Sophomore Institute offers practical career prep.

During the Institute, students practiced networking skills with alumnae from 2017’s grandmother class—alumnae who graduated in 1967.

By Keely Savoie

They came with notebooks and ambition. They left with career strategies and networks that may last a lifetime.

More than 80 students participated in the second annual Sophomore Institute—a half-day conference for second-year students at Mount Holyoke College—on January 16, to build networking and career management skills, and learn ways to leverage their liberal arts education to launch meaningful work and lives.

"The Sophomore Institute is an opportunity for second-year students to dig deeper into their interests and ambitions and start building the skills they’ll need to bring those into the world,” said Liz Lierman, director of the Career Development Center (CDC).

The conference is part of the College’s Lynk experience, which is designed to parlay rigorous course work into ascendant careers through a customized program of goal setting, internships, public presentation, and reflection.

“Students need to build certain skills to be successful when they graduate,” said Jenny Watermill, internships manager at the CDC. “What’s really special about the student-driven approach of The Lynk is that you get your cake and eat it too. Here you can pursue your academic and intellectual interests purely for the joy of learning, but we will also show you how to translate all of the resulting skills and abilities into non-academic environments.”

Brittney Nielson ’17, a psychology and French double major, went hoping to learn more about internships in international education, management, and medical fields, but that’s not all she found.

“I also hoped to gain more insight on how other Mount Holyoke sophomores are taking ownership of their education in their career-related endeavors,” she said. “It is hard to search for an internship when we all have so many interests, so I wanted to see how my classmates are weaving their interests into a possible career path in order to begin searching for internships.”

With a strong emphasis on networking, the Sophomore Institute pushes students to think beyond their initial discomfort with the idea.

“The word ‘networking’ makes a lot of students uncomfortable because they think of it within the context of needing to do it to get a job or gain a foothold in an industry, rather than thinking of it as building relationships that are mutually beneficial,” said Watermill. “A lot of what we talk about is how you can be useful to others in your network.”

Many students don’t realize that networking is something they do every day when they maintain their social groups and even family ties, said Josepha Martin, director of employer relations at the CDC.

“The most important thing we can teach a student is that they are already networking,” said Martin, who spoke about networking at the institute. “I wanted students to leave my presentation with a little bit of information about themselves and the idea that they already have a network, that they know how to do it, and they can do it intentionally.”

Art history major Sabrina Smith came to hear guest speaker Ayesha Vera Yu ’97, CEO and cofounder of Advancement for Rural Kids, Inc.

“Ayesha focused on what you can do as a student to prepare yourself for life afterwards,” Smith recalled. “It was inspiring to hear it from someone like her.”

Also during the institute, students focused on practical life skills they will need once they graduate, such as finding and paying for an apartment, living on a budget, and generally managing life outside the confines of a college campus.

The students also participated in a networking practicum, facilitated by Susan Daniels, chair of Mount Holyoke’s theatre arts department, and attended by faculty, staff, and alumnae.

My Trinh ’17, a computer science and astronomy double major said that interacting and practicing networking skills with alumnae from 2017’s grandmother class—alumnae who graduated in 1967—was especially useful.

“They talked about their own experience, and we got to practice networking with them. We learned how to start a conversation and how to present ourselves better,” she said.

Make your connection. Learn how.