamark further highlighted the opportunities for personal development that students will achieve through the experiential learning components of a Pathway, explaining, “Students are going to be able to grow professionally as they enter the experiential learning aspect of the Pathway. Students will also have the opportunity to have an even more diverse educational background, and will be one step closer to understanding who they are as an individual and what career they may want to pursue in the future.”
The academic and experiential elements of the Pathways Program are supported by intentional reflection exercises to help students draw connections between their interests and think about how these factors might come together in a future career path. Throughout the duration of their Pathway progression, students will submit five reflections through Moodle, which will be reviewed by the Pathways coordinator, A.P.E.X. staff or members of the Pathways Team. Although these assignments will not be formally graded, their completion is essential to the program. According to Kastor, whose focus has been creating the reflection framework used in the Pathways, “There are five touchpoints in the reflection framework to be completed by every student who participates. Each touchpoint has a specific purpose with the ultimate goal of helping students connect what they learn in the classroom with experiences beyond the classroom like internships, field placements, and student employment.”
“My favorite element of the program is the built-in reflection points where students are asked to think critically about their interests and experiences,” said Zins. “I think all too often we get caught up in our everyday life and start passively living — and we can lose our sense of direction that way. The Pathways Program offers students a chance to slow down and regain that sense of direction, which I really appreciate and am honored to be a part of.”
Testamark similarly highlighted the benefits of the intentional reflection and support built into the program. “I love the idea of Pathways in general,” she said. “I just love the idea of focusing on a specific Pathway and digging a little deeper into it. Another main aspect that I love is the team of faculty that are over[seeing] each Pathway and are ensuring that the students who sign up in their specific Pathway are supported.”
The Pathways Program has been in development for a long time, with work on curriculum starting as early as five years ago. Since then, it has evolved through the College’s strategic planning initiatives, specifically to focus on career exploration opportunities. Describing the goals of the program, Professor of History Greg Shaya said, “We wanted to create interdisciplinary programs that would allow faculty and staff to come together in new ways. At the same time, we saw the degree to which students and families were asking how to better connect college and life after graduation. The result of all of that thinking? We made it a strategic priority to create new interdisciplinary programs that would help prepare students for success after Wooster.”
In addition to the faculty and staff who worked to develop the program over the past summer, the planning committee included three student representatives: King, as well as Saeed Husain ’21 and Ella Lang ’21. King explained that their role was to “provide insights that a faculty or staff member can’t. Ultimately, Pathways caters to students. So, it’s imperative to understand what students want out of a program like this.” And, it seems that they were successful in this — as Zins noted, “After being introduced to the program, my initial reaction was, ‘I wish they had something like this when I was a first-year!’” This sentiment has been widely expressed by other students as well, with Aspen Rush ’22 stating, “I think that really would have helped me if it was around in my first two years.”
Husain emphasized that those involved in designing the program were determined to do it the right way, not to rush the process. “The committee and the professors, from even before the students had come on, were taking real care in launching Pathways the right way.” He explained that, due to the pandemic, there was some pressure on schools nationally to release new programs during the summer in order to offset low enrollment numbers, and that the committee was encouraged to launch the Pathways program as early and quickly as possible. However, ultimately he says, the administration trusted the Committee’s decision to delay and take a little longer in order to make sure everything was truly thought out before students could register.
Finally, although the program is technically new, both Husain and King noted that it draws on long-established patterns of student interactions with the Wooster curriculum. Husain began, saying, “I would like to let students and professors know that this is something which Wooster has been doing for a very long time. This slightly formalizes it more … or, not even just formalizes it — just gives a literal path for students to look at and understand how it comes together so that then they can talk about that to potentially future employers or graduate schools.”
King echoed these sentiments, explaining, “So many Wooster students have passionately crafted their own paths; Pathways codifies what these students have already done and urges others to do the same. Pathways’ emphasis on reflection, moreover, encourages students to actively take charge of their learning, critically thinking about each step of their journey and sharing their progress with others in a creative way.”
On Feb. 1, the program officially launched, allowing students to get started by completing the “Pathways Launch” form, which is housed under the Student Academic Forms tab of the Registrar’s page on the Wooster website.
For those interested, Kastor stressed, “It is very important for students to talk with a faculty or staff member or a peer advisor before they declare their participation in a Pathway. These initial touchpoints will help a student understand the expectations of the program and will help them consider the most important factors when making a choice.”
The deadline to register to join Pathways this year is next Friday, Feb. 26. Until then, Pathways staff and peer advisors will continue meeting with interested students to inform them about the program and encourage them to begin. Any students who think that they might want to explore a Pathway program are encouraged by all involved to attend the Wired-in-Wednesday sessions, weekly from 1:30-4 p.m. on Teams with Testamark, Zins and Boudreau and to reach out to Pathways Program Coordinator Coral Ciupak at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.