Many WPI students turn to the Career Development Center (CDC) looking for help converting a newfound academic interest into promising career options.
Of course, there isn’t one single successful career path, and the team at the CDC uses a variety of approaches to help each student articulate what is meaningful to and sustainable for them. The CDC’s individualized approach with students pays off. By December 2021, 91 percent of the members of the undergraduate class of 2021 were employed, enrolled in graduate school, serving in the military, or doing volunteer service.
“We feel strongly that to find your passion you have to experience it, and we help students first find experiences and then process those experiences,” says Amanda Laungani, director of the CDC. “Students experience a lot while they’re here at WPI—through their in-class projects, through their IQPs [Interactive Qualifying Projects] and MQPs [Major Qualifying Projects], through their internships and co-ops.”
Before COVID-19, about 90 percent of the student body used at least one of the CDC’s services every year. That number has dropped to about 80 percent in recent years, but Laungani said the fall 2022 career fair—the first in-person fair since 2019—brought in about 200 employers and 2,500 students, participation levels comparable to pre-COVID fairs.
Over the years WPI students and graduates have proven themselves to be outstanding interns and strong employees. Nationwide data shows that employers are looking for new graduates who not only have sharp technical skills but also have experience working on teams, communicating and collaborating with diverse groups, and solving problems.
“Project-based learning really lends itself to those things. Not only are our students brilliant technically, but they’re coming out with all of those essential skills. That combination makes our students super successful when they’re looking for jobs,” Laungani says. In addition, “because of WPI’s seven-week terms, our students have experience jumping right in to get things done. They move at the pace of industry and don’t require a ton of hand holding.”
That reputation no doubt benefits current and future students, especially as Generation Z begins entering the job market with workplace expectations different from those of older generations.
Laungani, who says she’s a Millennial, notes, “The big thing you heard from my generation was about work-life balance. Today, grads tell us, ‘I want to work somewhere I’m respected, somewhere I feel comfortable, and with people who are accepting of me.’”
Riky Hanlan, associate director career services assessment and inclusion, agrees. “Lately students have a lot more interest in making sure that an employer’s values align with their own values,” she says.
Data the CDC collects seems to back this up. “We’re seeing students going to more diverse companies than in the past, and a lot of those organizations are doing good things in the world,” says Laungani.
“We added a question to our First Destination survey—how we get a lot of data on where people go after commencement—about the main factors in accepting a job offer,” Hanlan says. “Some folks said they just needed a job, but a lot of them said the determining factor was the company’s culture or that the position would be good for their personal and professional growth.”
Some, no doubt, can trace that desired growth back to the time when, as WPI students working on group projects or starting internships, they felt the sparks of new passions being ignited.