Innovating to help students transition to the workplace

ASU leaders share insights on how to prepare graduates for success post-graduation

April 17, 2018

Editor's note: Read more of the highlights from the ASU + GSV Summit on our blog.

Arizona State University has changed its role in preparing graduates for the workforce beyond the traditional work of a career services office. At the ASU + GSV Summit, ASU leaders discussed how they positioned the university at the forefront of workforce transition innovations. Panel discussion at ASU GSV Summit Grace O'Sullivan, ASU assistant vice president for corporate engagement and strategic partnerships (right), talks with fellow panelist Nicole Taylor, deputy vice president and dean of students at ASU, during the "Workforce Transition Innovations — Reimagining Career Services" event at the ASU+GSV Summit 2018 in San Diego on Tuesday. Also on the panel was Paul LePore, associate dean in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Cindy Parnell, executive director of Career and Professional Development Services at ASU, was the moderator. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now Download Full Image

Cindy Parnell, executive director, career and professional development services: In the last decade, career services has undergone steep disruption around the return on investment of a college degree. The old model of career centers being a physical place where a student has to walk through the doors to receive services and support typically from a master’s level professional in one hour is long gone. Now career services is starting to integrate across the ecosystem to foster those career-readiness skills. We call it more of a presence than a place.

Nicole Taylor, deputy vice president and dean of students: In 1980, 80 percent of the undergraduate pop was white. At ASU 50 percent of our first-time students right now are not white. That’s the given. As we think about how we’re educating, if we start at that alone, it changes the game. Our institutions are structured in a way that catered to students in the 1980s.

The helicopter parent isn’t going away. I have more parents who reach out to me than students. It’s a given. We have to deal with parents and family members as well as students.

The other is coping skills. The transition to postsecondary education is dramatic anyway. It is hyper-dramatic for our current college students. We have seen a 92 percent increase in counseling appointments over five years ago. Then you add things like DACA. That all changes how we’re preparing this generation of students for work.

We’ve taken an approach at ASU that all of the preparation doesn’t happen in career services. It happens in the colleges, the counseling center, anyone who is student-facing takes the responsibility across the university.

Grace O’Sullivan, assistant vice president, corporate engagement and strategic partnerships: Our industry participants aren’t just at the end of the pipeline catching talent. They come along for the entire journey. We’re engaged from site selection to talent, upscaling their current workforce to philanthropy. We say, "What do you need? What’s missing from our curriculum? Join our dean’s council. Teach a class. Help us build the skills. We need you to keep us relevant."

This model we’re launching is called practice labs. Think of this as problem-based learning where you’re in an environment where you can test the skills. One of our partners, Starbucks, has a technology center practice lab. They hired full-time employees to be embedded with us on campus. For them the internship is an interview.

Paul LePore, associate dean, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences: It’s probably not a shock that the question I get from a lot of parents is, "What will my son or daughter do with this degree?"

We need to be thinking of career readiness not as an evil intrusion into the arts and sciences. We need to have career readiness as part of the undergraduate experience. We also need to curate the experience on the employer side.

We didn’t want to call it a career center so we are creating a “future center.” Many of our students go to grad school. They go to professional training. We need to work carefully with a company so they feel the partnership is two-sided. I have students, I have families, I have faculty, I have alumni, I have business partners in the community, and they all have a role in this. 

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter, ASU News


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ASU English prof to plumb lives of literary sisters with Guggenheim Fellowship

ASU's Devoney Looser is sole English lit recipient of '18 Guggenheim Fellowship.
April 17, 2018

Devoney Looser to explore how Porter sisters navigated personal and professional life

Update: The National Endowment for the Humanities named ASU English Professor Devoney Looser a Public Scholar on Aug. 8, an honor that will provide $60,000 in funding to support her writing of the book detailed in this story.

In March the New York Times introduced a project called “Overlooked,” in which influential women whose lives and achievements had been neglected in the past were given recognition with a long-overdue obituary. Some of the names that had fallen by the wayside were shocking: Sylvia Plath, Diane Arbus, Ida B. Wells. 

In an endeavor of a similar spirit, ASU English Professor Devoney Looser has been studying the early 19th-century literary sisters Jane and Anna MariaThere has been some debate as to the pronunciation of Anna Maria’s name. Looser believes it was pronounced /məˈraɪə/ (as in Mariah Carey) because of a poem she came across at the University of Kansas Spencer Library that rhymed “Anna Maria” with “fire.” Porter for more than a decade. Now that Looser has been named a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow, she’ll be funneling those years of research into a book on the sisters, which will explore their contributions to literature as well as their remarkable personal lives.

Like many of the women featured in “Overlooked,” the Porter sisters were well-known during their lifetimes, and their work received both critical and popular acclaim. But in the years that passed since their deaths in the mid-1800s, they were largely disregarded.

“I’m not bringing back two writers who were obscure,” Looser said, “but two writers who were accomplished, famous and were recognized. And we’ve just forgotten them.”

The Porter sisters began their writing careers in the early 1800s, around the same time as Jane Austen (another subject of preoccupation for Looser). Unlike Austen, whose stories were set in then-modern times, the Porters were charting new territory in what would become known as the historical novel.

One critic referred to Jane Porter’s bestselling novel “Thaddeus of Warsaw” as “the ‘Gone with the Wind’ of 1803.”

“Jane Porter brought together romance with real history and shaped it into a new kind of story,” Looser said. “She called it a new species of writing, and I don’t think that she’s entirely self-aggrandizing in saying so. She was doing something that was new, and it really struck a chord with the reading public.”

Combined, the sisters published about 26 books — most of them were Anna Maria’s, but Jane’s sold better. Interestingly, Jane was also the more serious of the two sisters, and her novels reflected that in their morally didactic nature and perfect, Christian heroes.   

“She could be a battle axe,” Looser said. “But I feel sympathy toward it even when I don’t have the same point of view that she was expressing because I see that she was really backed into a corner in her life circumstances, being the one who had to be responsible.”

Looser first became interested in the Porter sisters because of the sheer volume of personal, unpublished letters that have survived — thousands, whereas we know of only 161 of Jane Austen’s — detailing both the joys and struggles of their daily lives. Often those struggles were financial, thanks in large part to the misadventures of their roguish brothers.

While the Porter sisters made a respectable income from their writing, constantly bailing their brothers out of debt left them rather destitute. In one letter to her sister Anna Maria, Jane said, “The world believes us wealthy but we don’t know where our next two pounds are coming from.”

That was a fact they worked hard to keep from those in their social circle, even moving from London to the less cosmopolitan Surrey to avoid the embarrassment of not having food or drink to offer guests.

And though Jane’s novels sold well in the U.S., copyright laws were such that American publishers weren’t required to pay her any of the proceeds. Perhaps out of guilt, they banded together and bought her a large, ornate chair as a gift, shipping it across the Atlantic, where, by that time, she had no home of her own to put it in.

The letters also reveal how the sisters negotiated the marriage marketplace. While Looser applauds them as “pioneering career women,” the risks they took in their professional lives didn’t always benefit their personal lives.

“They were trying to figure out how to make a living as single women in public life when being a woman in public life was really risqué and not necessarily seen as polite for women of their class,” she said. “So they were doing things to put their words out there and their identities out there that weren’t appreciated, particularly by men.”

Neither sister married, though they both had their fair share of romantic intrigues. Jane fell in love with a military hero, Sir Sidney Smith, who ended up marrying a widow, much to her devastation. Anna Maria made it as far as a secret engagement but that, too, fell through.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Looser has spent countless hours poring over their letters to each other, deciphering their flowing cursive and becoming lost in “the very colorful and sometimes painful” details. Though she doesn’t have a sister herself, she found reading how they supported each other and helped one another navigate family conflict while balancing personal and professional life was “moving and illuminating.”

After their deaths — Anna Maria in 1832 and Jane in 1850 — the Porter sisters’ work maintained popularity for some time, before tapering off in the early to mid-20th century. Looser described a comic book adaptation of Jane’s most well-known novel “The Scottish Chiefs” in the 1950s as her “last gasp of fame.”

“They had popular interest, and then their literature increasingly became associated with children’s literature. Once that happens, that’s like the kiss of death,” Looser said.

There are different theories as to why the sisters faded into obscurity while contemporaries like Jane Austen still boast a robust fan base. One involves Sir Walter Scott, a fellow historical novelist whose rise to literary fame eclipsed many of the women who came before him. Another has to do with literary tastes.

“The Porters' works spoke to the fashions and tastes of their own time in a way that really hasn’t survived,” Looser explained. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a closer look.

“I think history has a lot to explain to us about who we’ve become. The history of literature, of women’s rights, all of these things. If we don’t know why we’ve ended up where we’ve ended up, and the ups and downs in the years in between, we’re not going to make the best informed decisions [in the future].

“You could say we should study them because they were writing beautiful, moving things. And that is true. But I think we should also study them because they tell us who we as a people were as well as who we have become, in ways that are sometimes ugly as well as beautiful.”

Looser’s Guggenheim Fellowship lasts through calendar year 2019, at which time she hopes to publish her book on the Porter sisters, tentatively titled “Sister Novelists Before the Brontës: The Misses Porter, Fame, and Misfortune in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain.”

In the meantime, she’ll be giving a series of Jane Austen lectures over the next month to support her book “The Making of Jane Austen,” which Publisher’s Weekly named a top 10 pick in Essays and Literary Criticism for spring 2017. For event updates and info, follow Professor Looser on Twitter

And she still skates, though nowadays just for fun.

Top photo: ASU Professor Devoney Looser is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and will work on research and writing about 19th-century female writers Jane and Anna Maria Porter. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now