The Graduate School of Education (GSE) held a workshop on Jan. 25 for people who are interested in switching to a career in education.
“Exploring Career Options: Testing the Reality of a Transition to an Education-Related Career” drew about 50 people to the Lincoln Center campus. Attendees included a pastry chef, attorney, accountant, social worker and stay-at-home mom.
They came to learn about GSE programs such as teaching, school counseling, mental health counseling, doctoral counseling psychology, professional diploma and doctoral school psychology, human resources education and masters and doctoral programs in educational leadership administration and policy.
Virginia Hartmere, a mother of three with a background in healthcare administration, attended the workshop because her youngest son will enter pre-school soon and she is considering a return to the workforce.
“The school counseling program at Fordham sounds fantastic, and I’ve always wanted a career where I am making a difference,” she said.
Melinda Smith, a pastry chef who is interested in GSE’s mental health counseling program, said that while she enjoyed her job, she wanted a more fulfilling career.
“I want to help people,” she said. “I’m at a place where I’m looking at the bigger picture as opposed to instant gratification, which is why I went to culinary school.”
Teaching and other education-related professions have traditionally attracted career changers, according to Linda Horisk, assistant dean of admissions and enrollment management at GSE. She planned the workshop after noticing an uptick in inquiries from a diverse array of prospective students.
Far from a mere information session, the event included career assessment activities, a networking exercise, a “homework” assignment participants were asked to complete beforehand, and information about New York certification and licensing requirements.
“Any career exploration involves self assessment as well as a formal assessment,” Horisk said. “It’s not just about researching careers. We tested the participants’ preferences for work environment. I set it up that way based on what I’ve heard from prospective students as well as what I have learned in my own professional development.”
Horisk, who transitioned from high school teacher to administrator and—after retiring—to a new career in higher education, often hired career changers when she was a school principal.
“I would hire former engineers to teach math and they knew how to make math meaningful. When someone teaches a geometrical concept by presenting it in the form of a traffic pattern, the students really enjoy it,” she said.
So who are traditional career changers?
Horisk, who meets potential career changers at career fairs or in her office, said they range in age from 22 years to retirees.
Often, career changers are interested in retooling, personal enrichment and professional development. Many are Baby Boomers who desire a second career. They are people in search of “jobs of the heart.”
Increasingly, many career changers are people who lost their jobs in the recession.
“I’m seeing more people from the worlds of business, public relations, entertainment, law and finance,” Horisk said.
GSE student Susan Bauer, who spent more than 20 years in the fashion industry, shared her experience of making a career transition with the workshop attendees.
“This is the career for me,” said Bauer, a mental health counseling student whose last worked as fashion director for MTV Networks. “It took a while for me to figure that out, but I’m very excited to be embarking on a new venture.”
They also heard from Jen Misthal, who was downsized in 2008 from her job as a newspaper reporter.
“Given the state of the industry, it didn’t seem like journalism was a viable career option,” Misthal said. “I had always been a voracious reader and writer, and I liked working with people. It wasn’t long before I was seriously considering teaching.”
The potential career changers also heard from Annette McLaughlin, a human resources and development professional for more than 22 years, who provides career counseling through the Office of Career Services at Fordham.
“The average person is going to work for 10 employers or more in his or her lifetime,” McLaughlin said. “A degree in education can afford you the opportunity to consult as a way to supplement your income. There is always an opportunity to teach someone. That’s how I started my own consulting company.”
In between presentations, potential career changers chatted about education requirements, family obligations and their current jobs.
“This is the greatest gift we are giving you,” Horisk told the group. “Even if you are still unsure about your next step, we allowed you some time to reflect.”