Marcia Layton Turner
Moravian College

For many people, college is a stepping stone to life in the real world, but Moravian College in Pennsylvania heard from its students that they wanted to be even more prepared at graduation. So the college’s Center for Career and Civic Engagement developed Backpack to Briefcase to better prepare juniors and seniors for post-graduation life.

The two-day interactive seminar held at the end of winter break brings together up to 100 students to learn more about life after graduation. Students are permitted to return to campus early, at no cost, and can choose from a wide variety of workshops that best meet their needs, says Amy Saul, associate dean of career and civic engagement.

The sessions start on Friday afternoon and include résumé critiques and individual mock interviews with industry professionals, followed by a dinnertime lesson on table etiquette and a fashion show featuring professional attire.

On Saturday, participants can choose to learn from industry experts in tracks of 30- to 50-minute conference-style sessions on topics such as graduate school, the internship search and negotiating.

About 25 people—including staff from the Center for Career and Civic Engagement—plan and run the workshops. Their efforts are supplemented with volunteer support from as many as 75 alumni, who are thrilled to be invited back, says Saul. No alum who can make it work schedule-wise has turned down the opportunity to come back and share their expertise, she adds.

To connect with alumni who might be willing to be part of the program, Saul and her team search the Moravian alumni database and LinkedIn for candidates. Sometimes they reach out to specific people or put a call out on LinkedIn looking for graduates with particular expertise, Saul says. “But it’s never mass emails, always individual contact.”

Graduates continue to support Moravian students even after the two-day workshop. “Relationships develop between students and alums after the program,” says Saul.

Thanks to sponsors and alumni volunteers, the program is budget-neutral—yet the results are high-impact. Within a year of graduation, 90 percent of participants find a job or start graduate school and 97 percent say they would recommend the program to others.

Into the future

  • Building on the success of Backpack to Briefcase, Moravian’s Center for Career and Civic Engagement is launching a sister program for first- and second-year students, named Career Success Foundations.
  • The program features a one-day session to help younger students better understand the resources available to them on campus. Already, 80 students have registered.