Supporting the curricular and experiential programs, Maxwell and its partners at the College of Arts and Sciences are ratcheting up efforts to guide students toward the right classes and the best careers.

Special Series: Undergrads at Maxwell!
Taking stock of the Maxwell experience for those pursuing a bachelor's degree

When asked about mentors who helped guide her undergraduate career, senior Lila Nazarian replies with a lengthy list of professors and advisors—including history and political science professor Margaret Susan Thompson, Citizenship and Civic Engagement program coordinator Amy Schmidt ’14 MPA, and CCE chair Anne Mosher, also a professor of geography.

“Dr. Mosher especially has been a tremendous resource throughout my coursework,” says Nazarian. “She knows me better than most anyone else on campus.”

As she’s planned her coursework, internships, and capstone for her dual major in CCE and political science (and minor in history), Nazarian says she has also learned tremendously from fellow students. And now she is paying it forward, as the leader of a peer mentoring program that was first designed by then-student Jane Elmets ’18 CCE/IR as part of her Action Plan. “The sense of community that CCE has is a central part of its power,” says Nazarian. “So I’m honored to have a small role in shaping the mission and future of the program.”

“We can make students more aware of opportunities beyond the classroom.”

With a menu of 60 undergraduate majors across the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School, growing interest in double and triple majoring, proliferating opportunities for research and experiential learning, and heightened demand for professional skills, students are navigating a tremendous range of choices through their undergraduate years. Both A&S and Maxwell’s departments have been working in recent years to strengthen the support they offer undergraduates, through increased access to academic and career advisors, but also connections with faculty, fellow students, and alumni.

One important change is that the Office of Academic and Career Advising has been reorganized so that its advisors are aligned by academic discipline. A team of six advisors now specializes in the humanities and social sciences, and is able to provide information and guidance on much more than picking courses semester by semester and managing degree requirements.

Lila Nazarian in the Citizenship and Civic Engagement program lounge where she often conducts mentoring sessions

“We can make students more aware of opportunities beyond the classroom,” says Steve Schaffling, assistant dean for student success for Maxwell and A&S. “That might mean internships, job shadowing, immersion trips, study abroad, undergraduate research, or community service.”

Because of the introduction of direct admissions to Maxwell, these kinds of advising conversations are happening much earlier than ever, so students can take fuller advantage of the opportunities that await.

To connect with prospective students interested in the social sciences and public affairs, Maxwell’s leadership has become much more involved in recruitment and admissions. Christopher Anderson, the new director of recruiting for both the Maxwell School and A&S, collaborated with the Maxwell dean’s office this fall to present social science fairs in Strasser Commons. These events, says Anderson, “allow prospective students to interact with faculty, staff, and students from all of the undergraduate programs offered by Maxwell, which has not always been the case in the past.”

Once students enroll, they are able to continue these conversations as Maxwell majors rather than as potential majors, notes Carol Faulkner, associate dean for academic affairs. “They can get advice on where they can study abroad given their interests,” she says, “and what kinds of programs or classes would help them further develop an expertise that they can display to a graduate school or future employer. If a student wants to do both Maxwell-in-Washington and study abroad, for instance, the best way to do that is to start talking to faculty early on about how to make that happen.”

When it comes to career planning, in addition to the services of the Maxwell/A&S advising office, the international relations and CCE programs have collaborated to present an ongoing series of professional development workshops tailored to the needs of Maxwell undergraduates. Open to all students, the sessions cover such topics as résumé development, internships, financial literacy, and searching for jobs in the public sector.

The goal of these workshops is to “help students think about their future from a social science perspective, because it’s a different job search environment than for a business student or a communications student. You have to frame things differently, and it’s a different timeline,” says IR academic advisor Amy Kennedy. “The workshops help students talk about the skills they’re getting in their social science coursework, like critical reasoning and analysis, and understand how to discuss those as marketable skills.”

IR also offers a mentorship program that connects students not only with each other but with alumni. In the pilot program started this fall, freshman Leadership Scholars are paired with seniors working on distinction theses and also with alumni, according to career or academic interests; seniors are paired with alumni, too, and so serve as both mentors and mentees. Just a short time into her first semester, Leadership Scholar Muriel Fayemi reports that she’s met her student mentor in person, and her alumni mentor, who works in Washington, has invited her to tour the Pentagon. “I am sure that having these connections will help me in choosing what career path I want to take,” she says.

A Sense of Place

Maxwell has found new ways to make undergrads comfortable and well served within its walls.

Thanks to “direct admission” of freshmen—and other ways in which undergrads are increasingly engaged in the life of the School—there are simply more of them. To accommodate, the School has made changes to the physical environment that provide more shared space for Maxwell undergrads.

As of this fall, Maxwell undergraduates for the first time have 24/7 access to Maxwell and Eggers Halls and to the Eggers Café for studying and hanging out after hours. In addition to the existing undergraduate study space on the ground floor of Eggers, there’s now a spacious, bright room on the second floor designated for Maxwell undergraduates, equipped with computers, charging stations, a printer, and more.

Especially with the advent of direct admissions, says sociology professor and associate dean Andrew London, “We want the doors open to them from the first moment they arrive on campus. We want them to have a place to do the things they need to do in the building, to make sure they feel welcome and have the resources they need.”

By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

This article appeared in the fall 2019 print edition of Maxwell Perspective © Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail dlcooke@maxwell.syr.edu.