A new career and professional development program at Otterbein University will prepare students for their futures by promoting academic and career exploration; immersive, hands-on experiences; and professional development skills like networking and goal mapping.
Understanding how critical it is for students to make these connections between their academic studies and their career aspirations, Otterbein is making the commitment that every student will go through four years of exploration, advising, and planning.
“We want our students to be ready for life after graduation,” said Jennifer Bechtold, assistant provost and executive director of Student Success and Career Development. “This four-year plan will give them the confidence and the skills they’ll need after Otterbein.”
Keeping that commitment front and center is the reason behind its name: Every Student Will be READY.
Bechtold explained that Otterbein’s signature First Year Experience (FYE) seminar courses have been reimagined with a team approach. FYE faculty will continue to help students transition to college-level learning, and now an Otterbein staff coach will join the first-year team to help students navigate time management and explore personal interests, goals, and career paths.
But the big ideas don’t end there. In addition to classroom speakers, whether in person or virtual, Bechtold said that alumni and Otterbein friends can support this initiative by offering internships and opportunities to collaborate on projects. “This will add to the program and help serve the entire Class of 2026, the first class to be part of the new Otterbein Every Student Will be READY program,” Bechtold said.
Robin Grote, associate professor of chemistry and director of undergraduate research and creative work, taught an FYE pilot course last year with the new model. She said having a staff partner enhanced the classroom experience. Grote said the students saw a team in action and began to understand that Otterbein is a network with many people across its community who want to help. “It was very representative of what it is like to be at Otterbein,” she said.
Grote believes students will be more engaged earlier in their college experiences. “Some of the best classroom experiences are when students interact with speakers. Anytime we can have visitors share their experiences related to the subject or to life – and do that in real-time – it’s much more interesting than just listening to a lecture from their professor.”
Otterbein leaders have seen first-hand how valuable immersive, hands-on experiences are to a student’s career preparation. While some academic programs like nursing and education already include those opportunities, Otterbein wants all students to have at least one signature immersive experience before they graduate.
Those experiences will vary greatly and will include everything from leadership experience to internships and study abroad. There are some funds currently in place to offset the costs of studying abroad, working a summer internship, or volunteering for community service, but program organizers say more support will be needed as the program expands to the entire student body.
Alumni Jon ’79 and Gretchen Freeman Hargis ’77 understood the importance of the Every Student Will be READY program. The couple runs the Hargis Family Foundation and were early supporters. “We believe a very important part of a college education is to prepare students on how to maximize their ability to gain employment in the field of their studies post-graduation. This initiative will provide all students the opportunity to work on these skills throughout their time as an Otterbein University student.”
According to Leah Schuh ’11, assistant director for experiential learning, the goal is to prepare students for post-graduation by increasing their access and creative focus.
“We want students to find meaning in what they did and how they can utilize that to be more prepared for employers and graduate schools,” she said. A dedicated team will help students to maximize their time at Otterbein and show them how to communicate the experience outcomes.
Schuh explained that Otterbein has a long history of combining hands-on experiences with classroom learning. Getting students READY for their futures will formalize what Otterbein has already focused on: hands-on experiences, mentorship, and guidance.
Alumni and friends can help support this exciting program by supporting the READY Fund to assist with costs for students’ immersive experiences. For more information on ways you or your company or organization could support this program or contribute to student success, please reach out to Kathleen Bonte, executive director of development, Institutional Advancement at 614-823-2707.