As director of the Career Center at Siena Heights University (Mich.), Melissa Growden does not help students write r?sum?s or search for jobs. Her job is much more important.
In today's world where sweatshirts and flip-flops dominate college campus couture, Growden's primary task is to train students to become professionals. And it's a tough task indeed.
Have you seen today's average college student? Growden has, and sometimes way too much for her liking.
"This morning, a student walked into class, and a back pocket was missing off his jeans," reports Growden, who also instructs a career exploration class at the private Catholic university in Adrian, Mich. "I really didn't need to see his underwear, but there it was, for God and everybody." And when a work-study student recently arrived at Growden's office in pajamas and slippers, that student was sent home to change.
"It's something that is on all campuses," says Growden of the growing epidemic of "disheveleditis."
"College casual" is one thing in class. But when students arrive at a job interview clad in everything from well-worn tennis shoes to prom dresses, it has become more than a casual concern for employers.
Like many colleges and universities, Siena Heights provides literature and lectures about proper etiquette and interview dress attire. Growden, who usually takes an "in your face" approach with students to drive home her message of proper appearance, realized a one-person campaign wasn't always effective.
So she used pop culture to her advantage. Borrowing the theme from the popular television show, this March she organized the first "Extreme Makeover: Siena Heights Edition." Siena Heights partnered with nearby Adrian Mall merchants and area business leaders to present the on-campus event.
Growden hand-picked several student models of varying body types, using a "before" and "after" fashion show-like format to contrast outfits (kind of like MTV's Real World meets the Real World). Business leaders in attendance then chimed in with their tips, including everything from grooming to the color of socks (Hint: White socks are taboo in business).
The costs of most outfits modeled was student-friendly-less than $150. Heck, that's less than the price an iPod.
Playing on the "Extreme Makeover" motif, Growden marketed the event to upperclassmen, plastering colorful posters around campus and utilizing faculty members and university-wide e-mails for publicity. Growden said a strong selling point was involving local businesspeople in the process. Mall manager Betsy Lackey offered her own observations and advice as moderator. For further enticement, $500 worth of career-related freebies like padfolios were distributed at the end.
More than 100 students, faculty, and staff attended the event, and its favorable reception has Growden already planning another one. She has also gotten calls from at least two other schools interested in organizing similar events.
Having employers in attendance was a key to reinforcing the message to students, she notes. And that message is simple: Presentation can make all the difference.
Trudy McSorley, Siena Heights' dean of students, notes that the event played into the university's mission statement of "competent, purposeful, and ethical." SHU students can now claim another attribute-professional.
"Extreme Makeover was a very significant event on our campus," McSorley points out. "Coming from our career center, which is very mission-focused, the students were well-prepared as to the importance of such an event as they transition from their lives as students to lives as professionals. Living our mission goes far beyond our walls and the time students spend with us as students."
Doug Goodnough is director of Communications, Publications, and Marketing at Siena Heights University.