NBN sat down with Mark Presnell, executive director of University Career Services. Presnell, who began his time at Northwestern on Oct. 1, talked about the advantages of the quarter system and why seniors should take a deep breath as they start searching for jobs.
How has your first week and transition to Evanston been?
It’s been an exciting, fun time. I started a week ago. It’s been an opportunity to meet some really great individuals, students, staff. I’ve begun to get to know the Northwestern community. It didn’t hurt that I came during the biggest game in Northwestern football history. Seeing the school spirit and energy was amazing. That happens every week, right?
You previously worked at Johns Hopkins University, a very rigorous school. You’re now at another rigorous school. Does that give you an advantage or distinct point of view coming to Northwestern?
These are both institutions where academic rigor and excellence is very, very important. Obviously, one’s quarter school, the other a semester school, but regardless, the students at these institutions work really hard to be successful. That gives me an advantage coming in to understand the different demands students have of Career Services—finding ways we can get students energized and interested about Career Services while they continue to excel academically. It’s important to do both, but I understand when it is as rigorous as Northwestern is, and as Hopkins is, it can be a challenge.
You mentioned the comparison between schools on quarters and semesters. What is the biggest difference between the two?
For me, having some time in September to prepare students for their career search is something I’ve never had before. There are some real advantages. In terms of typical spring events, they can occur during Winter Quarter. Career fairs, recruiting, can begin very early on a campus like Northwestern. At a place like Hopkins, we didn’t have spring recruiting until after Feb. 1.
What are you most looking forward to at Northwestern?
I really enjoy getting to know students and working with them. In this role I probably won’t see as many students as I did in my previous role, but I still want to be actively involved and listening to students’ needs. I’m also eager to get to know alumni. I think we can have tremendous programs that connect students and alumni. We will develop those over time, but I think that is a piece of the process that students really crave. We know alums can do two things well – educate students and make connections. How do we actively bring in alums to show students different career possibilities? That’s what we are looking for.
What is the most important thing you would tell those sleep-deprived, stressed out seniors who come into career services?
The first thing I would do is normalize that feeling. Lots of students are anxious about where they’re going. On some level, if you’re not a little anxious, I’m a little concerned. These are big decisions with an impact on what life will be like after you graduate. At the end of the day, most Northwestern students, 6 months after graduation are successful. We need to do a better job as University Career Services of collecting and publicizing that data so we can slide that in front of students. They also need to know there are always options and alternatives. While I want all students to get their first choice, we need to see if their first is really a good first choice, versus what you think your first choice should be. Start early. You have many more options if you are engaged in the process from early in your college career.