While they might not scale tall buildings or catch villains, there are super heroes walking among us. These heroes use their powers to support and guide students and families through their high school and college years. They are creative, energetic, resilient, organized, empathetic, hard-working professionals who make a difference in the lives of those around them.
As an author and speaker, it’s a joy to work alongside these heroes of higher education, providing guidance and reducing anxiety for students and families as you navigate the high school-to-college transition.
This is why I share their insights (and superpowers!) with you. My goal is that by sharing their experiences and advice, we can provide information that will reduce anxiety and build confidence–and help set students and families up for success through the college launch and beyond.
Today, you get to meet Michelle Schmitz, Executive Director of the Career Center at St. Cloud State University.
Michelle is an established, energetic professional with over 22 years of comprehensive experience in Higher Education, Business Operations and Human Resource environments; including 16 years in Career Services. Previously, she has held roles as a Business Analyst, Software Tester and Human Resources Recruiter and Marketing Consultant. The bulk of her career has been at St. Cloud State University where she has worked as a Graduate Assistant, Associate Director, Interim Director and now Executive Director of the Career Center at SCSU.
She brings to us a unique perspective as someone who works directly with college students throughout their college years, and guides them to finding successful career opportunities during and after college.
KR: What are some of the biggest challenges college students are facing today?
MS: Unfortunately, what I see most often (and was heightened even more during COVID) are issues surrounding mental health challenges. A comprehensive issue that can easily manifest itself in many ways – some through feeling overwhelmed and alone others through anxiety and depression. It seems like the cycle is never ending. Another challenge I see are students struggling with motivation and engagement. Many students due to the above factors often feel like they are unsure of themselves and that leads them to flounder in their classes, choosing a major or choosing a career path.
KR: How are they overcoming these challenges?
MS: So many students are struggling to overcome these challenges; however, the students that have I have noticed that have the most success (as it is ongoing and fluid) are those who have a strong network of support surrounding them including, but not limited to family, friends, counselors, advisors, coaches, and professors. When students reach out to those they feel close to and let them know they are struggling, their support network can help them by providing them a safety net armed with resources that can help them over the hill or mountain they are trying to climb. As for the motivation and engagement area – this is tricky, but I encourage students to do informational interviewing and/or job shadowing with folks that might have a hobby or career path that interests them. Exposure to the myriad of options out there will help clarify what excites them and doesn’t. The options are endless even if they have completed these in high school – new interests arise, new opportunities form and it is never too late to learn what is out there that might inspire them.
KR: What is a typical day like in your career as an Executive Director of a University Career Center?
MS: Full of meetings! Meetings with staff, meetings with external constituents, meetings with internal committees, my day is never dull working on strategizing and rolling out initiatives that will help students uncover, articulate and leverage their experiences in and out of the classroom. It is all worth it to see a student, employer, or faculty/staff member light up the room when an internship or job is received, a new hire is brought on board or a program/service led to a student succeeding.
KR: As a higher ed professional, what is your philosophy on parent involvement in the college experience?
MS: I see parents as passengers in the process. The students are the drivers and the parents are there to help with direction, give guidance and support where needed, but they are not in control of the destination, and shouldn’t try to take over the wheel.
KR: What’s one tip you could give regarding the college admissions process?
MS: Start early. Explore, explore, explore. Look at career paths you have never thought about and see what colleges offer programs that prepare you for those careers. Look at different types of institutions, to know the type of institution you would succeed in (size, cost, location, reputation, resources available).
KR: One of the questions I hear students ask—especially now with COVID-19 and many campuses placing them in single rooms—is “How will I make friends?” In your opinion, what are the best ways for students to connect with one another?
MS: Fortunately at St. Cloud State University, we are back to double rooms/roommates for fall 2021. Campuses are full of organizations that students can join to meet folks that are like minded/have similar values and interests so those are always great. Students will meet in classes and can dine together in, students can be active and workout or do intramurals. They can attend sporting events, participate in band or choir, theatre, or just even be involved in student government.
KR: How can parents/guardians help their students become college-ready?
MS: Guiding them to be autonomous, but organized. Juggling class, work, studying and other extra-curricular things will take some time-management skills and those will need some fine-tuning. College is expensive so guiding them to be as responsible as possible with their money is important. Help them get exposed to your friends and family and others who in different fields of study/career paths so they can have some ideas in mind of the types of courses they want to take so they can push forward towards the path of completion.
KR: What words of wisdom would you give to a current high school senior as they prepare for their college years?
MS: Keep an open mind to all you are going to be exposed to. There are resources and people on colleges who are ready and waiting to help you so get involved and don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. Start identifying mentors now (a current college student, a recent college graduate) who can be a lifeline when you need them as they probably know what you are feeling. Don’t limit yourself to what your friends are doing, explore and continue to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
KR: What is a favorite memory from work in the last six months?
MS: We did an end of the semester gathering with the professional and student staff in December and we had to all meet over Zoom due to Covid. Our amazing party planning committee had activities for each of us to do within our own environments (trivia, games, gingerbread house making). It was so much fun even though we weren’t all in the room together. A highlight of the strange academic year for sure!
Want more information on how you can help your student successfully navigate the college years? Order your copy of Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage today!