By Laura Hilliker, MA, ‘13
A Rock Solid grad now helps others to achieve their dreams of a college education and a great career.
In May 2013, I graduated with my Master of Arts in Community Counseling from Slippery Rock University. During my time at Slippery Rock, I worked as a Graduate Assistant (GA) Career Counselor in the Office of Career Education and Development. I remain in the career counseling field today and keep in touch with the staff members in the office, including Mr. John Snyder, Associate Director of Career Education and Development, who invited me to write about my new job at Kent State University, since it is a unique position.
First, I want to share some of my background that will be helpful in understanding my career path thus far. My Bachelor of Science in Psychology is from Clarion University. During my first semester as a graduate student, I met with John Snyder, for a resume review. During one of our meetings, John told me that the office was seeking a Graduate Assistant Career Counselor for the spring semester. Although I wanted to apply, I lacked confidence in my knowledge and abilities. I wondered how I could possibly be useful to students when I felt lost myself concerning my career path. I decided not to apply, and throughout the entire spring semester, I regretted this decision.
Towards the end of the spring semester, another GA position opened up in the office for the next year. I promised myself that I was going to apply this time and take the risk of not getting the position. I applied, interviewed, and was hired a few weeks later. Working as a GA for one year opened my eyes to the field of higher education and career counseling, thus altering my career path. It was through that experience that I uncovered my passion for working with the college student population, specifically in a career counseling capacity. I took a risk and it paid off!
At the time, students in the community counseling program could choose one of three concentrations: youth counseling, additions counseling, and adult counseling. (Now, gerontology and college counseling are offered as well.) With the help of my professors and faculty advisor, I chose the adult concentration but took my elective courses in the student affairs program, a program designed for individuals pursuing careers in university settings, such as academic advising or residential services. In addition, I completed an internship at Carnegie Mellon’s Career and Professional Development Center as a Career Counseling Intern. As an intern, I met with students in the Humanities College assisting them with resume writing, cover letter writing, interview preparation, job searching techniques, and career exploration, all of which were tasks I also performed as a GA at Slippery Rock. In addition, I helped plan career-related programs and gave presentations on topics such as professional networking. I made sure I took advantage of every opportunity available to me, such as presenting at a national conference and organizing employer-related events. This initiative allowed me to gain experiences I would otherwise not have had if I did not constantly ask my supervisor, “What else can I do?”
I will not delve into the details of my job search, however, I will share that being open-minded regarding location and the type of positions helped me tremendously. At first, I was seeking only career counseling positions in higher education and was focusing on positions primarily in western PA. Eventually, I started searching outside of PA and for other positions in higher education, including academic advising. I came across my current position at Kent State University while searching online. At a first glance, I was not captured by the position. Academic advising was not exactly what I wanted to do as my first job. However, as I skimmed the job description, I felt as though the position was created for me. The Department of Psychology at Kent State was seeking an Academic Advisor and Internship Coordinator. Therefore, a background in psychology and career counseling was required. If I did not open my job search, this position would not have been on my radar. Fortunately, I applied, was hired, and started in July 2013. This brings me to the description of my current position and what makes it unique.
Laura Hilliker, ’13, Counseling and Development alumnus works with an undergraduate student in her advisory role at Kent State University.
Typically, academic advisors are hired by academic advising centers and career counselors are hired by career centers. However, a new trend has emerged in higher education to hire departmental advisors, hybrid positions combining academic advising and career counseling. As an Academic Advisor and Internship Coordinator for the Department of Psychology, my role is to meet the academic needs of the 950 psychology undergraduate students and provide career guidance as they travel through their academic experience.
I meet with students daily and discuss the following types of concerns: major and minor requirements, graduation requirements, career goals, career options, graduate school programs, research and internship opportunities, and on-campus involvement. In addition, I plan events and programs for psychology students that are relevant to their career development, such as presentations on resume writing and graduate school options in psychology. Also, in order to increase volunteer and internship opportunities for students, I network with local employers in the region and collaborate with staff members at different offices on campus, such as the Academic Advising Center and the Career Center.
My job search was challenging, as it is for most people. I had to make difficult personal decisions while at the same time try to make the best professional decisions. I plunged out of my comfort zone by moving away from my family and friends, and starting a unique position that was new for the department. I am still adjusting to these newly charted waters, but I could not be happier with my decision. Two things I would like to recommend as parting thoughts:
1.) Cultivate professional relationships. Whether it is a professor, internship supervisor, or someone you met at a conference, keep in touch with individuals that influence you in a positive way. The professional relationships I made along the way helped me through the several decisions I had to make as a graduate student and the challenging months of job searching. I still keep in touch with professors at Slippery Rock, as well as staff members I worked with as a GA at The Rock and as an intern at Carnegie Mellon.
2.) Lean on your support system at The Rock. As an undergraduate student, you have access to staff members at the career center, academic advising center, residence halls, and elsewhere willing to guide you with your career and academic decisions. I wish I would have taken advantage of these resources as an undergraduate student instead of trying to figure things out alone. I can confidently state that the staff members at the Office of Career Education and Development are helpful and approachable. Make an appointment if you have some questions about your major or job search—you never know where it will take you. I know I didn’t.