Envisioning the future

State’s 21st Century Scholars program prepares Sycamores to cross the commencement stage and focuses them on their next step — a rewarding career.

Aaron Slocum

It isn’t enough for Aaron Slocum when 21st Century Scholars leave Indiana State University with a diploma.

The coordinator of the university’s 21st Century Scholars Program wants to ensure all of the program’s 1,500 students find success in their post-graduation lives. It’s a process that begins in a Sycamore’s first two years on campus with a focus on the building blocks of a successful student — teaching time management and classroom etiquette, encouraging campus involvement and building pride in being a scholar.

In the student’s junior and senior years at State, the program turns its focus toward career- and-internship exploration trips with help from Indiana State’s Career Center. The trips started last fall and have included visits to Finish Line headquarters, Geico and Guitar Distribution Center.

“Our overall goal is exposure. Students are sometimes naïve to what they can do with their degrees, so we want to allow them to see how they can use their degrees in various jobs within a company,” Slocum said. “We went to Geico and Finish Line headquarters in Indianapolis, so students could see that these companies have positions in business, art, technology, and they could see how their degrees fit into positions within these companies.”

Indiana State’s four-year 21st Century Scholar graduation rate is up 7.3 percentage points to 26.1 percent, roughly two-and-a-half times the percentage increase for the campus as a whole. While the main goal of 21st Century Scholars program is to get students who come from low-income families to commencement, Slocum takes a vested interest in ensuring that scholars are prepared for the next step — a career.

Before the career-exploration trip, students received a copy of “StrengthsQuest: Discover and Develop Your Strengths in Academics, Career, and Beyond,” took an assessment to identify their strengths and weaknesses and attended a workshop hosted by the 21st Century Scholars program.

“Our leadership staff saw a need to get students into companies and business and be able to talk to executives in these places, because they are so open to talking with our students,” he said. “These trips are motivation for students to keep pushing and lets them see that at the end of it all, there is a goal of getting a job, a good paying career. My goal, personally, is to see them throughout their college experience and into a career where they are happy.”

Indiana State students tour Finish Line in Indianapolis as part of a career-readiness experience with the 21st Century Scholars.

Slocum partnered with the Career Center’s assistant director of employee relations Teresa Dwyer, who coordinated the company visits and worked on professional development with the students.

“Twenty-first Century Scholars are from Indiana. We have a large population of them on campus and there is a lot of job growth in certain industries, so it makes sense to expose this group of students to companies where there is a high likelihood of getting a job, being successful and staying in Indiana,” Dwyer said. “Anytime students get the opportunity to go on a company visit, they should do it to get a better understanding of how successful they would be in that organization. Once you get students into a company, they’re excited to be there and are engaged with the employer, like an employee at Finish Line we talked to who was a 21st Century Scholar. It’s an experience that hopefully gives them more focus on where they want to be after college.”

The program began to integrate career-exploration trips into its offerings last fall, and this spring’s trip was funded completely with the Stan Jones Student Success Grant, named after the late Indiana Commissioner of Higher Education and a driving force behind the 21st Century Scholars program.

Indiana State was one of three institutions to receive the inaugural grant in January to introduce 21st Century Scholars to different avenues they can pursue with their degrees.

(The 21st Century Scholars) program goes beyond just paying for school. It targets common areas that students fail to realize are underdeveloped before graduation, and this trip is a great example,” said Diamond Coleman, a senior political science and legal studies major. “As an outgoing senior, my network connections were lacking within Indiana, but this activity gave me the chance to explore a field other than what I’m studying. Many participants were underclassmen who explored careers they can do with their degree within Indiana. This helps a student by showing them that graduation should be what helps you move on to the next phase of your life, not something that you should be scared of.”

The 21st Century Scholars program has opened more doors than freshman marketing major Juan Tirado of Lafayette, Ind., feels would have been possible without it.

“One of the big things they push at Indiana State is to build your network any way you can. When I heard about the career exploration, I wanted to take the opportunity to meet executives and learn about jobs and internships that are available in my major,” he said. “That’s the great thing about the 21st Century Scholars program: We can meet executives and explore our majors, and I get to be surrounded by people who understand what I go through paying for school. It’s a support system.”

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