As the more than 500 members of Whitman College’s largest-ever incoming class were packing their bags, buying their books and dreaming of what college life would look like when fall arrived, they were also thinking about something else: what life could look like after Whitman.
Over the summer, each new Whittie received a call from a career coach—starting what will be an ongoing conversation. The career coaches—from Whitman’s newly named Career and Community Engagement Center—will guide their students, with the goal of helping them explore their strengths and interests, develop their skills, envision plans for the future and step onto the path to make those plans a reality.
The career coaching program is made possible in part by a $5 million gift from Nancy and Greg Serrurier to create the Serrurier Life After Whitman Endowment. The endowment aims to transform the way Whitman students prepare for their callings and careers through internships and coaching, including the Class of 2025 pilot program.
“We owe it to students to help them understand the wide range of options that are available to them,” Nancy Serrurier says. “It is an extraordinary privilege to have a Whitman education, and students deserve to have a better sense of what their Whitman experience can provide to them and to society. That’s the genesis of this project.”
Building Personal Connections
The Serrurier’s endowment gift caps Nancy’s 13 years of service to Whitman’s Board of Trustees, including three years as chair. In 2017, the board identified key initiatives they believed the college would need to continue to progress as a leader in higher education.
“One of them was to fully embrace the notion that we can, and should, intentionally help our students to live productive and successful lives of meaning after college,” Nancy says.
The college has developed an intentional, personal approach to fulfill this goal. Nancy hopes these right-from-the-start connections help new Whitties develop trusting relationships with their career coaches that complement the support they receive from their professors and advisors.
The Serrurier endowment will help fund additional career development staff, helping ensure coaches have the time to create connections with all their students.
Career coach Susan Prudente says the program’s targeted nature will allow first-year students to find a greater sense of belonging. After meeting with students virtually over the summer, she’s enjoyed seeing them in person on campus.
“My hands-down favorite part of being a coach is meeting these intellectually strong, passionate, interesting and unique individuals and welcoming them to Whitman,” Prudente says. “We’ve already had a jumpstart to a relationship, and I have earned the right to invite them into a robust and life-giving four years at Whitman.”
One of Prudente’s students already feels optimistic about and grateful for the opportunity. “So far, the coaching program at Whitman has been exactly what I hoped for … another way that makes Whitman a personal experience,” says Kavita Getchell, a first-year student from Bellevue, Washington. “I feel really lucky to have a career coach who I feel comfortable with because I know it will help me find my right path at Whitman and beyond.”
Guiding the Way
Every student arrives at Whitman with different ideas about the future and at different stages of understanding how they might reach their goals, says Kim Rolfe, director for career development in the Career and Community Engagement Center.
Career coaching allows students to gain an earlier understanding of the resources and experiences available to them. These might include coursework, internships, mentor relationships, extracurricular activities, and professional and civic engagement.
This deliberate guidance and the one-on-one approach means every student benefits in a meaningful way, Rolfe says.
“Every student will be able to access this information, and not just at their will, but because we are sharing it with them very directly,” Rolfe says. “This can be part of how we are contributing to making Whitman a place where everyone is included and there is a clear level of equity.”
Noah Leavitt, director of the center, says he and Rolfe have gotten to know hundreds of Whitman alumni who are successful in myriad industries and professions all over the globe. They want all students to see how they could go in the same or new directions, but it takes planning and preparation.
“It’s not random,” Leavitt says. “It comes with that methodical, deliberate approach, which the coaching initiative is going to help make possible moving forward.”
Alumni and Whitman supporters can play a role in the initiative’s success by sharing their expertise and insight.
“I’d love to extend an invitation to anyone who’s interested in helping us prepare our students for what we know is an ever-evolving professional space,” Rolfe says.
Making Lasting Change
The Serruriers’ gift was inspired in part by Nancy’s college experience, as well as her son’s, a Whitman alum.
As a junior at Brown University, Nancy was looking for a change of pace and spotted a flyer about a state internship program. She was assigned to the Rhode Island Senate minority leader, a dynamic woman who empowered Nancy to take the lead in a debate about legalizing generic medications.
The internship opened a cascade of opportunities that led to Nancy’s career in politics, education and philanthropy.
“It was a mind-opening and career-making experience,” she says.
The couple’s son, Ben Serrurier, attended Whitman, graduating in 2011 and entering a career in climate advocacy. Nancy says Ben knew what he wanted to do throughout his time at Whitman, and the college’s programs and positive culture enabled him to achieve his goals.
When Ben was in high school, his school counselor asked him where he wanted to go. He responded that he wanted a place with “no sharp elbows.”
“The first word out of his counselor’s mouth was Whitman, and it was completely true,” Nancy says. “People are competitive, but they’re not competitive in a way which erodes other people, and that remains true. It’s true of alumni; it’s true of who is attracted to go to Whitman College.”
This ethos drew Nancy to join the Board of Trustees soon after Ben started college. Now, the Serrurier Endowment provides a path for every student to discover a transformative experience like Nancy’s and a supportive community like Ben’s
“Greg and I are able to make this gift to support a top priority of the college and truly make lasting, meaningful change for the benefit of students. There’s great joy in the whole cycle of being philanthropic,” Nancy says. “I really love Whitman, and I love all it can be. I want it to thrive going forward, and I hope this is one of many important pieces to that.”