The Cultural Adaptation of Student Services in Higher Education

May 01, 2014

By Carin Usrey

While I officially work as a university career counselor, I frequently find myself taking on the role of a marketing specialist, continually revamping outreach efforts to increase student awareness of our office’s services and drive up attendance at our campus programs and events. Regardless of how valuable, practical, and arguably necessary our office’s services might be, it is a constant struggle to convince students of our ongoing relevance and even more of a challenge to embed ourselves into the culture of a student’s college experience.

As a passionate advocate of education abroad and an avid supporter of integrating global experiences into college life, I know that global education professionals are faced with similar challenges. Offering what most universities currently value as an elective service, there is an additional barrier of persuading students to see the added value of an optional study abroad experience, not to mention the extra work of validating its financial and academic feasibility.

It is true that there are always those few students who come into college determined to study abroad. However, in order to influence the vast majority of students (i.e., everyone else), a global education professional must intercept individuals at the right time, in the right setting, and with the right opportunities in hand to convince a student to seriously consider studying abroad. With so many factors in play, it is no surprise that the percentage of U.S. college students who study abroad hovers around 1 percent.

While I, like many of you, may often daydream about the positive and far-reaching impact a universal semester-long study abroad requirement would have on the American college experience, I know such a comprehensive integration of global exchange into the American university setting lays far in the future, if its universal institutionalization is possible at all. That said, it was during such a daydream that I recognized an important, practical, and highly actionable strategy for career services and global education professionals to more effectively (and perhaps more permanently) integrate themselves into the college experience.

Just as a successful study abroad experience rides on an individual’s eventual acceptance of and adaptation to the surrounding culture in the host country, we, as student services professionals, will only successfully communicate our importance to the student population by delivering that information in a culturally sensitive way. In other words, we must challenge ourselves to assume, embody, and understand the perspectives that comprise our student bodies. It is only then that we can begin adapting our services to engage our unique surrounding environments and ultimately institute change in a lasting way.

At my university—a small, private Catholic institution outside of Washington, DC—the successful cultural adaptation of career services and global education involves a consistent personalization of information. As a consequence of our very small community, the distribution of information (regardless of how specifically relevant it might be to just one population) often involves mass e-mails and generalized advertising to all students. Given the constant influx of information such unstructured marketing habits create, our students have learned to filter for those things that apply specifically to them and disregard the rest. As such, it didn’t take long to recognize that if we were to successfully obtain and maintain the attention and interest of our students, we’d need to evolve our marketing and programming efforts to target subgroups and specific interest areas on campus.

For career services, this involves the pursuit of new efforts like replacing weekly generalized résumé workshops with tailored class presentations on topics such as “Résumés for Teachers,” live web streaming of career panel presentations so that commuter students can participate, and partnering with student organizations to host programs for their members. For global education, this consists of new concepts like “study-away” programs where students travel within the country to take part in week-long professional development opportunities as well as the introduction of short-term study abroad opportunities in specific academic subjects to engage those students who aren’t ready or financial able to travel internationally for extended periods of time or who can’t make a whole semester work with their rigid academic requirements.

By devoting more energy toward getting to know our students and then adapting our services to accommodate their interests, our offices have not only begun to engage our diverse student body more effectively, but we have also been able to convince students of our multifaceted relevance, which, in turn, has led to many more students making use of our services in general.

While this has been just one of what will certainly be many steps in the process of integrating career services and global education more permanently into our university’s culture, its success has informed the nature of our other outreach efforts in a fundamental way and gradually initiated a culture shift in the use of our services on campus.


Join Carin May 29, 2014 from 10:00 a.m.-10:45 a.m. PDT in the Career Center at the 2014 Annual Conference & Expo in San Diego.

Carin is the Assistant Director of Career Services at Marymount University in Arlington, VA where she works to empower a diverse body of undergraduate and graduate students by helping them achieve greater ownership and intentionality in their career planning. She actively advocates for global experience as a facilitator of personal and professional growth during the college experience by encouraging students to study abroad and by demonstrating opportunities to get involved internationally in the immediate community. Carin received her B.A. in Sociology from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in College Student Development and Counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University.


SHARE THIS POST