The Professional Development Seminar (PDS) Program At Nichols College

by Dawn C. Sherman and Edward Kolek

History and Philosophy

In January 1999, a committee comprised of faculty, staff and the Vice President for Academic Affairs was charged by the College President with developing a non-credit course for seniors to address their transitional needs as they graduate. Out of the committee's weekly meetings arose a myriad of course topics we wanted our students to be familiar with before they left the College. As we sifted through the long list, trying to prioritize the information, we began asking ourselves if any of this information would be useful to the sophomores and juniors, prior to the senior year. The answer was a resounding yes. Already in place was a freshman seminar program, which began in 1985. Once we looked at the bigger picture, molding the 4 courses together into a series was logical, and the support of the faculty, administration and Board of Trustees followed. Thus, in the spring of 2000 the sophomore course was introduced, followed by the junior course in the spring of 2001 and the senior course in the fall of 2001. The Class of 2002 was the first cohort to complete the entire program.

The PDS Courses

The PDS courses meet once a week for 12 weeks, in a 75 minute class period. The classes are held in a seminar format with a maximum of 20 students, and include a multitude of interactive activities and a variety of speakers. Each course runs primarily in the fall or spring semester, but there is always a "trailer section" for transfer students or those who need to repeat the course. A brief outline of some topics covered in the PDS Program:

Freshman PDS - fall semester, first year
Theme - "Transition & Adjustment" - This course is the typical Freshman Seminar course that is offered at many colleges and universities. It is designed to help the new student (freshman or transfer with less than 24 credit hours) with his or her transition, orientation, and adjustment to Nichols College. Activities include:


  • Career Planning/Introduction to Portfolios
  • Academic Advising
  • Values, Choices, and Goals
  • Student Presentations on a topic of their choice

Sophomore PDS - spring semester, second year
Theme - "Exploration" - The Sophomore course provides an opportunity for students to move beyond the 'sophomore slump.' Students examine where they are and take a close look at academic majors and career options. In this course students begin the development of their professional portfolios. Activities include:


  • Self Exploration/The Role of Education
  • Begin development of the Portfolio
  • Selecting a Major, Internships
  • Resume Writing and Interviewing Skills
  • Presentations Using the Portfolio

Junior PDS - spring semester, third year
Theme - "Refinement" - Students at the junior level refine their interviewing skills through mock interviews in the classroom, as well as their career skills, and define their personal, academic and career goals. Activities include:


  • Resumes - Paper & Electronic
  • Interviewing/Professional Presentation/Communication Skills
  • Mock Interviews - interviewer and interviewee
  • Draft Portfolio Session

Senior PDS - fall semester, fourth year
Theme - "Implementation" - Students in their senior year learn to use their career skills and portfolio in actual interviews, connect with recruiters and alumni through a series of programs, and begin to discuss their transition out of Nichols College and into the job market. Activities include:


  • Recruiting Options
  • Using the Portfolio in Interviews
  • Student-Choice Programs (Students choose and attend 4 of 30 career/professional
    course offerings)
  • Business Etiquette/Ethics

Program Administration

Full-time faculty, visiting professors, adjunct faculty, senior administrative staff, and mid-level administrators all teach PDS classes. The Freshman PDS classes also employ upper division students as Teaching Assistants (TA's) to work with an assigned faculty member. Teaching manuals, weekly ongoing training and mentoring are provided to all instructors. The Freshman PDS program requires the purchase and use of a personal planner, which includes campus resources and the outline and information on each week's topic and/or program. The Sophomore - Senior PDS courses do not use a specific text for the courses. A wealth of activities and handouts created by faculty/staff are distributed to each faculty member and students.

Students must earn a passing grade for each PDS course, as successful completion of the PDS program is part of the student's Foundation Core and a college graduation requirement. Since assessment is an important part of our program, the course evaluation results are used to help plan, refine, and update future program offerings. All faculty are evaluated and must receive an acceptable evaluation to continue to teach in the program.


To ensure a quality program and allow our students to connect with corporate recruiters and alumni, we actively solicit dozens of recruiters and alumni to participate in the PDS Program. Their involvement includes:


  • Presenting hour-long programs in the Senior PDS course
  • Serving as guest speakers on a variety of topics in the classroom
  • Reviewing the portfolios submitted in Senior PDS, making comments and suggestions to the seniors
  • Attending an annual feedback session regarding the PDS program with PDS administrators and faculty
  • Funding the annual Etiquette Dinner for seniors.

What We Learned

In the early days of our planning, a small but dedicated and resourceful group of administrators and faculty gathered around a boardroom table to discuss their individual visions of the PDS program. After many meetings, discussions and workshops we left with one PDS program vision which received institutional approval. Seven years later, we suggest the following as you think about starting your own program:


  • Start with a vision
  • Align the vision with your institution's mission statement
  • Find a small but dedicated and resourceful group of people who believe in the vision
  • Promote the program
  • Pilot the program
  • Evaluate the program
  • Update the program as needed
  • Have fun!


Dawn C. Sherman has been the Director of Career Services/Coordinator of the Professional Development Seminar (PDS) Program at Nichols College since 1999. She chairs the Faculty Committee that created, instituted, and now advises the PDS program. Dawn developed the course materials and class outlines for several of the courses. Currently Dawn coordinates the program's on-going operations, trains the PDS faculty, and teaches in the program. In recent years she has made presentations about the PDS program at several regional, national and international conferences. Dawn holds a M.S. in Counseling/Student Personnel from the University of Rhode Island. Email: dawn.sherman@nichols.edu.

Edward Kolek is the Assistant Dean of Advising & Academic Services at Nichols College. With over thirty years experience in Higher Education in both academic and student affairs in four states; he has spent the last twenty years at Nichols College. He has taught in the Professional Development 1st Year Program (PDS) and was responsible for the program from 1995 to 2002. He also served on the PDS committee at the college and taught in the Sophomore PDS Program. Edward holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of Connecticut. Email: edward.kolek@nichols.edu.

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