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Meet Kate Silbert.
As an UM alum and Hub Coach, Kate utilizes her educational background and experience not only to coach students individually, but to also instruct LSA students within the Hub’s Applied Liberal Arts (ALA) courses.
What are ALA courses? As Lead Instructor for ALA 125: Positioning Yourself for a Successful Internship and ALA 325: Putting Your Education to Work, Kate explains the singular role the Hub's trio of courses are playing in student professional development. She also tells the story of their origin and reveals how alum and employer integration is helping evolve this suite of courses so they’re even more actionable and applicable to today’s workplaces.
Keep reading to learn how Kate works to support students in building a bridge between their classroom learnings and professional aspirations.
Mara Logan: Hi Kate! How are you?
Kate Silbert: I’m doing well thank you!
ML: Glad to hear it. So to jump right in — what is your 30 second elevator pitch for ALA courses? How would you describe them to someone with no prior knowledge?
KS: The Hub’s ALA courses are the best of what the Hub has to offer in terms of professional development and guidance. They’re a dedicated and structured time for students to work on developing and defining their professional goals within a cohort of other people: supportive peers as well as instructors. [This allows] students to feel equipped to navigate their goals and navigate to resources, not just within the Hub but across UM and beyond.
KS: The main themes of the courses are defining your interests and goals, connecting with others and seeking support as you work on those [goals], and then communicating about those goals and your experiences to external audiences, whether that’s potential mentors or employers.
ML: What ALA courses does the Hub host?
KS: ALA 125: Positioning Yourself for Successful Internship, is a crash course for all things professional development. Students do an informational interview, they explore what it means to write résumés and cover letters and interview for opportunities, and they get to explore opportunities on campus to develop their skills as they relate to professional opportunities.
KS: ALA 325 exists as a result of direct student feedback. A student had had a great experience in [ALA 125] and said ‘you know, we need a class like this for seniors.’ [This is a course designed] for when you’re in that moment of ‘what am I going to do with this degree’. To have this set aside time, and this supportive community, to ponder some of those questions and develop strategies unique to you and your goals is [invaluable].
KS: Another course the Hub offers is ALA 225, which students can take while completing an internship. It provides structure for students to reflect on what they are learning and to get feedback along the way on strategies for maximizing their internship experience. As a member of the coaching team, I have the opportunity to support ALA 225 during the summer internship season, and my colleagues Paul Barron and Ian Baker offer the course year-round.
ML: What “success stories” have you heard from students who have gone through ALA courses?
KS: Students say a lot at the end of both the ALA courses that ‘this was the class that got me making headway on steps I was really too intimidated to take. Or things that I had been dragging my feet on. And now that I’ve done it, I know I can do this.’
KS: I had an email exchange with a student who took the class who, because of the great experience, had continued to reach out to folks in their area of interest. So the student was continuing in the work. They were continuing the learning goals and practices that were at the heart of that course and felt excited to be doing that for themselves. So that’s really exciting to see.
ML: In your experience, what course work is most impactful?
KS: In ALA 125, the informational interview project is really transformative for students because it opens up all of this possibility around information and people with whom to be connected moving forward. We encourage students to set meetings up with alums, and every time they leave inspired and excited and reassured about the path they are on. Every single student write-up that I read, students have had that experience because there’s a generosity of spirit among alums who share with students about their experiences.
KS: In ALA 325, the cornerstone assignment is a reflective essay. We ask students to really deeply sift through the entirety of their education to identify and make a clear argument around what the value of their unique LSA education is. What has their education meant to them, and how has it equipped them? In this process of drafting that narrative they develop strong arguments about what they have to offer. This effectively helps students articulate what their priorities are as they’re entering their field, and be excited about what it is they have to offer.
ML: How are ALA courses evolving?
KS: Something new in both courses [this year] was to make intentional space around the intersection of social and professional identities at work, and navigating situations where those might be held in conflict. In both classes, we took the time for students to think about the identities they’re most aware of in professional spaces, or the ones they’re not thinking about, and to share a bit about that. We also brought in some alum perspectives to ground that, and then invited students to really explore [external resources].
KS: These discussions in ALA courses have been a space where students have said ‘this gave me language’ to name why sometimes they have felt isolated or marginalized within academic or professional spaces, and ‘this underlined for me the ways I want to make space for myself or others in the future’.
ML: How has COVID-19 impacted ALA courses?
KS: These courses were designed to be really active learning experiences where students constantly collaborate. [Moving online] has certainly come with challenges, but it’s also been a good space to ask questions about ‘why do we do it this way?’, ‘could we do it this other way?’ just to open up some new opportunities.
KS: We always keep an eye out for better ways to meet students’ needs, and we recognize that students’ needs when it comes to professional development, or being positioned to navigate professional life and flourish, that those things are a moving target. So we’re always taking stock and asking the question and getting student feedback to tighten things up, to improve, and to expand.
ML: How do you see ALA courses continuing to grow going forward?
KS: The employer area is one where we’re still growing but we have exciting stuff in the works to help students get access to that behind the scenes look at what a particular role or industry might actually look like on the ground.
KS: I do think one of the things that we’ve achieved in the past year is having more of a baseline around integrating those alum stories and perspectives and making them more present in the courses that they have been before this point.
KS: We’ve really been able to plug in the best of what is happening at the Hub in terms of coaching and resources that we’ve developed. We try to draw in every corner of the resources that the Hub offers to make it an incorporated part of students' experience in the class, with the hope that then they are set up to continue accessing and using those resources.
KS: I think as an instructor, I am always asking and working with colleagues on how we can help students make the most of [their] time in the class, in ways that really tie in as seamlessly and effectively as possible to all the other ways the Hub can be supporting them.
ML: Absolutely. Thank you for your time!