Career Development Pedagogy: Using Community Engagement to Enhance Interest and Skills

By Leann Wyrick Morgan

Career Course Engagement
I have often thought that the only way for my students to find value in coming to my classes was to make the experience enjoyable for both of us. This is often a challenge when teaching the subject matter is necessary for the overall development of an effective counselor, but let’s be honest, not every course gets your engines running! For the past 12 years, I’ve been amazed and sometimes amused at how faculty and students alike have found career counseling “boring,” or “something we have to learn for comps”, but miss the true meaning of why we are engaging with clients in this profession…to better their lives, every part of their lives, including their work.

A few months ago, Dr. David Dietrich wrote an article for Career Convergence entitled, Generating Graduate Student Interest in Career Counseling. In it, he referenced the work of Lara, Kline, and Paulson (2011), which explored the sometimes challenging thoughts and feelings of faculty and graduate students toward teaching and learning the art of career counseling. He made some interesting suggestions regarding how counselor educators might engage students through various interventions. One technique he mentioned was to, “Incorporate field observation and practice in your career counseling course.” This was an interesting challenge, and one I had been developing on my own for some time.

Course Engagement through Community Engagement
I had decided a couple of years back to embark on a journey with my students, not only so they would truly understand the power of working with K-12 students to enhance their postsecondary and workforce readiness, something that we value in Colorado, but also to light a fire in their bellies for career counseling with our future workforce. I looked for possible outlets for this type of community engagement/field work experience, and eventually cultivated a partnership with a local K-10 charter school that served a mostly at-risk population of students and families (88% free/reduced lunch, 85% minority student body).

Learning through Doing
Through this collaboration, my graduate students in 2 sections of the Career Development course, all 60 of them, learned career counseling theory and assessment during the first half of the semester, successfully passed their comprehensive exams, and then went out to the school site. There, they worked with the middle and high school students and their parents on things such as setting up online accounts through the state-funded “College in Colorado” system, assisted them in completing several online career assessments, engaged in the True Colors© assessment and discussion, utilized a values card sort, and participated in other experiential activities that encouraged their students to think about life after high school. The graduate students were able talk to parents about FAFSA completion and postsecondary funding opportunities, as well as their own college experiences.

Another aspect of this partnership was helping the school host a college and career night for students and parents. Each graduate student was assigned an 8th, 9th, or 10th grade student and her/his family member(s) to explore options and facilitate discussions with representatives from local colleges and universities. We also utilized a local fraternity alumni chapter in order to connect students to mentors in career fields of interest. The school provided dinner for not only the students, parents, and community members in attendance, but for my graduate students as well…a nice perk.

Engagement Outcomes
After it was all said and done, a total of 60 career counselors-in-training were given the opportunity to provide a total of 16 hours of career counseling services (equivalent to 6 graduate class periods) consisting of 30 graduate students at each of 2 sessions, provided on 3 separate dates, over a period of 6 weeks. This was an invaluable service to the school community, and from a teaching standpoint, not one I could have replicated in the classroom. Having both school counseling and clinical mental health counseling (CMHC) graduate students in the same Career Development course did not present issues regarding their practice with this population. Some might balk at this idea because they don’t see how my CMHC students would benefit from this type of school-based experience. All I can say is that the amount of time my students spent at the school site allowed the school counseling graduate students to learn more about how charter schools differ from regular district schools in terms of leadership and funding, while also providing my CMHC students the opportunity to work with at-risk students within a school setting. Thus, allowing them to witness some of the behavioral, cultural, structural, and systemic issues that students struggle with every day.

Overall, the experience proved to be beneficial for the students and families we served, and added a new dimension to my teaching. My graduate students reported feeling more connected to the material they learned in class, and excited to practice their career counseling skills with actual students and families. They also felt relieved that they didn’t have to spend their final 6 weeks in graduate school stuck in a classroom starring at me. Success!!

Dietrich, D. (2015, March). Generating graduate student interest in career counseling. Career Convergence. Retrieved from https://careerconvergence.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/103037/_self/layout_ccmsearch/true

Lara, T. M., Kline, W. B., Paulson, D.  (2011). Attitudes regarding career counseling: Perceptions and experiences of counselors-in-training.  The Career Development Quarterly, 59(5), 428-440.


Leann Wyrick MorganLeann Wyrick Morgan, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Services at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She earned her Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision at The University of Northern Colorado. Her primary counseling experience is with adolescents and their families, both in the community and school settings. She is a former School-to-Career Coordinator and Professional School Counselor at the secondary level. She is also a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Colorado, a National Certified Counselor, and a Master Career Counselor. She is a member of the National Career Development Association Leadership Academy, Class of 2016. She currently serves on the Governing Boards of the Colorado Career Development Association (CCDA), Colorado School Counselor Association (CSCA), and is a former board member of the Colorado Association for Career and Technical Education (CACTE). Her teaching and research interests include, career development, postsecondary and workforce readiness, school counseling, supervision/mentoring, counselor training and accountability, career/life programs for special needs students, career planning for college students, and career counseling with military veterans and other adults in transition. She can be reached anytime at lmorgan7@uccs.edu

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