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Creating a pathway for a career

Kenneth Geller, associate professor of clinical otolaryngology at USC Dornsife (Photo/Ken Chernus)

Kenneth Geller set an imaginary scene for his undergraduate students: “You’re a doctor. It’s the end of the day and you’ve seen 30 patients. You’re hungry and tired. Your last patient is an 18-month-old child. His mother says he has a fever and he’s been pulling at his ear.

“What do you ask?”

As students called out questions (“Did you take your son’s temperature? Has he ever had an ear infection?”), Geller guides them through the steps of creating a patient history and diagnosis. Taught by Geller, associate professor of clinical otolaryngology, and William McClure, professor of biological sciences, both of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, “Contemporary Issues and Cases in Health Care” introduces students to the main areas of health care.

“I want students to get an idea of what a career in medicine is like — the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Geller, who has more than 30 years of experience as a pediatric otolaryngologist. “I also want them to understand that there’s a place in medicine for almost anyone who desires it, whether it’s as a dentist, physician, pharmacist, nurse or optometrist.”

Throughout the semester, medical professionals in a variety of fields are speaking to the class. Invitees have included a pediatrician, an anesthesiologist, a dentist, an obstetrician, a surgeon and an emergency medicine physician. Students have the opportunity to learn about these career paths and ask questions.

“I’m pre-med so I’m looking at all of the different areas of medicine I can go into,” said senior health and humanities major Kacie Amacher. “This class is a great way to get an overview of the different medical professions.”

The course is part of USC Dornsife’s Second-Year Inquiry (SYI) program, which launched this fall to help more than 280 students segue from academics to their desired career.

SYI was designed as an extension of the USC Dornsife Gateway Internship program, which offers opportunities to explore a career, gain insight from a mentor and take an academic course on leadership skills. SYI courses and workshops help students home in on what they may want to pursue professionally and how to achieve their goals.

Kenneth Geller teaches students in a pre-med Second-Year Inquiry course, while William McClure sits nearby. (USC Photo/Michelle Boston)

Kenneth Geller teaches students in a pre-med Second-Year Inquiry course, while William McClure sits nearby. (USC Photo/Michelle Boston)

In particular, the program focuses on sophomores, though freshman, juniors and seniors are welcome to participate. As second-year students, sophomores are in a prime position to dig into questions about their undergraduate goals, said Octavio Avila, director of student special services.

“Now that they have settled into college life, they can start to explore questions such as, ‘What do I want to do with my education?’ and ‘What should my experiences consist of?’ ” he said.

To help address those questions, two new sophomore seminars were introduced in the fall taught by senior USC Dornsife faculty.

“Professional Opportunities in a Changing Global System,” led by Professor Steven Lamy, vice dean of academic programs, prepares students for careers in the global arena. The two-unit seminar explores questions such as “How do we become a part of organizations that are engaged in responding to national and human security challenges?” Guest speakers included an education policy analyst and a USC Dornsife alumnus working for a nonprofit campaign against global poverty.

“Pathways to Career Success for First-Generation College Students,” taught by George Sanchez, professor of American studies and ethnicity and history, and vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives, readies first-generation college students to meet their professional goals. Students hear from alumni, faculty, graduate students and professionals about their career experiences. They also participate in “job shadowing” in a variety of workplaces. As part of the curriculum, students take the steps to secure internships, scholarships and other meaningful avenues that help them enter a career.

Additional sophomore seminars are slated for next spring: One is tailored for pre-law students and another for students interested in careers in economics.

The SYI course “Internships for the Liberal Arts,” taught by Sanchez and Donal Manahan, professor of biological science and vice dean for students, provides work experience through internships. Students find their own placements, often with the help of the USC Career Center.

A weekly lecture complements students’ internships with instruction on leadership skills, public speaking and other career preparation resources. In “Directed Field Experience in Psychology,” led by Assistant Teaching Professor Miranda Barone, psychology majors participate in internships at local women’s shelters, at-risk youth programs, suicide prevention hotlines and other placements.

Work experience is an indispensable component of the SYI program in which students can put theory into practice, Avila said.

“Students should learn about work culture, power dynamics, leadership and protocols that can really only be experienced and negotiated in the field. Therefore, it is essential that students have an opportunity to experience these dimensions as they develop their own professional identity,” he said.

“It’s also a way in which they can determine if they are on an academic path that aligns with their aspirations. Students’ undergraduate years are a time for exploration and implementation. SYI seeks to help inform them about potential career pathways and shape their career objectives.”

Avila emphasized integrating guest speakers into the curriculum so that students learn directly from professionals in the field. Many guests are USC alumni who can speak from the perspective of being recent graduates who can address how to get that first job. USC Dornsife academic advisers and representatives from the USC Career Center are also part of the dialogue, helping students learn about the resources available to them at the university, such as resume workshops, seminars on pursuing graduate education and career assessment tools.

“We want students to have a comprehensive understanding of what is available to them at USC,” Avila said. “That way they can continue their career exploration beyond the classroom and make the most of the support system at the university.”

After all, creating a pathway for a career is not just about finding a job, Avila said. “The broader perspective is: What do you want to do with your life?

“In that respect, you need to really take the time to assess who you are, what you want to do, your values, your interest, and the environment and culture that suits you best and you are best suited for.

“Making that connection is what SYI is all about.”

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Creating a pathway for a career

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