Career Counselor Helps Upcoming Graduates Seek Employment

Pictured in center, Vicky Zwelling, associate director of the Career Resource Center, talks with CRC peer career advisors Anthony Christiano ’10 and Chenelle Tanglao ’08 in the CRC library in Butterfield Unit A.
Posted 09/06/07
Q: Vicky, what brought you to Wesleyan?

A: I have spent nearly my whole adult life working at Wesleyan to which I’m clearly devoted. I came to the area in 1967 with my first husband who was offered a position on the faculty at Wesleyan. However, I did not start working at Wesleyan until I was hired as a part-time librarian for the Career Resource Center in 1984.

Q: Who hired you and what has kept you at the CRC?

A: Barbara-Jan Wilson, now the vice president for University Relations, hired me. From the beginning, under Barbara-Jan’s leadership, the CRC has practiced “total quality management” before the term was invented. Through many changes and careful hiring, the CRC has continued to function as a harmonious team, highly accessible to students, alumni and parent volunteers. As our director, Michael Sciola, said while we were training our Peer Career Advisors, the CRC is a “cool place to work.”

Q: How has the CRC library evolved?

A: Prior to 1984, the CRC library had never been open to students nor did it have any of the usual library systems in place. I spent most of my time during my first few years organizing and building up the collection, and finally getting it on line so that it is now accessible from anywhere on campus. Early on, however, I chose to spend most of my time as a counselor and assistant director. In 1996, I became one of two associate directors.

Q: In the CRC, what is your main goal when working with students?

A: I counsel primarily juniors, seniors, and young alumni interested in education. However, I also work with first and second year health professions students. So while my immediate goals might differ depending on which population I’m working with, the one goal I have in common for all students is helping them find their next best learning environment. That process consists of helping students translate their Wesleyan experience into marketable skills and to be able to speak articulately about these skills in both interviewing and networking settings. My ultimate goal is to help students find work that will enable them to live out the poet Rumi’s words, “Let the beauty we love be what we do.”

Q: At what year of their education do students start seeking career counseling advice?

A: Our motto to all students is to “come early and come often!” While we had seen 86 percent of the senior class by April of last year, we had also seen 57 percent of the junior class, 54 percent of the sophomore class, and 50 percent of first-years. This large number of first year students represents a substantial change from past years.

Q: What is your secret to good career counseling?

A: I always use humor in my counseling. Students are often anxious when they come to the CRC and laughing helps to restore perspective.

Q: What resources are available in the CRC for students?

A: We have a very robust Web site and a splendid new online database that reflects the internship/job/graduate school process followed by Wesleyan students. The process begins with self-assessment, exploration based on that self-assessment, development of a tool kit — resumes, cover letters, interviewing and networking expertise — and then putting all these skills to work in a job or internship search. One of our most important resources is an incredible network of alumni and parent volunteers available to share their knowledge and perspective. We also have an extensive print library.

Q: How often do you meet with students?

A: I meet with students on a daily basis and during my two weekly drop-in periods. When students get attached to me and can’t get an appointment with me for several weeks, I always tell them to relax and just sign up with another counselor. I add that it’s fine to see another counselor because they are all terrific as I hired them all, as part of the CRC team, of course.

Q: Can you give a few examples of where you helped students find employment last year?

A: A sampling of places students went to last year includes Teach for America, the NYC Teaching Fellows program, the Boston Teacher Residency program, and a variety of independent and public schools. I help students find employment by teaching them to become expert job seekers by using all the resources at hand, especially building relationships with alumni and parent volunteers. As Michael Sciola always says, “Luck happens (i.e. students land great jobs) when opportunity meets preparation.”

Q: What goes on during a typical day for you?

A: A typical day for me consists of three, one hour-long appointments, meeting with students on drop ins, researching information and alumni contacts, and planning networking programs involving alumni and parents volunteers, programs such as our upcoming Career Conference, a day-long event featuring a series of workshops and panels of alumni and special guests working in a variety of fields.

Q: What is the Urban Education Semester?

A: The Urban Education Semester (UES) is a Wesleyan-accredited, interdisciplinary immersion program that introduces students from all academic backgrounds to the complexity of issues facing urban public education. Students undertake supervised teaching in the NYC public schools and at night take graduate coursework at the Bank Street College of Education. My role is to publicize the program and to chair the Wesleyan selection committee. Wesleyan has an extraordinary rate of success getting students into this program. Many UES alumni report that UES was the most meaningful part of their entire academic experience.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: After graduating from Wellesley College, I got a Masters of Arts in Teaching at Harvard University, and I taught English in Newton, Mass. Subsequently, I worked at the New Haven community action agency, which founded Head Start. In 1987 I completed my Masters in Library Science. I am originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, but have lived in New England since attending college at Wellesley.

Q: Tell me about your family, and what was the highlight of your summer?

A: I have a husband of 41 years, two grown, married children, and a 2 year-old granddaughter. I spend as much time hanging out with this gang as possible. This past summer, my husband and I did exactly what we have done since the summer of 1989. We traveled to the Loire Valley where we vacationed for several weeks in a charming limestone cottage in the beautiful countryside outside of Pontlevoy, a small French village. Our primary activity in the Loire Valley is biking which in the Loire Valley is like biking through an Impressionist painting. And then we spend a week in Paris which Henry James so aptly described “as the greatest temple ever built to material joys and the lust of the eyes.”

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: I prefer to call them my other passions. I have been a professional potter since joining Wesleyan Potters in 1976. And though I hate to use the language of therapy, I have an addiction to fine fiction, I’m a plantaholic gardener, and I knit as a Zen practice.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor