Today’s college students have two goals in mind: land a job by graduation and lead a happy life. Some institutions treat career goals and happiness goals as separate issues. But at Bates College, a small liberal arts school, personal happiness and career outcomes are two sides of the same coin.
When students find work that aligns with their talents, brings them happiness, and makes a social contribution, they can build a fulfilling life, Bates President Clayton Spencer told Jenny Anderson at Quartz. So in 2013, Spencer gathered a group of faculty, staff, and students to develop an initiative that infuses purposeful work into every aspect of college life.
Here’s how the college’s Purposeful Work program prepares students for the nonlinear path to post-grad happiness and success.
Bring practitioners to campus. For five weeks in May, students can learn about a field from a practitioner’s perspective. For example, students can take a digital marketing course taught by a digital marketing consultant. Bates also infuses some courses, like Molecular Biology, with discussions, reading, and writing assignments about the material’s relationship to everyday work.
Create a professional network for low-income students. The internship network is a key resource for first-generation, low-income, and minority students who don’t have family members who can help them navigate the job market. Bates’ Purposeful Work program funds internships for students who can’t afford to work for free.
Encourage students to forge their own path. Rebecca Fraser-Thill, a Visiting Instructor in Psychology, won funding from the Purposeful Work program to design a course called Life Architecture: Designing Your Future. In the course, students learn basic financial skills, write their own obituaries, and contemplate the meaning of life, writes Anderson. Students learn “know-how, habits, and—crucially—self-knowledge that will help them make the best marriage of profession and personal fulfillment,” says Fraser-Thill.
To measure the initiative’s success, Bates surveys students, instructors, and employer partners and holds focus groups of student participants and non-participants on campus. According to their surveys, 94% of students would recommend a purposeful work-infused class and 96% agree that practitioner-taught courses are good additions to the syllabus. Among their employer partners, 91% said that their Purposeful Work intern would be a competitive candidate for a full-time job.
The results are promising, but there’s still work left to be done. Spencer’s main goal is to ensure every student, regardless of socioeconomic class or race, has the chance to find meaningful work, writes Anderson. “I want to make sure our first gen[eration] students of color—groups for whom this kind of college is less part of the fabric in which they grew up—are optimizing their degrees,” says Spencer (Anderson, Quartz, 4/28/18).