By Lexi Rosenblatt, Contributor
Every May, college graduates say goodbye to their beloved universities and enter the “real world” of jobs and graduate school. But what happens to those who don’t? Thanks to the Furman Advantage, transitionary fellowships are in store for young Furman grads.
Post-baccalaureate fellowships have grown increasingly popular among universities in the last decade, and Furman is no exception. With over 20 departments, Furman has also had the chance to offer more students “a year where I can get real world experience in a place that I’m familiar with, my home,” says Community Engagement fellow Victoria Wornom, class of 2016.
In the past, some Furman seniors have been offered summer and research opportunities working with professors within their department upon graduation. Recently, however, more and more of these opportunities have evolved into productive, beneficial positions within many departments on campus, funded through separate entities all over campus.
Laura Bardin, another 2016 graduate, recently became Furman’s Poverty Studies Coordinator.
“I was a really involved minor in the program, and worked on campus over the summer,” Bardin shared. The success of her position so far shined a light on other opportunities for these experiences, causing a chain reaction of sorts in different departments.
Another community engagement fellow Hannah Wheeler, class of 2016, shared a similar pathway to her position.
“Dr. Halfacre in Environmental Policy needed summer fellows to work on content analysis,” Wheeler said of her undergraduate experience as a sustainability science major. “It gave me a snapshot into what Furman does in community engagement, and led to the two year fellowship I have now.”
The post-baccalaureate experience at Furman is currently a pilot program, expected to grow in the near future. A rotation process, in which new graduates take over positions previously filled by fellows who have completed their time in the fellowship, is currently in the works.
“The idea is that anywhere from 10 students will be offered the opportunity to stay at Furman and get experience before the next step of their lives,” Wornom explained. “When you apply to graduate schools, they say you need ‘x amount of years of engagement,’ and you realize you don’t have that fresh out of college. So this is a really nice year for us to gain what we need.”
But graduate schools aren’t the only strict advocates of experience. Kendrec Ferrara, a Paladin Club fellow and 2016 graduate also said he needed experience for job applications.
When applying for jobs after graduation, Ferrara, “received a lot of automatic emails even from intro positions saying ‘sorry, you don’t have the necessary experience.’ But now that we have one to two years under our belts, we’ll meet the current standards for those jobs.”
So what exactly is this “real-world experience” that employers and degree programs value so highly?
“We don’t make coffee runs or do scheduling for the department,” Wheeler said. “We’re gaining useful skills and experience. The skills section on my resume has grown to include quantitative methods and data collection and so many other things. I get to see the underbelly of the University”
The experience extends from data analysis to event planning.
“I’ve helped fundraise for athletic scholarships, run events for donors and for sponsors,” Ferrara said. “Event planning and coordination has been huge.”
Other tasks include alumni engagement and budgeting.
“I keep up with alumni to figure out how the poverty studies program has shaped them, and who has research in the field,” Bardin said. “I help with a lot of internal communication within the poverty studies department, with foundations, trustees and professors.”
“I work on grant making and request for proposal responses for community parties,” Wornom said. “I never did budgeting before except for my own personal account. It’s cool seeing how budgeting works within a University.”
Post-baccalaureate fellows also gain experience much more personal than a resume can display.
“I always thought I would go on to UVA or Virginia Commonwealth after graduation,” said Wornom, a Richmond, Va. native.. “But this position has opened up so many doors for me in South Carolina and the Greenville area.”
“One of my favorite experiences during my fellowship was CEOs for Cities,” Wornom said. “I was at a huge convention in Ohio with many important officials. After spending the day with the mayor of Greer, I asked myself why I was there. Then I realized I could show Furman’s investment and trust in their students.”
After working with students involved in Furman’s Shucker leadership institute and student fellows, Wheeler shared a similar shift in her vision for the future.
“I’m learning what I may want to do in the future. I was big on sustainability, but realized higher education could be very fulfilling for me. It’s been a nice reflection period,” Wheeler said.
“Our fellowships are an extension of the four-year pathway made possible by the Furman Advantage. It’s made me feel like Furman really cares about me, even after graduation.”