McGuire on Media

"After Cronkite" addresses a genuine problem graduating students face

About 15 months ago, a Spring 2009 Cronkite School graduate named Alyssa Aalmo dropped by my office to say hello. She had been out in the work world for about six months. Alyssa looked at me plaintively and said "Tim we need more help negotiating the real world! This has been horrible." 

She had my my complete attention! As we talked, the public relations graduate spoke of what a rude awakening she’d had trying to get a job. She said she felt academically prepared, but "real life" snuck up on her. She told me that many of her contemporaries felt the same way.

Alyssa walked out my door but not out of my memory.  As I talked to students past and present I picked up more of the same vibe. Students felt unprepared to find a job, settle into an "adult" life and navigate the work place.

As I shared my findings with colleagues locally and nationally I found a curious split reaction. Some were sympathetic with the students’ plight and talked about how difficult this new world is to survive. But others scoffed.  Nobody had worried about her own entry into the workplace. The clear implication was this is a coddled generation.

I really didn’t care about that discussion. The world our students must contend with is so incredibly different than the one I faced in 1971, comparisons are silly. Complexity and competition has increased exponentially in those 40 years, but I have to admit I could have used more help in finding an initial landing place. Those first 30 rejection letters are fun to joke about now, but they hurt like hell then.

Late last summer I decided the Cronkite School owed our graduates more than just a great education. I sat down at my computer and created a draft of a program to help students land and keep a job and to adjust to "life after Cronkite." That draft is very similar to the final plan we adopted for this semester.

Dean Chris Callahan and Associate Dean Kristin Gilger loved the idea. They both shot back memos that said "let’s do this, it’s a wonderful idea."

That’s where things got sticky as they often do with great ideas. Sloth became a factor for me. I made it clear I did not want to "own and produce" the idea.  Chris and Kristin were fully engaged through the summer and fall with the ACEJMC Accreditation self-study. The idea languished, but there was always one dedicated supporter for the idea-Alyssa Aalmo. She knew her suggestion to me was a good one. She knew that she didn’t want future students to struggle the same way she did. So, she kept politely jabbing me with emails and then she started in on Kristin.

In late November with the self-study mostly out of the way Kristin "owned" the project. With help from our program staff of Kelli Solomkin and Katie Burke, Kristin brought the concept to life.

On Friday Feb. 4 the first session kicked off with a series of brown bag no-credit lunches. That first session was entitled "Know Thyself! Now Tell Others." It was aimed at helping students determine who they are, what they want to do and how they tell the world.

Other sessions, with several different moderators, explained the current business environment and advised students how they can fit in, addressed resume writing, networking and how to survive the interview. Another session discussed the wisdom of waiting for the perfect job versus settling for something less than that. My favorite session is titled “You Mean Mom’s not Going to Do That for Me Anymore?” The clear answer is, no she’s not. That means students  need to know something about health and car insurance, budgets, savings, credit, how to set up residency in another state and how to figure out living arrangements.

The attendance has been less than we hoped, right around a dozen students for each session. Clearly our biggest problem is Friday. Cronkite, like most journalism schools, is pretty empty on Friday. We will consider moving the brownbag lunches to another day next year.

We have three sessions left. (The remaining schedule can be found here.) But I have promised students Friday April 8 is going to be the show-stopper session of the entire program. That’s because Alyssa Aalmo will appear. She is going to wow students. I know because she wowed me.

Alyssa is prepared to convey some tough truths to students about their internships, professors versus bosses, the importance of workplace language and scores of other issues. Her lessons from her first year in the workplace would shame a lot of managers.   

Journalism education is struggling for definition these days. I am personally convinced the Cronkite education is without peer. I am also convinced it is not enough. As educators and professional survivors, I think we have an ethical duty to equip our students for the workplace in ways classes just can’t do.

At 12:30 p.m. Friday we will continue to do our part, but we could never have done it without the persistence of Alyssa Aalmo and the organizational skills of Associate Dean Kristin Gilger, Kelli Solomkin and Katie Burke.