The SoACE Conference Moment That Woke Me Up

During the final day of the SoACE Conference in Fort Lauderdale, I remember feeling tired and ready to relax. As a member of the conference committee, I had numerous duties and responsibilities, and frankly had hit my wall. As I reviewed the last set of sessions for the day, I seriously considered heading to my room to catch-up on sleep.  As I took one last look at the session offerings, I noticed that my neighboring colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts Careers Services Office were presenting “Rainbow Road: Paving the Way for LBGTQIA+ Student Success.” As an openly gay man for my entire professional career in career services, I mistakenly thought I knew this topic well.  Despite my fatigue and misplaced confidence of knowledge on this topic, I decided to attend and see if I could learn something new.

By the second slide of their presentation, I realized there was so much I did not know and how I missed the opportunity to push for professional education on this topic in my own office.  My biggest takeaways were:

  • The importance of personal pronouns and the number of pronouns I did not know.
  • Many individuals are not fully aware that sexual orientation and gender identity are separate terms, and separate challenges, with different meanings.
  • Published advice on “dressing for success” on career services department websites and social media platforms may inadvertently exclude students that do not identify exclusively as a male or female.
  • The fact many of our colleagues, despite their careful and helpful intentions, are still struggling to assist students that identify as LBGTQIA+ through the job and internship search process. Many staff in non-urban and non-diverse cities may struggle because they have limited access to resources on assisting students that identify as LBGTQIA+.
  • Many assume that LBGTQIA+ individuals are protected by federal law from workplace discrimination because of recent Supreme Court decisions and executive orders by the previous presidential administration.  When in fact, these actions only prohibited discrimination for these populations at federal government agencies and businesses that contract with the federal government.
  • For most attendees, this session was not nearly long enough to address all of the content in their prepared presentation slides nor to adequately respond to the number of follow-up questions that were asked.

As I walked out of that session, I realized we all have knowledge on a number of issues related to diversity that we need not keep to ourselves.  If you have valuable insight and knowledge in any area of diversity, I strongly encourage you to submit a proposal to present at the 2017 Conference, author a blog, or join a Diversity & Inclusion Committee.  As members of a diverse and supportive community such as SoACE, we have a great opportunity to share our differing perspectives and learn from each other so we are better equipped to guide our students.  


Andrew Harper is the Manager of Employer Relations in Career and Professional Development at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.  Andrew serves as programs chair for the 2017 SoACE Conference and represents Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas on the Cooperative Education & Internship Association (CEIA) Board of Directors.  He also previously served as president of the Texas Cooperative Education & Internship Association (TxCEIA). You can connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Reflections from our 5th President: Toni McLawhorn


While it’s hard to believe that SoACE will soon celebrate its tenth anniversary, it also seems like eons ago that the merger process began for SACE and SWACE.  But the memories of the relationships that were forged during that important process and the years that have followed are as clear today as when they began.

One of the first memories from my leadership years in a regional association began when Patsy Hammett (now retired from Milliken) called to ask if I’d consider serving as Professional Development Director for SACE.  Her words still ring in my head, just like it was yesterday……..”It’s not much work.  It won’t be hard,” were her exact words to me.  Patsy and I laughed about that almost every time I saw her thereafter…..and thus was born one of my first new regional association friendships.

The merger work was intensive but a great learning experience, and it was then that I met and got to know great people like Matt Berndt, Norma Guerra-Gaier, and Jay Killough – great colleagues who became better friends.  Together, with all of the other merger team members I had already known from SACE including Karen Thompson and Donnie Brown, we birthed the great organization of SoACE and began a new journey.

As I moved through the leadership roles with SoACE, one of the very challenging times was when the organization decided to conduct a search for an association management firm.  Being part of the team responsible for vetting those candidates and selecting that critical piece of the SoACE heritage was exciting, but a little daunting at the same time, but one I certainly will always remember.  Working in a leadership team with Norma Guerra-Gaier as past president, Eric Pearson as president, and me as president elect of the organization, was an experience I will never forget.  We became more of a family working together to accomplish a goal for the organization.

Another memory from my year as president comes from another very dear friend, Tim Harding.  It became a fairly regular occurrence for Tim to say to me, “I have an idea…….,” from which would come many great new or improved initiatives for SoACE or our profession.  That still makes me smile, and in fact, just last night I used that phrase with a friend, and when I did, a smile came across my face, thinking of Tim.

Every new year brings about more opportunity with SoACE.  I think it says a lot when, as I prepare to attend the conference each year, I get so excited about the opportunity to spend a week with my good friends and colleagues, and look forward to the learning that will take place, but also the fun we will have.   I continue to be an active part of this organization as a past president because I believe strongly in its mission and want to be a part of the work that takes place.  I look forward to the next way in which I can serve this great organization.  I would encourage each and every member of SoACE to make the most of your time in the organization.  Get involved.  Really get to know the people in the organization.  It will be one of your most rewarding experiences!

So CHEERS to the first TEN years of SoACE, and a TOAST to the next decade and beyond!


Recap: Majors and Career Selection Anxiety in Students: How Can We Help them?

Doug Meyn, M.Ed., Career Consultant to the Muma College of Business, and Jean Keelan, M.S. NCC, Director of Career Planning, from University of South Florida presented findings from a study on how visiting the career center affected student anxiety levels, as well as tools that can be utilized to help alleviate anxiety in students. This re-cap is by Jen Harlan, Career & Internship Advisor at Kennesaw State University,

Doug Meyn kicked off the presentation into this important topic with an anecdote about a student situation that those of us in the advising field are likely familiar with: a student came in to his office anxious about his future. The student told Mr. Meyn that he wanted to become a doctor, but he was anxious about taking the MCAT. From there, he started to spiral – not only was he anxious about taking the MCAT, he was anxious about how he’d do on the MCAT, then he was worried about if he’d even like being a doctor, and so on. He wasn’t certain about his choices, and, as Mr. Meyn puts it, he was “stuck in neutral” and unsure about what to do next.

Stories like these are familiar for a reason. The Spring 2016 American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment found that 17% of student respondents had been treated for anxiety, 14% for depression, and almost 11% for both conditions in the last year. This same study found that over 25% of respondents reported “career-related issues” as traumatic or difficult to handle.

To help put the student back in gear and to speak to his analytical leanings, Mr. Meyn came up with a formula: a + i = a3, or if we are anxious and add inaction then it triples our anxiety. Additionally, he came up with a solution: a + (kpA) = a/2, or if we take anxiety, add knowledge, power, and action, then we cut our anxiety in half. While this interaction eventually led to the study undertaken, the formulas Mr. Meyn created paint a decent picture of what we try to do as advisors; we try to fill in the essential variables of the equation, i.e. knowledge, power, and action, so as to cut a student’s anxiety in half.

The University of South Florida study corroborated this sentiment. Undergrad first-time users of career services seeking assistance with any topic were surveyed through pre-appointment and post-appointment questionnaires. The six questions included in each of these surveys were essentially identical, utilized the Speilberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and were chosen to get a read on the level of the student’s anxiety prior to and after the appointment. Additionally, students were asked to rank resources by most effective to least effective by level of helpfulness for them individually.

Based on the results, 69% fewer students identified with “anxious”-related statements–such as “I am tense,” “I feel upset,” “I am worried”— after their appointment. There was an additional significant decrease in the number of students who did not identify with “at peace”-related statements—such as “I feel calm,” “I am relaxed,” “I feel content” — between their pre- and post- appointment questionnaire. Eighteen percent more students identified with “at peace”-related statements after their appointment. Perhaps most striking, 87% of respondents reported “increased confidence” after their appointment at the USF career center. Students ranked the following as some of the most helpful resources gained from their meeting:

  • Gained information about the job search
  • Learned about resources available to help me
  • Identified a plan to develop career direction
  • Learned new tools I can apply

Mr. Meyn offered several key takeaways from this research, such as developing a plan with students who are anxious, identifying their needs and concerns, utilizing next step concept and messaging, and recommending beneficial resources.

Jean Keelan, in the second half of the presentation, offered further strategies for decreasing anxiety in students when dealing specifically with major selection, based on a presentation she completed for a group of students at USF. Ms. Keelan utilized five areas for structuring this presentation: statistics about major selection, the Systems Theory Framework of Career Development, an activity to measure self- and workplace knowledge, information about decision making and personality types, and, finally, next steps for students in the presentation.

The statistics utilized offered a “you’re not alone” approach; for example, from the National Center for Education Statistics, Ms. Keelan shared that about 80% of students in the U.S. end up changing their major at least once. The Systems Theory Framework of Career Development approach further added the role which chance plays in an individual’s career path. Ms. Keelan led the student’s through the activity of filling out a knowledge wheel, essentially ranking considerations in their major selection process, such as experiences, personality, chance, abilities, etc., from those the student is most knowledgeable of and least. Finally, students were led through considering how their own personality type could impact the decision-making process when selecting a major.

By providing all of this information, Ms. Keelan was able to set the students up to take the next step in their own individual major selection decision-making process. Her presentation provided a different message for different types of students represented in the room, and allowed them all to gain some sort of lead toward continuing in their decision-making process.

These two studies offer important practices in working with students who are anxious about big decisions coming up. Taking note of the best practices and recommendations based on these studies can provide professionals in the advising field a better platform and a larger tool belt for working with students in this situation.

A copy of the presentation can be accessed under the SoACE Membership portal.