Bringing truly immersive and impactful professional experiences to LSA students is a central focus of the LSA Opportunity Hub. In the fall of 2021, an opportunity to ‘immerse’ students in the working world came to life through the Hub’s collaboration with LSA’s Comprehensive Studies program. The Hub invited three representatives from special employer partners to serve as mentors for students in a section of English 225: Writing and Argument so they could explore their writing through an industry lens.
From October through to November, students were tasked with a three-step project: research an industry and/or organization, identify an emerging or existing issue, and propose a solution. Over the course of the semester, these Hub-sourced mentors provided insight and guidance on their writing and offered best practices of professional writing. The outcome? The experience was well received by the instructor, participating mentors, and most especially the students. Learn more about this initiative, including the employers we partnered with.
Meet the professor
“None of my previous assignments have included that level of immediate and credentialed reinforcement of core writing principles,” says Charles Taylor, instructor for ENG 225. As course instructor, Professor Taylor motivates students to do their best work while writing collaboratively by demonstrating how relevant writing and argumentation is when it comes to professional communications such as emails, memos and proposals. The students in the course are part of LSA’s Comprehensive Studies Program (CSP) which is a Michigan Learning Community focused on academically enriching and holistically supporting the most diverse population of students.
We asked Professor Taylor to tell us more about the nature of this assignment and how it differs from other class assignments he’s administered. Here’s what he had to say:
“The assignment asks duos or trios of students to identify and propose a solution for a problem within a mutually selected industry, in essay form with multimedia elements. It requires them to collaborate, think critically about profession-related problems, and communicate multimodally. I’ve assigned similar essays before; the difference here is the students’ interactions with Hub’s employer partners.”
The employer partners referenced are organizations and companies that the Hub has cultivated special relationships with: they’ve provided internships and job shadowing opportunities to LSA students through the Hub over the years.
“The partners generated critiques of outlines and, later, full drafts of the essays,” Professor Taylor continues. “The students were able to receive feedback from a perspective unavailable to most undergraduates—that of a panel of industry professionals. They were also able to see real-world applications of principles the course was designed to emphasize, including the time-saving imperative in professional communications; the need to write, always, to a specific audience; and the importance of clear, simple and economical writing.”
Career services professionals and employers have long recognized the value of having professionals involved in the classroom, especially during formative experiences like career exploration and decision-making about the future. According to Professor Taylor, the assignment has helped many of the students rethink the meaning of “critical thinking”, a highly valued skill often attributed to liberal arts and sciences students and one of NACE’s top ten competencies.
“Two groups’ essays addressed social justice issues that they were certain they had examined from every possible and reasonable angle. The partners’ feedback (both written and in a follow-up discussion) validated much of each group’s argument, but also gave them food for thought about some of their less deeply examined assumptions. They (like others) have become much more prudent examiners of the research, reasoning and presentational elements of their arguments,” he shares.
Throughout the course of the semester, Professor Taylor observed a rise in confidence in the students as a result of having the opportunity to interact in a relaxed format with highly accomplished professionals. According to him, most of the students up to this point in their lives had never had the opportunity to interact with employers of this stature and had only been aware of the working world from a distance. Now having had the opportunity to engage in candid discussions with these professionals, he’s noticed a positive shift and affirms that the students are now more equipped to handle these dealings with a professional edge, whether it’s going in for an interview for a part-time position or applying for internships.
Meet the employer partners
Hub employer partners were strategically selected to take part in this collaboration in order to provide the best experience possible for the students. Outside of traditional forms of career development activities such as recruiting events and information sessions, the Hub values the deeply transformative opportunities that can give students a taste of the working world.
Stephen Aronson served as one of the mentors. He represents Roark Capital, one of the partners for this assignment strongly committed to the idea of professional immersion and an enthusiastic champion of the liberal arts student. We asked Mr. Aronson to provide some perspective on his involvement with the class this semester:
“My experience working with the students in Professor Taylor’s English 225 class has been nothing short of spectacular. The intelligence, depth, creativity, work ethic, sense of social responsibility and maturity of Michigan undergraduates never ceases to amaze me. The class challenged me to up my own mentoring skills and I think Professor Taylor did an outstanding job designing a curriculum that represents LSA’s commitment to interdisciplinary training by combining writing, reading and research training with real world business and networking skills.”
Jon Fish of ESPN, an LSA alum, also served as a mentor for this project.
“Working with Professor Taylor was fantastic. It was such a rewarding experience for me personally. I loved being involved with the class on every level and I looked forward to each session with the students. They were eager to learn and asked great questions.”
When asked what benefits he thought this project brought to the students, Jon states:
“It was interesting – their final papers reflected multiple topics. Each one of the three mentors were able to bring their unique work experience into the classroom. I felt the students benefited from our backgrounds and range of knowledge we provided as it helped to broaden their learning.”
Meet the students
Julia Meguid, a student in the class and recipient of the mentoring support, found the project to be positively impactful on her professional development and affirmed that it offered her a new perspective on what it means to be an LSA student at the University of Michigan.
“It was inspiring to see adults that are in the professional field so happy and willing to work with students even though they’ve been out of school for a while. They wanted to help us so much and were willing to connect with us outside of the project for various reasons. One thing I took away was realizing how amazing it is to be a part of the U-M network, a perk I didn’t realize I had. But it’s incredible to see how many people are willing to help you,” Julia shares.
The broad alum network is often touted as a reason why many students choose U-M.
Julia continues: “It’s like we’re one big family. We all want each other to do well and be happy. I didn't really know how the Hub employer partners would play a role in our success but they were able to give us different perspectives as professionals in the field. They gave feedback on not just the work but how we thought about the work. Ths class was the highlight of my week. I loved going to English 225!”
What’s next? With the great success of the pilot program, the Hub is planning to make this kind of professional immersive experience a mainstay of the Hub’s menu of career services. If you are an employer that would like to collaborate with the Hub to make future iterations a reality or to simply discuss ways you can make an impact on LSA students, we encourage you to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to connect with our employer engagement team.