Written by Olivia Haffner
The purpose of college is seemingly simple: to prepare you for a future career.
However, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center study, just a third of U.S. college graduates below the age of 50 felt that their college experience was “extremely useful” in providing them with skills that could be used in the workplace.
So, where’s the gap?
A 2021 survey by the AAC&U found that the most valuable skills that were rated the weakest by line managers in charge of recent college graduates included critical thinking, interrelated problem solving and written communication.
One focus group member suggested a solution to this issue, explaining that the most effective way to teach critical thinking is by creating simulated projects that challenge participants to identify and fix errors.
Sound fancy? Here’s the gist: When students graduate and land that dream job, employers don’t want to have to hold their hand. Young professionals need to be able to solve problems on their own, without being guided each step of the way.
That’s where we come in. At our organization, we pride ourselves on providing real-world experiences with real-world clients to complement what students are learning in the classroom.
So the question remains: What is a student professional?
This is a question few students are in a position to ask themselves. But for our members, it’s a question they have the unique experience to answer.
In order to better understand what the concept of a “student professional” really is, we turned to our agency’s own members.
MU senior Isabella Janney is the Account Manager for the Thompson Foundation. For her, being a student professional is all about taking the skills she’s learned in her classes and directly implementing them in her client projects.
"This is an amazing opportunity to get hands-on experience and practice new skills in a supportive environment,” Janney says.
For Kristen Rogge, an MU senior and the agency’s Internal Director, gaining work experience in areas she would never otherwise explore is essential to claiming the title of “student professional.”
Rogge explains that without our organization, she would have never been immersed into event planning. “It turns out I'm pretty good at it,” she says. “Something unique about our position is that we have a place where we have the freedom to try new things and explore our talents.”
As a senior at MU, Managing Director Maddie Schuck has seen how having those professional experiences plays out in job and internship interviews, and feels that her time with our agency has added so much value to her college experience.
“That value is evident in the way that hiring managers and supervisors now eagerly ask me to explain my experience in interviews,” she explains. “We really are doing something that no other organization has done before, and it's paying off for our members, including myself.”
The AAC&U 2021 survey identified similar mindsets as very important: drive/work ethic, ability to take initiative, self-confidence, leadership and empathy.
As a University of Missouri School of Journalism professor, Jonathan Stemmle has experienced student professionalism from the other side of the table. Having recently joined our agency’s mission as our official advisor, Professor Stemmle is eager to bring his understanding of the famous Missouri Method to the organization.
“The beautiful part is that once students understand the foundational aspects, they get to experiment and really think outside the box without any consequences,” Stemmle says of his teaching philosophy in his classes. “I think students appreciate having this wide open sandbox to play in, as it’s okay to try things in a class and make mistakes because there’s no real penalty like there is in the real world, where you could lose a client’s business or put your job at risk.”
“There’s no question our students are capable of amazing work and often come up with ideas and tactics that are really astounding,” he continues, speaking about the students in the strategic communications program. “Our students are on the cutting edge of technology and pop culture, and that can make for groundbreaking work.”
Our agency was created to bridge the gap between classroom and career by providing students with purposeful, unique and hands-on experience before entering the job market. We exist at the intersection of strategy, creativity and education in order to give students the freedom to fail and the space for self-exploration.
With Season 6 upon us, we are undergoing more changes than ever before. We’re eager to share a year of innovation, creativity and new beginnings – stay tuned!