A Career Exploration Model for Connecting with Underserved Students

By Sylvia Withers

College environments can either foster strong relationships with faculty and staff or hinder students’ connections. Positive relationships “encourage integration, a sense of comfort on campus, and connectedness to college” (Karp, 2016 p. 34). Unfortunately, advisors' daily tasks (e.g., answering general advising questions, making schedule changes, helping with registration, etc.), often do not permit them to address students’ career needs. Gallup (2017) reported that only 39% of students explore majors with their advisors.

This is problematic, especially for first-generation students and racial or ethnic minorities who often find the environment unwelcoming (Terenzini, 1996). A positive relationship could reverse this loss of connection. For example, Tovar (2015) found that discussing career goals with instructors was related to higher self-reported GPA’s for Latino students. For many such students, the idea of choosing majors during their first term is daunting, especially for those who have supportive family at home who are unfamiliar with the college environment and its resources.

With enrollment consisting of 42% first-generation students and 49% Hispanic students, staff at Columbia Basin College (CBC) designed an intentionally inclusive environment for under-served students. Given faculty and staff’s ability to influence students’ persistence, close mentoring and monitoring surfaced as a best practice. Mentoring was defined as early and ongoing contact with a career practitioner who also served as a professor in the program. This permitted the individual to integrate career exploration with academic advising.

Launching the Program


To generate student interest in the mentoring program, staff collaborated with the Social Science Department and presented the optional program to students enrolled in social science courses. Some professors modified assignments to motivate students to enroll, while others provided extra credit. This collective effort resulted in 50 mentees who were from diverse backgrounds, including Latinos and first-generation students. Participation was voluntary.

Frequency of Contact

As a part of the program, all 50 students were required to participate in both online check-ins and face-to-face appointments. This mandatory mentoring was initially required to infuse strong relationship-building into the program. Thereafter, their individual needs and understanding of the career exploration process determined the frequency of their mentoring.

The mentor followed up with all students at the end of each term. Early academic recovery interventions were implemented to promote academic achievement. The mentor also engaged students with a low degree of decidedness in early exploration and self-assessment.


At the point of entry into the program, students completed the MBTI/Strong (Myers Briggs Type Indicator/ Strong Interest Inventory) and Dependable Strengths. This advanced students' understanding of their personality, skills, strengths, and values. It also deepened relationships between the mentor and mentees. Students also completed a pre-and post-questionnaire for evaluative purposes.

Continuing the Program throughout the Academic Year

By students’ third and fourth appointments, they initiated an open dialogue about their career concerns and were more engaged as the result of the mentoring conversations. Students would share, for example, “I reviewed the transfer equivalency guide” or “…I understand career options” or “I looked at program pre-requisites”.

Students’ comfort level with the program and the mentor contributed to a deeper dialogue beyond career exploration, which affected their college success. Students who openly discussed their personal struggles and received guidance were able to focus on their academics instead of their obstacles. Those who were first-generation students agonized over making career decisions because of uncertainty and lack of conversational dialogue with someone at home. This was not to say that their support system did not value education or encourage them to continue, but rather they did not have someone at home with whom to discuss career options. Students' self-disclosure was evidence of the program’s effectiveness.

Program Evaluation

Students were required to commit to the program for four quarters. Throughout the quarter and at the completion of each subsequent one, students’ progress and grade point averages were tracked. Struggling students were contacted to determine a plan for how to succeed the following quarter. For example, after careful consideration of students’ life circumstances, some decided to attend college part-time instead of. full-time which increased their ability to pass their classes and continue on.

The results from the pre-post survey also indicated that the most significant benefit of the program according to students was being able “talk to someone about [their] worries concerning a career and receiving advice.” Students valued a deeper level of connection.

In closing, the career-mentoring program prospers at CBC in assisting Latinos and first-generation students. By working with students on a deeper level, challenges were resolved and decision-making confidence increased. If colleges do not make every effort to create an environment which fosters relationship building or mentoring, the retention of students is potentially diminished. The nonacademic, transformational experiences of students at CBC are addressed in the career-mentoring program which fosters student persistence.


References and Additional Resources

Crisp, G. (2010). The impact of mentoring on the success of community college students. The Review of Higher Education, 34(1), 39–60.

Gallup. (2017). 2017 college student survey: A nationally representative survey of currently enrolled students. Retrieved from http://news.gallup.com/reports/225161/2017-strada-gallup-college-student-survey.aspx

Grutter, J. (2007) MBTI [Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Strong Interest Inventory assessment]. Tahoe, CA. CPP Inc.

Haldane, B. (2009). DS [Dependable strengths articulation process]. Olympia, WA. Center for Dependable Strengths.

Karp, M. (2016). A holistic conception for nonacademic support: How four mechanism combine to encourage positive student outcomes in the community college. Retrieved from: www.wileyonlinelibrary.com

University of Mexico (2019). The mentoring institute. Retrieved from: https://mentor.unm.edu/mentoring-tips

Terenzini, P. (1996). First-generation college student: characteristics, experiences and cognitive development. Research in Higher Education, 37(1),1-22.

Tovar, E. (2015). The role of faculty, counselors and support programs on Latino/a community college students’ success and intent to persist. Community College Review, 43(1), 46-71.


Sylvia WithersSylvia Withers, M.S.W., is a Senior Associate Professor and Counselor at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, WA. She teaches numerous courses in the Counseling and Advising department including a career exploration course and is the creator of the Career Mentoring Program. Ms. Withers serves on numerous CBC committees, projects and oversees the Former Foster Student Program. She may be reached at swithers@columbiabasin.edu.


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