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Students, Check Out Your Portfolio

by Melissa Payton

Standing in front of a projected image of the opening page of Your Portfolio are some of the staff who worked on the project. From left are Judi Biggs Garbuio, director of leadership, service and scholars; Sandra Rhoten, assistant dean of students; Michael L. Jackson, vice president for student affairs; Cynthia Cherrey, assistant vice president for student affairs; and Sue Vogl, director of university publications. “[Your Portfolio] is another tool to help students be successful at USC,” said Cherrey.

photo: Irene Fertik

To commencement broadcasts, tele-robotics and on-line applications, add another Web-based innovation at USC: “Your Portfolio,” an interactive Website that lets students learn about job opportunities and academic programs, keep an electronic journal of their college career and publish an online resume.

The creation of the Division of Student Affairs, Your Portfolio is expected to go on-line this week after being piloted last year with about 20 percent of the freshman class.

“We are excited to offer this Web-based, self-directed learning tool to our students,” said Cynthia Cherrey, assistant vice president for student affairs. “This is another tool to help students be successful at USC.”

Based partly on services developed by other universities, the combination of offerings in Your Portfolio is unique to USC, Cherrey said. “There is nothing out there as in-depth as this program.”

Your Portfolio was developed after Vice President for Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson asked Cherrey two years ago to propose new ways to engage students in a variety of learning activities.

“We wanted to make the Trojan [student] Life Cycle come alive,” Jackson said. “We conceptualized the Trojan Life Cycle to show how all parts of the university must work together to retain and graduate students. Our goal is to take students through four years of dynamic and first-rate academic and co-curricular experiences so that they become enthusiastic alumni and the next set of recruiters for USC.”

Over three months, staff reviewed services already provided by USC and developed new proposals. The assessment was based on data from the annual USC freshman and senior survey; student, faculty and staff input; USC’s strategic plan; and academic research on student learning.

Among the work groups set up were ones on the student experience and technology. Together the two groups — looking for a way to help USC students explore, reflect on and document their educational experience — looked at what other institutions were doing and what USC had in place, said Judi Biggs Garbuio, director of leadership, service and scholars.

“This is so new that even USC’s computer programmers have never done it before,” said Biggs Garbuio, who co-chaired the technology committee with Jennifer Siu, special projects coordinator.

WITH THE HELP OF the Web designers at USC’s Internet Publishing Center, Your Portfolio was laid out in four parts:

• Strategies for success

Users are guided through five areas: “Exploring your academic life” looks at academic classes, seminars and cultural activities. “Understanding yourself and others” describes opportunities to enhance communication skills and develop awareness in areas such as cultural diversity and team building.

“Planning your future and career” offers ideas and strategies for planning for graduate school or job opportunities. “Partnering with your community” includes opportunities for community service and helping others get involved. It also encourages users to develop an understanding of the community.

“Living with integrity and a healthy lifestyle” describes programs to help students develop critical thinking skills and strategies for a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

• Opportunities

Here, Your Portfolio leads students through information about student organizations, academics and research, special programs, and internships and employment. The portfolio designers hope this will make participation in programs, employment and organizations easier for students. “Research has shown that involved students persist and are more successful in college,” Cherrey said.

• Electronic journal

This section forms the foundation for the on-line resume. It lets students record and reflect on curricular and extracurricular experiences by asking three key questions: What did I experience? What have I learned? and How can I make a difference with what I’ve learned? “If students can answer those three questions about the different aspects of their college career, they can handle most job interviews,” Biggs Garbuio said.

• On-line resume

This part begins with a tutorial on resumes, and takes users through creation of a resume that can be adapted for a variety of uses. “More than 65 percent of employers asked for resumes on-line last year,” Cherrey said. This feature also lets students automatically enroll with USC career planning and placement services, which will notify them about internship opportunities, job fairs and on-campus employer interviews, Biggs Garbuio said.

For students who are avid volunteers in USC’s community outreach pro- grams, participants in student organizations or involved in part-time work or internships, Your Portfolio will come in handy whenever a record of such experiences is needed.

“At an orientation session, one of the leaders asked students how many were involved in outside activities,” Cherrey said. “About 95 percent raised their hands. But when they were asked, ‘How many of you remember exactly what you did and what you learned?’ only a few raised their hands. The on-line journal and resume will allow students to keep a record of what they did and what they learned.”

Using Your Portfolio also helps students integrate their classroom experience with their extracurricular activities, Cherrey said. “It gives students a common USC experience; at the same time, it is personalized and individualized. It is confidential; students share it only if they want to. They can cut and paste from their personal journal to their resume, or send some information from the personal journal to someone they choose — a faculty member for a class, or a friend.

“The control is in the student’s hands,” Cherrey said.

About 1,500 freshmen tested a pilot version of Your Portfolio last year through freshman seminar classes, a business information technology class, the Emerging Leader Program, and Topping and Trustee scholars programs. Your Portfolio was also presented at all freshmen orientation sessions last summer. Feedback from the pilot program led to changes that have delayed the on-line debut somewhat.

But student reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, student affairs officials say, especially for two aspects: the opportunities section and the online resume.

Karen Fernandez, a junior business major who helped conduct presentations on Your Portfolio at freshman orientation sessions, said most students found the site easy to navigate and user-friendly.

“I think Your Portfolio has so much to offer. I don’t think every student will use it all, but it has something for everyone,” Fernandez said.

Student affairs staff hope all USC students will eventually use Your Portfolio from their freshman year onward. Juniors and seniors who have heard about the Web program are often envious, Biggs Garbuio said.

“They’ve said, ‘If I could have done this since my freshman year, things would have been so much easier.’”

Jackson expects USC’s innovation to spread to other universities. “No other major college or university, to my knowledge, has developed such a comprehensive Web-based model for helping students learn about a school’s opportunities with the click of a mouse,” he said.

“But you can bet that after we complete a series of presentations at national and regional educational conferences this year, lots of schools will want to learn about how USC developed Your Portfolio. It is dynamic, easy to use, adaptable to different colleges and universities, and makes institutions accessible to students 24 hours a day,” he said.

“It will be exciting to see how different schools use the USC model.”

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