Podcast

How to Improve Equity and Access to Career Services

Mark Peltz of Grinnell College shares several strategies he and his team are using to improve equity and access to career services.

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Mark Peltz, the Daniel and Patricia Jipp Finkelman Dean of the Center for Careers, Life, and Service at Grinnell College, talks about how to improve equity and access to career services. 

In this episode, Mark walks through several specific strategies he and his team have implemented and how they used those strategies to achieve a 98% engagement rate for Grinnell’s Class of 2022.

The strategies include:

  1. Proactive early outreach. Each incoming Grinnell student is assigned a career coach. During the summer, all coaches reach out to their students to introduce themselves. At new student orientation, the students meet with their career coaches in small groups to learn more about the career center, what kind of resources are offered, why they should use the career center, etc. Coaches then “assign” students the task of coming into the career center for a 1:1 appointment at least once during the fall semester. 
  1. Need-based grants. Largely funded by donors, the Grinnell career center created a series of need-based grants to help students buy professional attire for job interviews, pay for medical school interview travel costs, attend relevant conferences, and more. “Your socioeconomic background shouldn’t have an overly consequential influence on ultimately what you do with the rest of your life,” Mark says.
  1. Service leadership work-study program. Mark describes this as a professional development program rooted in volunteering. Volunteering, working with local nonprofits, and getting involved in the community outside of Grinnell College are all important professional and personal development opportunities, but many students can’t afford to volunteer. This program, funded largely by donations (along with some federal work-study funds), pays students an hourly wage for their volunteer work.
  1. Investing in a uConnect virtual career center platform. Knowing he wanted to make Grinnell’s career resources available to all students 24/7, Mark and his team purchased uConnect’s virtual career center platform. Grinnell’s new virtual career center also includes identity communities with curated content and resources created specifically for those student populations. Now, all Grinnell students can equally access career resources anywhere, anytime. 

In this episode, Mark also shares how his team tracks student engagement data, and how they use that data to measure success and adjust programming and outreach to make sure they’re reaching all students. 

Resources from the episode:

Transcript

Meredith Metsker:

Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Career Everywhere podcast. I’m your host, Meredith Metsker. Today, I am joined by Mark Peltz. He’s the Daniel and Patricia Jipp Finkelman Dean of the Center for Careers, Life, and Service at Grinnell College. Thank you for being here, Mark!

Mark Peltz:

Thank you for having me. It’s a joy.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. Well, I’m really glad to have you, and I’m really excited about our topic today, which is how to improve equity and access to career services. Now, I know this is something that you and your team have really been focusing on there at Grinnell, and it sounds like you’ve come up with some super cool ways to dramatically increase engagement and even use data to kind of track that engagement across the entire student journey.

Mark Peltz:

Yeah, absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

Right. So before I get into my questions, Mark, is there anything else you’d like to add about yourself, your background, or your role at Grinnell?

Mark Peltz:

Yeah, just a couple little tidbits that I think are really relevant to the topic. I am a first-generation college graduate, and that has been sort of a guiding light for me throughout my journey in higher education. And it’s one of those things that you’re never not first generation, it’s just sort of baked into my journey, baked into my experience. And so that part of my background has been, I would say, pretty central to the way that I think about our work, the way I approach our work, and especially from a lens of helping students to understand the unwritten rules of higher education and how things function, how things work, and what implications those have for them. So that’s a big piece of it.

I’ve been at Grinnell for about 12 years and there’s been a fairly significant transformation with regard to how the institution thinks about career development, career education in a liberal arts context, and it’s been a fun journey and I think it’s very appropriate. Just to mention, you mentioned Dan and Patricia Finkelman. When I think about the transformation that we’ve had, they were catalysts in this work. They are an amazing Grinnell alumni couple who believe very strongly in the transformative power of a liberal arts education. And that such an educational experience should also include robust career development support that is really an essential part of the student experience. So it’s a pleasure to be with you to talk about the work that we do at Grinnell, and particularly from this lens of equity and inclusion. So thank you.

Meredith Metsker:

So before I get into the more specific questions, Mark, I want to kick us off with a question I’ll ask all of our guests, which is what does career everywhere mean to you?

Mark Peltz:

Yeah, I appreciate this question because to be honest with you, and I learned about the podcast, I was kind of curious what you all meant by career everywhere. And for me, I think that framing is helpful in a couple different ways. In one, I think the terms or the framing of career everywhere is an excellent reminder that one’s career development started well before college, and we are just a part of that journey and important four-year part of that journey here at Grinnell, and I think at many of your other, many other uConnect schools, but it’s going to continue well beyond college. So I think in terms of career everywhere and in sort of a time element of when is career and it’s career everywhere sort of all the time. And then another way is sort of embedded in the word career everywhere in the context of place.

And it’s also that framing is helpful to remind us that there’s a boundlessness to career education, that growth, learning, development, experimentation, risk-taking takes place in a multitude of locations, whether that’s in a residence hall, on an athletic field, on the performance stage, in an internship, in a mentored research project. And that’s a really bold reminder for those of us that work specifically in career education, that it’s really incumbent upon us to be active collaborators and partners as we are holistically supporting the growth and development of our students. We might be the primary champions on our campus of promoting career development, and then there’s so many other actors and stakeholders in this process that we work with. So I guess that’s when I was thinking about career everywhere, I was thinking about it in both of those contexts.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah, I love that. It’s a great answer. It’s funny, everyone has kind of a slightly different take on it, but there’s always that theme of it’s about empowering others on campus to have those career conversations with students anywhere, anytime.

Mark Peltz:

Absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

Everyone has a different perspective on career. Okay, well, I think that’s a good segue into our topic today, and I think we can agree that improving equity and access to career resources is super important. I think we’re all on the same page there and I know it’s something that we are particularly passionate about here at uConnect as well. So can you just walk me through how you and your team are thinking about improving equity and access to career resources?

Mark Peltz:

To be honest with you, Meredith, I think at the end of the day that’s sort of if not our primary mission, it’s like inseparable from our primary mission in the sense that we are working with and supporting a range of students that find their way to our respective campuses and really helping them through their journey with us in launching equitably into whatever post-Grinnell pathways or post-college pathways they might be pursuing. And so when we think about it, we take a pretty holistic approach to it. And I don’t know that our approach is unique. I think a lot of other institutions are really digging into this, but to begin with, we really focus on engagement and looking at which students are taking advantage of the programs and resources that we make available and which ones aren’t, and what do we do with that intelligence? How do we act on that information?

The other piece that we look very carefully at is those notable educational moments that we know have a pretty pivotal role in students’ experience. They’re oftentimes referred to as high-impact experiences or high-impact practices, but specifically in the realm of experiential learning, looking at things like internships, mentored research, service and civic engagement, off-campus study. How do we look at those kinds of experiences from an equity and access lens? Do we see differences in engagement and participation across those experiences? Because if we do, what do we do about that? Because we know those have a specific connection to any number of educational outcomes in terms of retention, graduation rate, academic performance, but also post-graduate pathways and preparation.

They’re central really to both. And in that last category, that last mention is graduate outcomes. What do we see across different identity groups as it relates to where do they land after they graduate? How much money do they make? Are they finding positions that are really relevant to their goals and aspirations? Are they getting into kinds of graduate and professional school programs that they’re aiming for across the board that way? So from the point of entry to the point of graduation and across those notable points of engagement of those various high-impact experiences, what are we seeing? And when we see gaps, what can we do about that?

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I love that holistic approach that you were talking about. So I think that’s what is required these days to get students prepared for the workforce of today, but also tomorrow, thinking about what’s coming.

Mark Peltz:

Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s sort of all hands on deck and what does this look like and what are we seeing? And as you shared in your opening remarks, we lean heavily on data to really keep track of this, but you have to be pretty obsessive about it, really keeping copious systems up to date and current so that you know who’s doing what, I mean, and you need to act on that information as you have it. So I’m sure we’re going to dig into data at some point, but yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

Oh yes, we absolutely will. So Mark, what strategies are you and your team using to improve equity and access?

Mark Peltz:

Yeah, so maybe in the interest of time, I’ll just pick a selection to maybe highlight because I mean, I really think to do this work well, you have to sort of embed it across your program and just incorporate equity and access as goodness criteria for all the things that you do. And so we’ve done a few different things. So the first one that I think is really important to highlight is what’s the on-ramp look like as students come into college and how do they start getting engaged with and thinking about career development, career education? There’s so many things that are coming up first-year students that it’s easy to get distracted sort of by the shadows on your doorstep, as they say, versus the things that you might be or should be thinking about for the future. And we understand that and we want to support students in the way that makes the most sense as they’re entering college.

And so several years ago, we developed an initiative, what we call in-house is our exploratory advising program. And what that means is on the ground or in the life of a student, is that every incoming or transfer student into Grinnell is assigned a career coach from our department. This is one of three advisors that they have assigned to them as a part of their sort of onboarding into the Grinnell experience. They have an academic advisor, they have a residence life coordinator, and then they have an exploratory advisor/career coach. And we assign these by a first-year course format. So every student in that same first-year course has the same exploratory advisor. And we do that for a couple of reasons. One, that allows us to meet with them by sort of defined cohorts and help sort of promote community development, community relationship building among a small cohort of their peers as they’re starting the college journey.

And it also then that framework lends itself to doing collaborations with the faculty who teach those respective courses. So if they invite, for example, a member of our center into their classroom, it makes perfect sense for that person to be the exploratory advisor that has been assigned to every student in that section. So again, just furthering that relationship building. But once we make those assignments, our advisors contact students during the summer, actually before they even arrive on campus, just to introduce themselves to them, tell them a little bit about them, how they’re going to be working with one another, and if nothing else, congratulating them on coming to Grinnell and looking forward to meeting you during new student orientation. So the next following engagement, once the students arrive, they have an opportunity to meet with their exploratory advisors in small groups during the new student orientation process.

And that’s really just getting acquainted, starting to build that relationship. Who am I? Why should you care? How can I help you? Those kinds of just fundamental questions, where can you find me? What’s the best way to get in touch with me? How can you do that? And just sort of walking them through that process. And then their one assignment to take away from that new student orientation is at some point during the fall semester, come in and visit with me for your initial appointment. And so that initial appointment, that initial coaching session is once again, it’s individual with each of these students. And it’s really to start talking a little bit more specifically about how did they choose Grinnell, how are they thinking about their Grinnell experience? What classes are they taking? How has their transition into college been going and what are they thinking about even preliminarily sort of about the future?

We’re not talking about choosing majors, we’re not talking about how to apply to law school. We’re not getting into hardcore specifics yet, but it’s really just about this is a safe space for you to be having exploratory conversations with an individual who’s very focused and invested in your success. And so that initiative is really important. And you can imagine if you are a first-generation college student, if you come from an identity that’s been historically underrepresented in higher education, those kinds of touchpoints are essential. They’re valuable for every student, but they’re particularly valuable for certain students who may not have support systems instructions in place to help them navigate those, that initial onboarding process on their own.

So we think about equity and access and how do we provide that kind of support. We’ve really sort of flipped the script where at a lot of colleges opting into planning for one’s future happens at some point in time, probably later than it should. And we’ve really tried to make it more of an opt-out model at Grinnell where having these advisors and coaches assigned at the point of matriculation really just changes the game entirely so they know us right away. So that’s one initiative, that’s one sample sort of program, but it’s a really essential one as we think about the ways in which we work with students.

Meredith Metsker:

I love how proactive that is. So I think it’s like you were saying, maybe if you are a first-gen student, you don’t know that career service is necessarily a thing, that there’s an entire office of people trained to help you think through how your education is going to apply to the workforce.

Mark Peltz:

Yep, exactly. And what is our center? What is it for? When should I take advantage of it? A lot of those things are very unknown, and when you’re in an environment with rigorous academics and a lot going on, there’s no shortage of things to demand your attention truthfully. And so it’s easy to just put this kind of stuff off, and we know that there are adverse consequences to that. And so we’re trying to do all that we can to support students in an appropriate, meaningful way. But as you put it proactively, let’s get this on their radar, let’s demystify the work of our center in as soon as we can so that when students, as things become more pressing and later in their college journey, they know who to contact, where to go, they know exactly what they need to do to take action. And that’s part of the reason why we even did this, early engagement is good engagement, and it oftentimes leads to sustained engagement.

Meredith Metsker:

Right. Yeah, absolutely. So to summarize, you send an email, or every student is assigned an advisor, you send an email over the summer, then there’s a presentation at new student orientation in which they ask students to come in for a one-on-one meeting with their advisor.

Mark Peltz:

You got it. You got it. That’s sort of the arc. And about 90% of the students follow through with that ask.

Meredith Metsker:

90%, wow.

Mark Peltz:

There’s always the 10%, like is this required? And they don’t know that it’s not a graduation requirement, it’s more of an expectation and it’s presented to them as an assignment. And we have very studious students, and when you’re working with first years, they may or may not know exactly what is or is not required, but even still, the vast majority of students who partake in these initial meetings, they’re not sure what to think of them when they schedule them, but when they walk away, overwhelmingly the feedback was, I’m really glad I did that. That was a really good use of my time. My advisor was really, really friendly and was really helpful.

So when you’re going to college, you interact with strangers on a regular basis when you’re a first-year student. And so sort of getting over that phenomenon and really just coming in and taking advantage of resources and meeting these individuals is really helpful. And I think it’s also reassuring for a number of students to know that they have these individuals in their lives who are here to help them realize their goals. That’s what gets them up every morning. And that should be reassuring for the students, I would think so.

Meredith Metsker:

Right. Yeah, that’s everything, especially when you’re a young student or even if their parents hear about this, it contributes to their return on investment in higher education.

Mark Peltz:

Another initiative to maybe touch upon is we talked a little bit about internships before, but we know that there’s lots of experiences that are essential to the student journey. Events are important points for clarity, affirmation that sort of sit adjacent to the curriculum. And we think about these in the context of conferences and networking events, and certainly summer internships, job shadowing experiences, all those kinds of pieces that I think probably sit within the portfolio of high impact, but I don’t want to use that term too much here, but oftentimes those experiences carry costs. And when you are located in Grinnell, Iowa, which is conveniently located equidistant to New York City and Los Angeles, that’s a positive way to frame that, helping students to get connected to these experiences is also a part of our mission. And so several years ago, we introduced a series of grants, professional development grants, professional attire grants, interview grants, and these are need-based grants that students can apply for, that provide them funds to defray the costs associated with these kinds of experiences.

We want students to go to conferences. If you’re interested in data science, we’d love for you to go to Data Science Conference Network, attend sessions, connect with employers, connect with professionals doing this kind of work so that you can walk away from that experience with a little bit more clarity. But getting to that conference is easier for some students than others. And so our grants are really designed to help students make that a part of their journey. Your socioeconomic background shouldn’t have an overly consequential influence on ultimately what you do with the rest of your life. And so how do we address those gaps through our programming and through some of the resources that we make available? If you’re a low-income student that gets invited to five or six medical school interviews, we would like to see you go to every single one of those interviews.

And so the choice of where you go to medical school is yours, but if the cost to get to those interviews are your financial responsibility, we know that low-income students are oftentimes making trade-offs. Which schools do I go to for interviews and which ones do I forego just out of matter priority? This is an opportunity for us to do some intervention and say, what additional resources do you need to make those interviews a reality for you? So that’s why we’re very unapologetic about them, these being need-based grants. We know that the vast majority of our students all have need, but that level of need varies. And so we have more of a sliding scale approach to how we administer these funds to make those experiences possible. So that’s another example of how do we acknowledge the different journeys and experiences that students arrive to us with and how do we adapt what we offer and what we make available to help shore up those differences.

Meredith Metsker:

You said there are funds for internships, conferences, medical school interviews, mentioned professional attire, is that if they need to buy a suit or something for an interview?

Mark Peltz:

Exactly. Exactly. And we want students to be able to dress the part there. We’re so blessed to attract remarkable, brilliant students. And not a lot of college students especially are thinking, I need to take that, they need to take that suit with them to school or that kind of attire. And some don’t have those kinds of things in their wardrobe, and that’s okay, that’s not a big deal. That’s nothing to apologize for. But we also know that they’re going to need it. They too realize this too. And oftentimes professional attire is pretty costly and dropping several hundred dollars to go get a suit or go put together that interview outfit. We want to help lessen that financial sting as much as we can for our students. And so these need-based grants help make that possible.

Meredith Metsker:

I’m curious, how do you fund these grants? Where does that money come from?

Mark Peltz:

Great question. And so this is where in our last comprehensive campaign at Grinnell, postgraduate success was one of the areas that was of primary importance. But to be honest with you, we routinely received donations from alumni and other friends of Grinnell to help make these grants possible. Some of the grants that we just talked about are specifically a part of an endowed fund that was actually created by Dan and Patricia Finkelman. The Deanship actually produces a fund, the uniquely structured endowed on my named position is the proceeds of that endowment actually go into our programming, which directly affect our students. And so whenever I visit with them, Dan and Patricia, I usually kid them that about the dozens of students that they’ve suited as a consequence of their philanthropy and them making Grinnellians shine bright in those interviews is really, really fun. But the vast majority of our grants, I would say 85% or more comes from donor funds.

And so either those are through endowed gifts or through current use gifts, but yep, and I think when I talk with donors, prospective donors about making a gift to our center, they get really jazzed about the ways in which their gift can directly impact the student experience. It’s not uncommon to funding a scholarship in admission or financial aid, it’s about making something accessible to somebody that might not otherwise be there. It’s a great way for… I think our donors been really, really happy with the ways in which we’ve been sort of the throughput to impacting the student experience.

Meredith Metsker:

Right. And I imagine as donors, it’s probably very validating or just exciting for them to see the very tangible ways that you’re using it. Like their money is outfitting a student, they can see that.

Mark Peltz:

Yep, absolutely. And sometimes it’s a suit, sometimes it’s an experience like an internship or another sort of summer activity, or it’s going to a conference or it’s making a connection or it’s getting to an interview. Yes, they are very, very concrete, tangible things that these kinds of grants make accessible. And the students are so thankful and appreciative of those offerings. And so we make sure to collect the word from the student and pass that back to our donors too, because it wouldn’t be possible. And they need to hear how those gifts are making a difference.

So can I share one more example with you before we move on? So this one’s near and dear to my heart because we know that we attract a lot of students that are interested in civic education promoting democracy, really looking at making a difference in their community. And we know that it’s true at Grinnell, and I suspect it’s true on other campuses.

The more opportunities that students have to get connected with the place of their institution, not just with the institution itself, but the environment in which the institution exists, it really contributes to a sense of belonging. You can belong on a campus, but you also belong in a broader community. And so another initiative that we’ve developed is a program that we call service leadership work study. And what this program does, it’s a professional development program is the way I would… That is rooted in volunteering. So for a lot of students, volunteering within a local community is something that’s really hard for them to do between academics, maybe a campus job, maybe a sport or a performing arts commitment, other kinds of things. It’s not hard for students to run out of time. So volunteering can be pretty tricky and we don’t want to be connected and engaged with our community to be something that only those that can afford to volunteer to do. And so the service leadership work-study program is actually a paid experience.

So this would be an opportunity for a student to earn some wages through, but they’re technically an employee of the college, but all of their work, it takes place and is overseen by one of our local community partners, local nonprofit organizations. And so these end up being really valuable experiences for students from an experiential learning standpoint because they really get a taste for how does a nonprofit run, what are the policies? What’s the mission? How does funding work? How do you really sort of breathe life into these small nonprofit organizations? But it allows them to do that without necessarily having to do that in their free time, which may be limited if non-existent for some students. And so this is another expression of how do we help students engage and participate in some of these activities? A portion of this funding is through the federal government’s work-study program, but I can tell you the vast majority of funding is not.

We burned through our federal work-study allocation pretty quickly, and we will have anywhere from 40 to 50 students for our small little liberal arts college. We didn’t talk about this at the outset, Grinnell’s about a campus of about 1,700 students. So in any given semester, we’ll have 40 to 50 students engaged in the service leadership work-study program, and it’s just a really valuable professional development experience. It’s a valuable civic engagement experience, and it really helps foster that sense of place and where I’m going to school. And it really challenges students to think a little bit differently about what it means to be a Grinnell student when you’re also connected to the community of Grinnell.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I imagine that sense of belonging probably also helps in retaining those students there at Grinnell too.

Mark Peltz:

Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, for some students, they set their roots at this place in the work that they’re doing within the community. For some, it’s a truly transformative part of their time with us. It sort of becomes ingrained in their experience and memory, their little time capsule as they graduate and move on. This becomes this experience of working with a local nonprofit leader, a local community organization really becomes a hallmark of their experience at Grinnell in general.

Meredith Metsker:

This speaks to my heart because this was kind of my experience in higher education. So I went to the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, and my first internship was as a sports reporter for the local newspaper. And so I really got to know local coaches, the local high school sports programs, started getting more embedded in the community of Moscow itself. And after graduation, I ended up getting a job at that newspaper. I stayed for 13 years before moving just recently.

Mark Peltz:

There you go. There you go. I mean, these are those kinds of experiences, right? You came to know Moscow in a very different way. There’s the way that the other University of Idaho students experience Moscow, and then there’s the way you came to experience Moscow, which is it’s fundamentally different when you are engaged and embedded within the community. We see the same sort of phenomenon, to be honest with you, with say, international internships. It’s very different when you are compared to say, other off-campus study abroad or off-campus study experiences where if you’re studying away, if you will, and the cohort of individuals that you’re studying with are primarily from the United States, are primarily from sort of similar identity groups as you and you’re all studying together in a particular location outside the United States, you’ve essentially uplifted an enclave of US people planted them in another place and they’re studied.

Is it international and global on some levels? Absolutely. But if I pick you up as a single student and I transplant you in a media organization in Barcelona, Spain where you’re taking local transportation by yourself each day, you’re interacting with other members of that media organization on a day-to-day basis doing these, you’re going to have a very different experience just based on the immersion. And really when you look at hearing about your experience or thinking about the service leadership work-study program here, there’s an immersion element there that really sort of widens perspective, deepens those connections to place that are hard to replicate in other settings. So that’s cool. I’m glad you had that experience. I’m sure that was an amazing, amazing part of your time.

Meredith Metsker:

It was.

Mark Peltz:

Well, clearly you stuck around for a bit, so that’s exciting.

Meredith Metsker:

I did. I did up until December, so it’s pretty recent.

Mark Peltz:

But to be honest with you, Meredith, I mean as we’re talking about broadly about equity, access, how do we help support students from all identity groups on our campus is one of the things that drew us to the uConnect platform specifically because we were looking at doing some different things with our website and making resources more accessible and more available. But one of the things that we got really excited about was we would have these resources that were very specific audience and really trying to structure and make those accessible in a way was something we struggled with. And we got really excited when we started thinking about, oh my gosh, this resource that is specifically for domestic students of color who are interested in going on to medical school, okay, now we have a place where we can park this, not only in our health professions career community, but in our BIPOC student community.

And similarly for resources for international students, resources for neurodiverse students, resources for first-gen working class, low income, whichever characterization makes sense for all of these students. And if nothing more, it also helps understand and express, I think pretty explicitly like we see you and we understand that some of the needs that you’re bringing to the college experience are unique and distinct and valuable. And how can we help channel the resources that we know of, that we have, that we’ve created into your experience so that they’re more accessible, more findable for you? And so as we’re talking about all the fun programs that we’re doing, I feel that it’s valuable to sort of loop back to uConnect, where did our connection come from, and that one is really, really consequential and it’s been fantastic since we launched our site this past August.

Meredith Metsker:

For those listening, I’ll include a link to Grinnell’s virtual career center there so you can check out what Mark is talking about. And I think specifically you’re kind of calling out the identity and affinity communities where you can have separate pages for different student groups based on how the students identify, and you can have resources that are targeted to those specific students. That’s something we’ve been focusing on a lot recently here as well in addition to those communities, is that we’re about to launch dentity and affinity kits, like content kits where that content is already curated. We’ve done all the vetting, we’ve researched all the content providers, and put them into kits based on how students identify. So I think the first two… we’re really excited.

Mark Peltz:

Yeah, no, I’m excited too. That sounds fantastic because anytime you launch and build a new site and you’re sort of pulling all of your information together, these kits sound like they’ll be a great supplement to some of the stuff that we’ve already done. So I can’t wait to see them. Thank you. Thank you uConnect crew for doing that heavy lifting for us. That’s going to be fantastic.

Meredith Metsker:

We’re pretty excited about it. See, we’re launching with two, I think, one for Black and African American students and one for LGBTQ+ students.

Mark Peltz:

Awesome. Fantastic.

Meredith Metsker:

Cool. Well, we’ve chatted through a bunch of different strategies that you all are using. Are there any others you want to add before we move on?

Mark Peltz:

No, I think we can move on at this point. Otherwise, I think people are going to stop listening. So yeah, we should move along.

Meredith Metsker:

Cool. So Mark, here’s the tough question. So how do you know that these strategies are working, what indicators do you have?

Mark Peltz:

Yeah, well, the really important question is so what? Okay, you do these things, does it matter? Does it make a difference? And I work with a great colleague here in our center, Dr. Sarah Barks, who’s just an absolute data genius and together with the rest of our team too, I mean, everybody has a hand in this because everybody needs to be a steward of data and to help develop to ensure that you have integrity with your data so that you can actually make meaningful decisions with what information you do gather. So I am compelled to give credit where credit is due because the analytics and the dashboard that we’ve created just wouldn’t be in existence if it weren’t for Dr. Barks. So we have metrics sort of across the framework that we talked about. So in terms of engagement, we have metrics for this.

We understand, we define what engagement means. Very important to start with data definitions. If you’re not defining your data, then you’re going to have problems. But defining what engagement looks like, we break our engagement data into quartiles, highly engaged to lowly engaged, and look at differences across, engagement across those different layers. The high-impact experiences. We look at participation. We’re very aggressive with collecting that information from students sometimes at the risk of them detesting us, but we really want to know what kinds of experiences they’ve had. And then finally, at that point of launch, that point of departure, when we look across our graduate outcomes, what do we see? Do we see differences? Where do we see differences, et cetera? And so I think one of the things that’s really important as anybody thinks about their indicators, the first thing you have to be comfortable with is the data may tell you things you don’t want to hear.

You just have to be open to that, but be open to that and be willing to act on what you learn. How are you going to adapt and change as a consequence of that? So I’m happy to share just give some sampling. So for example, when we look at engagement data, we look at it in a couple different ways. One is we look at it from a year-to-year basis. So first year, second years, third years, four years, who are we seeing? Who are we missing, et cetera, in terms of engagement? So there’s that annual perspective. But then the more interesting dataset, and that’s valuable, that has tremendous value, especially if you look at patterns longitudinally, you can make better sense of what those numbers might be telling you. But on the flip side, I’m very interested in what I would say is the sort of the student enrollment cycle.

So what do we know about student engagement from the point of matriculation to the point of graduation, and how do we take that four-year experience and really deconstruct it? Who did we see when first year, second year, third year, fourth year of a cohort of a graduating class? Because that tells us even more about when are we reaching students, when are they engaged and when are they not? So looking at it in both ways, annual and then by cohort. And so just some quick samplings of what do we know. So when we look at year-to-year engagement, we know that our first-generation students on our domestic students of color are engaged with our programs and services at an equal or higher rate than their non-first-generation and white peers. That’s a good sign that we’re not seeing a drop-off in sort of those specific identity groups.

We also know that female-identifying students and international students engage with us at a higher rate than male-identifying students and domestic students, which again, is not necessarily surprising. That trends probably across many things in higher education, whether that’s utilization of services broadly, but it’s good for us to know this. This raises questions about how are we reaching out to male-identifying students? Do we adapt our strategy? Do we adapt our points of communication? And are there more demographic variables about those students that we see who are not as engaged that might inform our work, our outreach, our communication, our collaborations on campus, et cetera? So those are a couple of things.

We recently completed an analysis of our May 22 graduates, and we looked at their four-year experience and looked at their engagement levels across the board. We saw 98% of the class of 22, they were engaged before. The average student had about 11 in coaching sessions, and they attended about eight events over their time as a student. That was average. And the frequent flyers were numbers you wouldn’t believe 70, 80 coaching sessions during their time as a student.

Meredith Metsker:

Whoa.

Mark Peltz:

Yes, if we had a loyalty program, they would be double platinum members, but that 98% is really high. That’s also just to be really candid with numbers. That’s all but six students. And so of course when you’re in a position like mine or Sarah’s immediately we want to know who are the six students, who are these six students that manage to escape our reach in campus? Because we do a lot in terms of outreach promotion. Our goal is a 100% and we want every student in here because we firmly believe that we have something to offer every student that’s at Grinnell. And so all but six isn’t bad, but we’ll see what the class of 2023 looks like once we sort of dig into their data and things like that.

But what’s interesting though is then what we’re able to do is we’re able to take this comprehensive sort of student engagement analysis and now we’re able to pair it with their first destination data. So what we do know is our students that are the highest engaged with us versus the least engaged. And you look at the other unemployment and seeking category, the students that are the highest engaged have the lowest unemployed and seeking category. So there is a correlation there between engagement and first destination and the likelihood that you’re going to land in a postgraduate destination that is relevant to your career goals. So these kinds of analytics are really essential in understanding what do you see? What patterns do you see? That’s one set of indicators from an engagement standpoint that we look at. High-impact experiences are another who’s participating in an internship, who’s doing mentored research, who’s having some sort of meaningful substantive civic or service activity as a part of their experience?

And we see those patterns too. And I’ll give you an example of data that was not necessarily surprising but concerning. And so when we looked at for the May 22 graduates, so this is a graduating class whose college experience was directly impacted by the pandemic. And so when we looked at internship participation numbers, we saw a drop off, which was unsurprising. There were a lot of, and to be honest with you, we saw drop off in both for summer research and internships relative to sort of non-COVID years. And so because labs were closed, internships were canceled or they shifted part-time or they shifted to remote only or sometimes they went away altogether and this affected these students. But when we look at it from an equity lens and we look at it from different identity groups, we see that that affect disproportionately affected certain students.

We saw a greater drop off in internship participation among our first-generation students and our domestic students of color than we saw for say for example, international and domestic students and white students. So I’m grateful that we have the analytics in place to look at what patterns do we see here and how can we use this information in driving our processes, our policies, our approach to making sure that these experiences are available to students moving forward. COVID was in my lifetime, it was an unprecedented event. And so we were many in organizations, and for many others, it was unprecedented. So there was a lot of adaptation, but we knew broadly in society that COVID was affecting everyone, but it was not necessarily affecting everyone in the same way. And I think our data played that out, absolutely. Did we see sort of a decrease in these students participating in these experiences? We did.

Did we see a greater difference for some students? We did. And so that’s why having these analytics and measures in place is so essential because it’s like what are the long-term consequences of this and things like that. So now fortunately for our May 22 graduates, one of the questions is how did this adversely, did these differences adversely impact sort of that point of launch and things like that? So we look at what we call career relevance, which is for those students that enter the workforce, do we see differences statistically, significant differences in students by identity group landing in positions that are for those who are securing positions that are relevant to their career goals? We also look at graduate school selectivity as another metric that we look at, and we look at that by identity group, which is essentially, congratulations, Meredith, you got accepted to graduate school.

But the secondary question is, well, did you get into the grad program that you wanted to get into? And so we ask students sort of their top choices and whether or not they got accepted to those. And then the last piece is compensation. As people are graduating and entering the workforce, do we see differences in compensation? And so even though the experiential learning that high impact experience disparities were there, we did not see those playing out in the first destinations of our graduates. Our domestic students of color and first-generation students actually were their average, their main salary was about anywhere from 12 to $15,000 higher than the mean for the institution. Career relevance, there was parody across sort of career relevance in terms of the relevance of one’s job to their career aspirations and goals in the same way with graduate school selectivity. So that’s the good news.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be thinking about how do we buffer against, how do we anticipate? Hopefully the pandemic was a once in a lifetime sort of experience for all of us, and that’s not going to be something we’re going to have to navigate in the future, but we have empirical data to show how it affected our students and how do we solve against that? What are different things that we need to be thinking about as institution to guard against potentially another disruption, some other exogenous shock in our economy that might have an adverse effect on students from different identity groups? And that’s the challenge we have to wrestle with. So that’s just a sampling of metrics and measures that we keep an eye on a pretty regular basis to just understand, are our students launching equitably? Are they having these kinds of experiences in an equitable fashion? Because if they’re not, then we need to know about it and what can we do again to solve for that.

Meredith Metsker:

I had a quick follow-up question on the data front. So you’ve talked a little bit about what you’re measuring and even how you’re using that to adapt what you’re doing. And I’m curious, how are you gathering all of this data, particularly who is participating in what, and how are you gathering all of that kind of on a large scale?

Mark Peltz:

Yeah, so we in myriad ways, but part of it is through our regular programming. We’re pretty studious about capturing data with regard to advising of event attendance, our grant funding. We have a really strong command of that information. And then our graduate outcome survey, our first destination survey, if you will, is a really central part of that data collection effort as well. So that we will get around an 88 to 90% knowledge rate on that survey. And that provides us a lot of information in terms of what information we’re able to glean from students from that experience and sort of a collection of matters. But it’s a great question and I think that it’s something that we are continuingly trying to refine and make more efficient because our primary mission is engaging, working within supporting students. We can’t become so obsessed with data that becomes the priority, but we need to have, and we’ve worked hard to create more streamlined ways of capturing this information and storing it in an accessible way.

And again, I give a lot of credit to our data architect, Sarah Barks, who’s done just remarkable work in that space. But it’s another one of those where it really takes a comprehensive effort across our center. I mean, this means our advisors and coaches are taking good notes and they’re documenting those interactions in a substantive way. It means those that are running our grants are maintaining really good records in reporting that and just submitting that to Sarah for inclusion in our comprehensive data set, it requires a coordinated effort. And I’d be lying to say if it was easy, it’s not. But that’s the short answer for how we’re able to wrangle the data.

Meredith Metsker:

And it sounds like just in general, the data element of all of this has just been really valuable in knowing who is engaging, when, and with what. So you can adjust your outreach, maybe your programming, anything like that if you need to engage a certain group of students more, like just having that knowledge, I imagine makes it a lot easier to improve equity and access to your resources.

Mark Peltz:

Yeah, it’s essential I think for really understanding. We want to be able to answer those kinds of questions, not because anybody else is asking them. We are asking them of ourselves. But data is one of the ways through which you can tell your story of impact. And sometimes maybe that storyline isn’t the story you want to tell, well, follow your data. What is it telling you? What is it telling you? And it doesn’t all need to be quantitative. There’s plenty of really important qualitative pieces to this as well. Qualitatively, how was your experience with the CLS?

We also administer a weekly advising feedback survey to anybody that comes into our center and meets with an advisor. It’s anonymous, and it’s just a five-question spot check of how is your coaching session? I mean, we do three to 4,000 coaching sessions a year. It’s a huge part of our structure. It’s a huge part of our work. We need to do it well. And so it’s a big investment in our program structure generally. And so having that simple anonymous five-question survey takes students literally less than 30 seconds to fill out, this provides us really, really important feedback about how are we doing on that front.

Meredith Metsker:

It’s like a customer satisfaction survey you get after contacting support or something.

Mark Peltz:

Yeah, it is. It is. And it’s really important for us. And there’s a portion of that where somebody can add in their sort of qualitative, they can add a little narrative to their form. And that’s actually one of my favorite things to do is to read through it because we have really funny, clever students. So sometimes the comments that they put in there are just classic.

Meredith Metsker:

I’d be the student that would respond to a question in haiku format or something.

Mark Peltz:

And that’s the kind of stuff that I just cherish because it’s just a blast. But thank you for asking. That’s a great question.

Meredith Metsker:

Cool. So you talked a little bit about how this is a team effort requires everybody to be on board. And I think I recall you mentioning that your team has a somewhat unique structure. And so I’m curious if you could talk about what that structure looks like and then maybe how that plays into some of these strategies we’ve been talking about.

Mark Peltz:

So the structure of Grinnell is a little bit unique, but it really is a reflection of our philosophy and the way that we think about preparing students. So our mission is very explicit, empower students and alumni to live, learn, and work with meaning and purpose. That’s sort of our mission. Anybody on my staff could recite that to you. And we’ve adopted that as our mission because we think very holistically about the student experience. What does it mean to lead a life of meaning and purpose? Your work, what you get paid to do is a part of that, but it’s not entirely that. And we understand that we’re not just graduating the next generation of attorneys, entrepreneurs, scientists, lobbyists, bankers, et cetera, we’re also graduating the next generation of voters and community leaders and consumers and others. And so at the centerpiece of all of this is values, what matters to you and how do you live those values professionally, personally, civically.

And so we take this very holistic approach in the way so we work with students. And so that’s why you hear me talking about service and civic engagement and research and summer internships and other kinds of co-curricular experiences. We really try to be that place where it’s a place of integration and exploration and taking that holistic approach and helping students to think about the life that they ultimately want to lead. What kind of life do you want to design? What kind of life are you really interested in? As you imagine and dream about the future, what does that look like and how do you work toward that? How do you develop a pathway that leads you there? So yeah, as a consequence, our center is composed of sort of four units that are distinct but are very complimentary to one another. So we have a career communities unit, which is sort of a fairly large unit.

That’s where our exploratory and pre-professional advising, coaching, programming, et cetera, are situated. We have an employer engagement unit that is really, tends to be more externally facing, but they do lots of work with students as well. But really thinking about positioning Grinnell College and our students as a source of talent for internships, for full-time employment, et cetera, and helping create those opportunities for students and employers to connect and find one another. A third unit is our service and social innovation. And so this is where a lot of our service, civic engagement programming and advising takes place. And it’s an incredibly robust team. We do a lot of… Also, that tends to be the unit that does a lot of work with our faculty, especially those faculty that are looking at having say a community-based learning component to a course that they might teach in, where they’re really trying to serve as a… We serve as a point of connection between our local community partners and a faculty member who might be teaching a course that might be enriched by having such an applied component added to that course.

And then our fourth unit is global fellowships and awards. So this would include all of the Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, Fulbright, Watson, all those kinds of fun, exciting, competitive opportunities that allow students to further explore areas of interest, areas of curiosity, both domestically, internationally. So that is our center. So it is a little bit unique. There’s 22 of us across those four different areas, and we’re all colleague located in the same structure, thankfully. Fortunately, we’re able to all… They found a roof that’ll fit all of us. And so that is amazing and it’s such a great team with very unique backgrounds and distinct strengths that I think really enlivens and enriches our mission and our work and in ways that would be hard to achieve if we didn’t have that diversity among the crew. So it’s been a real delight and fun process to build out this model here over the last seven, eight years.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I don’t think I’ve heard of a structure like that before. So it kind of fits in with that holistic theme that we’ve been talking about today.

Mark Peltz:

Right. And you can imagine when all of those different folks are, for example, maybe working with the same student, and therefore, we’re our advising structure. So if you want to think about this very operationally, you might pull up Meredith’s advising record. And I’ll see that Meredith has been working on a Fulbright application, but has also been working with our health professions advisor about summer research experience and an applied clinical research settings. And so you can piece together that story of engagement sort of across these different areas and you really get a deep understanding of the student. And as a consequence, when you come in and meet with an advisor, Meredith, we have a pretty solid understanding of the ways in which you’ve been involved with the CLS and who you’ve been meeting with and generally what you’ve been talking about. So you’re not restating your story every time you come in. There’s a degree of familiarity there that really I think helps with that experience.

Meredith Metsker:

I’m curious, what advice would you give to other career services leaders who are looking to improve equity and access?

Mark Peltz:

Oh gosh. Yeah. I mean, I think probably the most important thing is to do it if you’re not, and I would be hard-pressed to think of anybody who’s not doing something, but I think at any time, first of all, it’s not something that you ever stop doing. And so developing this ongoing commitment to this is just a part of the way we work. This is a part of the way we function. We have DEI principles, they’re on our website, we’ve articulated these. You can claim that diversity, equity, inclusion is a value to you, but you have to sort of spell out what does that mean? What does that mean for you as a unit, as a division, as an institution, et cetera? And so we’ve gone through that work. And so as a consequence, we’ve really started to integrate these principles into every program opportunity service procedure that we think about.

So when we look at our grants or we look at our internship funding, we look at any number of those programs, we’re doing it with these principles in mind and how do we continue to audit ourselves to ensure that we’re living up to the promises that we make? And so that’s I think a key part of it. The other piece is developing meaningful metrics. And these may vary from institution to institution, but really going through the work of defining what does that look like for you? And then putting those systems in place so that it’s not just some aspirational metric that you’ll never be able to measure, but it’s actually something that you can get your hands on. And as I mentioned earlier, brace yourself for troubling info. It’s okay if it comes back and it’s not good information as long as that’s met with a commitment to do something about it.

So perfection is probably unachievable. Progress is what you need to be committed to. So I just stay the course, stay committed, live your principles, live your values, and you’re going to make progress in time. So yeah, that would be my advice. We have by no means cracked the code on this. I mean, I think that if anything, our colleagues in our office of diversity, equity and inclusion have been so consequential in helping us sort of think these things through, identify metrics that matter, think about professional development opportunity, how are we continuing to grow as a team? How are we partnering with other actors on campus?

I mean, when we rolled out our uConnect identity group pages, we did that. Those didn’t seem prime time until we had an opportunity to engage our campus partners, like help audit this for us. What have we missed? What on here do you see as problematic or a gap that we can address right away? So it’s a value in sort of like, are your actions speaking louder than your words? And I think that’s one of the things that I’m most proud of in the work that we have done. So you can see it in the things that we’ve done.

Meredith Metsker:

So you guys have a lot to be proud of, and I imagine it’s nice for you because I don’t know if we’ve talked about this, but you report to the president, correct?

Mark Peltz:

Correct. Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

So you have a lot of really great or just interesting results to share directly to the president?

Mark Peltz:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, we didn’t talk about that, but that is another unique part of our structure is that… And I think that’s very much an expression of the commitment that Grinnell is making to career development, career education in the lives of our students is, yeah, I report directly to the president. I sit on our senior leadership team. I spend a fair bit of time with our trustees, all of whom are tremendous champions for the work that we do, the work that we champion, which quite frankly wouldn’t be possible without so many other people.

Our tremendous faculty, our amazing alumni, our very dedicated alumni, all of those that have supported us with their time, their philanthropy, their expertise. Yes, we are division that takes our work very seriously and we love the work that we do. We would all be the first to admit that we couldn’t do it on our own, really, it’s so cliche to say it takes a village, but when we think about graduating hundreds of students at a time and launching them into the world and really trying to fulfill our mission as an institution and our commitments to them in our center, it does, it takes a lot of people to make that happen. A lot of caring, passionate people and so blessed to be surrounded by these folks every single day, so yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

Awesome. Well, I think that’s a good place to start wrapping us up a little bit, but Mark, is there anything else about our topic today that you would like to add? Any questions that I should have asked?

Mark Peltz:

I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about this right now. I think our timing is very interesting. The US Supreme Court is going to be making a decision this summer about the use of race and undergraduate college admissions. And there’s no question that the outcome of that decision is relevant to the work that we do. So I mean, as we think about equity and access, this is on the table right now as we think about undergraduate admissions and how we can help support that work. But also, if you’ve or other listeners have been listening to or reading about the students of the future and what the demographic shifts in the US and even more broadly are going to look like, the imperative is upon us.

The students that are going to be coming on our campuses are going to be increasingly diverse than they’ve ever been before. And so as we think about all of the work that we do from a multitude of lenses to ensure that we’re really meeting students where they are and providing them the support and resources to help them make the most of this experience and launch them into the world, it’s the demand is now and it’s only going to grow. And so as I was thinking about our conversation today, I was thinking about this moment, this time, this what’s going on right now. And I think that the timing is so appropriate for us to be having this conversation. So thank you for that.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, absolutely. It is definitely an interesting time in our country right now in terms of DEI and just supporting those students or even just addressing those topics in curriculum.

Mark Peltz:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Well, Mark, if anyone would like to reach out to you to learn more from you, where’s a good place for them to do that?

Mark Peltz:

Yeah, I love to connect with folks. We’re in the connection business, Meredith. So yeah, I’m an active LinkedIn user, so if anybody wants to find me on LinkedIn, send me a request. I’d be happy to connect that way. My contact information’s right on our website, so you can find me there, shoot me an email. Either way is fine. Just give me a call. You’d want to go old school, you could pick up the phone and actually call me. That works too. But any of those are fine. So yeah, if there’s any topic that we touched on today that you’d like to take a little bit deeper dive on, then I’d be happy to connect.

Meredith Metsker:

Great. And I will include those links in the show notes so all of you can find Mark. All right, so Mark, this is one of my favorite parts of every interview, but I like to close this out with an answer, a question, leave a question thing. So I’ll ask you a guest or a question that our last guest left for you, and then you will leave a question for the next guest. So the last person I talked to was Joe Testani from the University of Rochester.

Mark Peltz:

Oh no. Okay. Joe, I hope it’s not a doozy.

Meredith Metsker:

No, it’s not too bad. So he left this question, what’s your favorite thing you’ve watched recently and why?

Mark Peltz:

I’m going to answer this in a way that neither you nor Joe probably expecting. So I am a huge baseball fan. It’s my favorite sport to watch. And so I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Major League Baseball this year. Amidst all of the changes that the league has adopted this year from pitch clocks to the size of the bases, to all of these just nuances. Baseball isn’t an institution, it’s a slow-changing organization, if you will. And I appreciate the willingness of the ball players and the coaches, the management, the league to think about how can we adapt? What are some changes that we can make? So lest you think that any old moving institution can’t change, hey, if MLB baseball can make some of these adaptations, I think we can too. And so yeah, there’s just something so beautiful about baseball in terms of the strategy, the play, the kinship, all of the things, the diversity. I mean, it’s just amazing. So there you go, baseball.

Meredith Metsker:

Nice. That’s a good answer. So Mark, what question would you like to leave for the next guest?

Mark Peltz:

I think my question for folks, I’m a big reader both in audiobook and in physical book because I have a bit of a commute based on where I live. But so my question for the next person is what book has been most impactful on you?

Meredith Metsker:

Ooh, I like that. As a fellow avid reader, I like that one.

Mark Peltz:

So I think it’s only fair to ask a question that you would be willing to answer. So my short answer is one of the most impactful books for me is Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol, who I have had the privilege of seeing speak twice in my work life. So there you go.

Meredith Metsker:

Nice. I’m going to have to look that one up.

Mark Peltz:

Check it out. It’s very good.

Meredith Metsker:

All right, awesome. Well, Mark, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. This was a really great conversation, and I think our listeners are going to get a lot of cool ideas about new strategies to try, new ways to track data, how to use it. So thank you very much for taking the time and sharing your knowledge today.

Mark Peltz:

Thank you, Meredith. It was a lot of fun.

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