Interim Dean Schnell's Message: Collegiate Relationships & Postgraduate Success

Lisa Schnell

On January 15 this year, two Honors College seniors and an Honors College alum from the class of 2012 visited the Class of '18 Honors College students in our first Thursday night plenary of the spring semester. Ben Teasdale '15, Emily Howe '15, and Jen Kaulius '12 were there to talk with our first-year students about Four-Year Plan for Career Success , something that had, in fact, not been in place at UVM when they began their undergrad careers and, in the case of Jen, not even when she completed her degree. Our hope was to "demystify" the plan a bit-"see, you can be really successful even without these check lists!"-but also to show how Ben, Emily, and Jen had actually done much of what is on the lists, and therefore how incredibly helpful it is to have that inventory check sheet as a kind of roadmap. Standing at the front of Billings Lecture Hall, the checklists for all four years projected on the big screen behind them, all three students were-as so many of our students are-inspiring and down-to-earth, completely unintimidating and yet very accomplished at the same time. Mission accomplished, I thought.

Imagine my surprise when, the next morning in my HCOL 086 class, my students told me that, while they had appreciated hearing from Ben, Emily, and Jen, and found them, yes, inspiring and down-to-earth, they still found those checklists very intimidating. And so I decided to break it down further for them, particularly given what they had heard the previous evening. "In a word," I asked them, "what do those checklists all boil down to? One word. Give it to me." "Engagement," said one of them after a few seconds had passed. "Yep," I said, "that's a good candidate. What else?" Another student offered up "Opportunities." "Also good," I said, "and how about relationships."

Having been a college student myself (even without the Four-Year Plan for Career Success-though I would dearly have loved to have had that checklist!), I know that two particular kinds of relationships that I formed as an undergraduate, and later as a graduate student, have played a huge part in my professional (and personal) life: the relationships I fostered with my faculty mentors, and the relationships I had with my peers. Students get used to hearing me say, "by the end of this year, I want you to have formed a relationship with at least one of your professors, someone whose work you admire, and who you have chatted with in their office hours." And they typically act on that advice. But I think they were surprised to hear me say that, from the standpoint of a plan for career success, the relationships they form with each other are at least as important as the relationships they develop with faculty and staff at UVM.

One of the truly great benefits of membership in the Honors College community is the introduction it provides to a group of peers who understand "relationship" to mean far more than simply socializing. As Exhibit A, I offer up one of the students who presented at that Thursday night plenary. Jen Kaulius was an excellent student in Community and International Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, but the way she tells the story, she truly had no idea at all what she was going to do after graduation. It was an Honors College friend of hers who, mid-way through her senior year, somewhat insistently asked if she might like to come to a meeting on Pine Street in Burlington where a group of Burlington residents were gathering to talk about city issues with a fledgling mayoral candidate, Miro Weinberger. Jen went to that meeting and the rest, as they say, is history. Fired up by what she heard and by her realization that city politics was a perfect place for her to leverage the critical thinking and writing skills and knowledge she had gained as an undergraduate, Jen joined the ultimately-successful Weinberger campaign and then was recruited by the new mayor to work as his administrative assistant in the new administration, work that has been challenging and deeply rewarding for her. In fact, as I write this, Jen is on a temporary leave from her job in City Hall to serve as the manager for Miro Weinberger's reelection campaign.

When Jen tells this story, her gratitude for her remarkable UVM education comes through loud and clear, but just as emphatic is her recognition that it was an Honors College peer who knew her well enough to insist that she go to that meeting. Those of us who work with Honors College students every day have no difficulty appreciating Jen's story as in fact, fairly typical. Each class cohort gets to know each other not just in social situations or in individual classrooms, but in the context of a genuinely rich and meaningful intellectual community fostered by our residential learning community, and our encouragement of our students to take their conversations out of the classroom and into the places that really matter to them-their lives. Those are the conversations and relationships that . . . well, that can get you the key to the city.