Thirty-five years after Carole W. Minor brought the Career Planning 211 course to the NIU College of Education, it continues to thrive.
Undergraduates of any major or college are welcome to take 211, where freshmen and sophomores explore careers and juniors and seniors focus on job skills.
Some are still pondering what to do. Some are in the process of changing majors. Some don’t know what jobs they can acquire with their major. All are learning who they are, what strengths they bring to the table and where they can best thrive, grow and “just be themselves.”
While seven sections of the course were available this spring, the incredible benefits of 211 were enjoyed equally by seven graduate students in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education (CAHE).
“Our 211 program provides career development and planning content to undergrads,” Chair Suzanne Degges-White says, “while being taught by master’s-level students in the Counselor Education program, providing them with their own parallel career development opportunities as they grow their skills at classroom management, helping skills and professional depth.”
Melissa Fickling, an assistant professor in CAHE, currently oversees the program that she calls “a rare opportunity” for future counselors.
“It was an amazing thing to be handed this structure. It kind of blew my mind. I know I would have done it as a counseling student, and I think everybody should,” says Fickling, who joined NIU last fall.
“Career counseling is a huge part of the counseling profession’s history for the past 100 years. A lot of our students are school counseling students, going into schools where career counseling is really valued,” she adds. “Obviously, students need career readiness. They’re going to be looking for jobs. They’re going to be contributing to the economy.”
Graduate students pursuing any specialization of counseling, including clinical mental health counseling, are strongly encouraged to teach 211. CAHE offers graduate assistantship positions to those selected to teach.
“We see them grow so much through this teaching. They start off so nervous – it takes a lot of guts – but the growth curve we see is huge. They start walking differently. They have an appreciation for what means to educate,” she says.
“In the middle of the teaching semester, they’re wondering, ‘Why did I do this to myself? It was totally voluntary!’ ” she adds. “By the end of the semester, they are very glad that they did it. Unanimously, that is what they say – and we’ve seen our master’s students get job offers and opportunities from their work in 211. Employers love that our students have this experience.”
Fickling provides the teacher-training, which began Monday for this fall’s 13 sections.
The half-day session included requisite paperwork, a wide-ranging discussion about the course itself and distribution of the textbook and a syllabus template. Students develop their own syllabi, which Fickling reviews a few times before the semester begins.
In the week before fall semester classes begin, Fickling will hold a daylong workshop with the students that includes guest speakers, practice in teaching and advice on how to work with students with special needs.
“Throughout the semester, the instructors get a ton of support from me. We meet every week as a group to process what’s going on in the classroom, to just troubleshoot or to talk about issues that come up. We do that together,” she says. “I also observe them in the classroom and give them feedback. I’m just kind of on-call as needed.”
Meanwhile, she adds, the instructors build camaraderie online through a Google Drive, a private Facebook group and group texts.
“Yes, you’re going to be your own instructor. Yes, it’s your own course,” Fickling says. “But you’re going to get a lot of support.”
A few of the instructors are nurturing a curiosity, she adds. “Some have said, ‘I think I want to teach in the future,’ ” she says. “This is an option to test the waters in a very safe and supportive way.”
Fickling has big plans for 211 herself.
“Anyone who wants to teach should be able to teach, and anyone who wants to take it should be able to take it. We’ve had to turn away undergraduates,” she says. “I want it to grow. I want to do research with it. I would love to explore offering it online or hybrid. If we could reach more people, that’s what I want to do.”
One of those students might become a college professor someday, she adds.
“I was an undecided undergraduate and a first-generation college student. I had no idea what college was about,” Fickling says. “As I got exposed to career development, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to know more about this!’ ”