“What are you going to do with that?” It is the common follow-up to “What’s your major?”
It is also a question that induces anxiety in nearly every college senior preparing to take that next big step into the world after graduation. Tina Kirk Johnson ’93, director of the Randolph College Experiential Learning Center, has found a new way of helping students find the answers.
Typical methods seemed ineffective for Randolph College students who spend their college career engaged in a broad liberal arts curriculum enriched by experiential learning experiences. So this year, Johnson began using a technique known as a “wandering map.”
“It’s a more holistic process that focuses on the individual,” she said.
The technique is presented in a companion book by Katharine Brooks titled You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career. Mapping helps students transform seemingly unrelated educational and extracurricular experiences into a depiction of the values and topics about which they are passionate.
Katt Janson ’10
“There was a pressure to figure this out on my own,” she said. “It was like I was standing on a precipice with this feeling that if my dreams didn’t come true right now, it was because I did something wrong.”
Unlike the traditional approach to career discovery, which connects a major with a career, mapping is more free-form, enabling a student to be more creative about drawing connections between accomplishments and aspirations. The result, a web of brightly-colored lines, is a graphic reminder of the interconnectedness of an individual’s life and study. A simple connection from major to obvious job does not enable students to get the greatest benefit from their education.
“Education is about what you learn academically— like writing and communicating and understanding the content of your discipline,” Johnson said. “But there’s a bigger piece that involves who you are as a person and how you’ve connected all the dots.”
Brooks begins her book by suggesting that the chaos theory may have more to do with careers than resumes and cover letters. The theory suggests that a seemingly insignificant event can change the direction of an individual’s life.
Janson is living proof of the theory. She began her career at the College with a plan to be a neurosurgeon.
Then, an unexpected offer of free plane tickets from a friend allowed her to travel to Italy. While there, she toured Pompeii, which sparked a long-latent interest in archeology.
“When I was a child, I had convinced myself that everything had already been dug up,” she recalled. “When I saw Pompeii, I realized that we are not finished.”
The trip abroad changed her academic career and, as a senior, mapping is helping Janson see how all of her experiences will help her in the future.
“I have an interest in people and cultures; in classics I enjoy the connection with people thousands of years ago,” Janson said. “It’s not the history; it’s the archeology and pulling a spoon out of the ground and thinking ‘That’s 2,000 years old and I’ve used this!’”
Penny Rosen ’10
Penny Rosen ’10, an English and creative writing major, was also changed by a trip. She felt an irresistible pull to travel to Alaska after reading Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer’s account of ascetic Chris McCandless’s journey and demise within Alaska’s Denali region. Rosen hitchhiked with “sourdoughs,” people who have lived in Alaska through at least one winter, and fellow newcomers.
She explored the environment, photographed wild scenery, and wrote about natural oddities such as the north-flowing Nenana River. During her academic career, Rosen’s interests have evolved from chemistry to writing, psychology, sociology, and photography. Mapping enabled her to find the connections among myriad experiences and shaped the thesis for her senior project.
“I realized that there was a really big connection between Into the Wild and going to Alaska and my senior project,” she said. “My project is about the environment and nature and the language it is speaking versus what humans are saying. Mountains are moving toward each other while man is pulling away from nature.”
For Janson, Rosen, and other students, wandering maps may help ease the transition into the wild of what lies beyond graduation.
“This puts students back in the driver’s seat,” Johnson said, noting that seniors can feel overwhelmed by the demands of wrapping up their undergraduate academic careers. “When they ask me what to do, I tell them ‘Do a map.’ It is hard to articulate the details of what they’ve done when they are overwhelmed with senior projects and day-to-day work. The map becomes a key reflective process.”