Scott Cochran, dean of the Mungo Center for Professional Excellence, conducts a class in the Michael S. Brown Village Center.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. – In a time when public debate centers on the value of a college education, especially in the liberal arts, Wofford College’s Mungo Center for Professional Excellence is responding with a unique set of programs designed to prepare undergraduate students to find jobs.
On Saturday, Feb. 16, the college officially introdued these programs, which go far beyond the job listings and resume editing services traditionally offered by college career offices. These programs provide students with in-depth training in entrepreneurship, consulting and project management – areas program administrators have identified as vital for success in the contemporary workplace.
“In a tight job market, students are becoming increasingly interested in creating their own jobs,” says Scott Cochran, dean of the Mungo Center and a former executive with UPS Capital. “College is the best time to start a business. At what other time in their lives will students have the support of professors, advisers and mentors, plus the available space and resources to try?”
Cochran emphasizes that entrepreneurship is not just for students majoring in areas traditionally related to business, such as finance, economics or accounting. “The traditionally non-business majors, such as history, English, biology and foreign languages, have developed some of the most fantastic entrepreneurial ideas we’ve seen.”
Two prime examples of student entrepreneurs are Joseph McMillin, a senior psychology major and former football player who started a profitable recycling company during his sophomore year, and Grace Wallace, a senior humanities major whose stationery business provides writing materials to African students. Both businesses grew out of projects the students created for the Mungo Center programs.
Courtney Shelton, director of the Success Initiative, points out that the recent financial crisis means organizations of all types and sizes have fewer resources than before. “Employers and even graduate schools need to know that you’ve not only gotten a great education, but that you can also do things. Our students leave Wofford with a resume full of projects proving they can take an idea and make it a reality.”
McMillin, whose recycling business will become a full-time job after graduation, says, “The Mungo Center helped me develop my business by pushing me to dream big, while also helping me grow as an individual. I really believe they are responsible for helping my business, Junk Matters, reach the level of success it’s had so far.”
Wallace adds that in addition to helping her gain skills and confidence, the staff of the Mungo Center “provided me with the curriculum and tools to enhance my start-up business – WritefullyHis. Not only do I have mentors at the Mungo Center who are accessible and valuable, but I also know I can walk in any time when I have a challenge to tackle with my business.”
Regardless of the eventual success or failure of McMillin’s and Wallace’s businesses, Shelton adds, the budding entrepreneurs have valuable experience to draw upon in future ventures or as employees. “Employers are looking for the kinds of people who exhibit the entrepreneurial spirit, who are willing to take a risk, step into a breach and create a solution.”
Giving students every advantage possible in the job market was the reason behind the Mungo Center’s creation in 2010, Cochran notes, and the career services and Success Initiative programs were in place even before then. The number and quality of programs has been steadily increasing. He adds the launch of the Mungo Center, located in the college’s new Michael S. Brown Village Center, represents Wofford’s growing commitment to giving students professional skills to complement their classroom studies. “We’ve graduated from a couple of rooms to an entire wing in a beautiful new building located right next to the senior apartments.”
The larger space means increased visibility for the Mungo Center and its seven programs at a time when incoming college students put a premium on job-related reasons to go to college. A 2012 national survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California Los Angeles shows that the number of first-year students who say getting a better job is a major reason to attend college is at an all-time high of 88 percent.
“We want to show students that getting an engineering or business degree isn’t the only way to graduate with a high-paying job,” says Jennifer Dillenger, director of the Mungo Center’s career services office. “We counsel students to study what they love rather than worry their major will define their career.” She says Wofford’s approach to career services includes the tried-and-true services, such as resume assistance, mock interview preparation and providing job listings, but it also emphasizes choosing a major and career based on individual strengths and passions, partnering with students to create search strategies for jobs, internships and graduate schools and counseling them to develop skills that are translatable to any job.
Dillenger points to 2012 Wofford graduate Ellen Smith, a religion major, as an example of how liberal arts students can parlay their education into a variety of positions. Dillenger’s office worked closely with Smith to suggest internship opportunities that would provide marketable skills, and Cochran counseled Smith to turn down a lucrative job offer that was not a fit with her values. Soon after, Smith happily accepted a job as an internal consultant for IBM in New York City.
Cochran gives Smith, McMillin and Wallace full credit for their successes. “None of our programs carry course credit; it’s up to the students to come to us. These outcomes represent a significant amount of time and effort from the students.”
The launch featured 14 student-led companies, including McMillin’s and Wallace’s, competing in a business plan competition, as well as dozens of Success Initiative students demonstrating social, artistic and commercial projects in an expo-like setting.
“No other liberal arts college that I know of offers anything like the Mungo Center,” says Cochran. “Wofford is at the forefront of taking what has always been the most effective higher education philosophy and reaffirming its relevance and value for a new generation of students.”