Career Counselor: July-August 2003


With an ever-changing economy, employment is a big concern to Duke students—and Duke alumni. When your job is to help find them jobs, you’ve got your work cut out for you. As the director of Duke’s Career Center since January, Sheila Curran has tried to keep an innovative outlook, particularly in forging new partnerships on and off campus.

Since coming to Duke from a similar post at Brown University, Curran has been working to coordinate Duke’s Career Center—traditionally focused on undergraduates—with career offices in the professional schools. She met with Jean Eisel, the new director at the Fuqua School’s Career Management Center, to discuss strengthening links on and off campus. The result was a list of well-connected people at Duke, forty-two names in all, who could serve as resources to jobseekers.

In April, Curran and Eisel met with most of those career experts to see whether an inter-connected system could be created. “We were amazed at how much we all had in common in philosophy, and yet how much there was that needed to be worked on,” Curran says. In the end, that rather unwieldy group divided itself into subcommittees to investigate themes ranging from enlarging on internships to enhancing ties with faculty members.

Duke “is really the only place” where colleagues from all over campus have been brought together with the aim of providing resources to jobseekers, Curran says. “The idea is that no matter what type of person a company is looking for—undergrad, graduate, law, business—they can go to one place, search, and find that person.”

Curran is committed to offering advice not only to the usual targets—senior undergraduates—but also to a wider spectrum, including students and alumni of all ages. “The Career Center is not just for seniors. Potentially some freshmen are ready to start, while others are not ready until after graduation.” And potentially, alumni, depending on their own career standing, are interested in serving as a resource or tapping into the Career Center’s network. “So we have to take the opportunity to have the alumni help the students with advice, but also to help fellow alumni as well,” says Curran. Already some 5,000 alumni participate in DukeSource, an online resource for job searches.

Contributing to Curran’s wider focus is a grant from the Duke Alumni Association; the grant will fund a Career Center professional who will focus on individual counseling for alumni along with programs for alumni looking not for a first job but for a different job locally, nationally, or internationally. “It’s very important,” Curran notes, “that the Career Center realizes that alumni don’t want to be treated like students with their job search. They have different needs from students, such as spouses, kids, or previous work experience, that need to be considered.”

“ There is always, for alumni, a strong connection back to the alma mater,” says Curran. “Duke has an especially strong connection, and so aiding undergrads and their fellow alumni is a way for many who perhaps cannot donate financially to feel that they have still given something back to their school.”

Curran’s emphasis on forging new partnerships will become evident in January when the revamped Career Week is held for students. The entire week will be filled with speakers, including faculty and staff members, alumni, and employers. There will be workshops geared to helping students cope with the basics of “living in the real world,” with topics ranging from tricky landlords to the delicate balancing act between money and happiness. Some 200 alumni are expected to represent various career fields, from being a stunt double to performing surgery.

The changing reality of the job market is reflected in some of Curran’s other programming initiatives. She is, for example, putting together a wine-tasting and etiquette dinner for seniors: “It’s important to know how to handle a job interview at a fancy restaurant or just how to conduct yourself while eating. While it might not make or break the interview, it can be an added bonus to know the difference between a merlot and a cabernet.”

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