In May, Cherena Walker will begin work as Occidental’s first associate vice president and executive director for Career Services, Dean of the College Jorge Gonzalez announced in a campuswide email March 28.
The position will be mostly “external facing,” Director of Career Services Valerie Savior said. Rather than regularly meeting with students to provide career counseling, Walker will pursue relationships with employers and alumni, which will also allow Savior to focus on her career counseling services and educational programming.
“I think the impact [of this position] will be profound but indirect,” Savior said. “If she’s sourcing more employment leads, if she’s meeting more donors who are willing to give money to fund internships, [students are] going to be the beneficiary of all these resources.”
Nonetheless, both Walker and Savior acknowledged that the new associate vice president must get to know students so that she can successfully tailor her work to meet their needs. Walker said her first priority will be meeting with students to learn about their career aspirations, as well as implementing a student outreach and engagement initiative to familiarize all students with the work of Career Services. Of the three offices housed within the Hameetman Career Center (HCC) — Career Services, the Office of National Awards and Pre-Health Advising — Walker will only oversee the department of Career Services.
The creation of the position represents a commitment of institutional resources to creating a robust and competitive career center, Gonzalez said. Such commitment is also visible in the recent construction of the HCC and the expansion of Career Services staff, he added.
“The impetus [for creating the position] is that we want to create one of the best career centers at any liberal arts school in the country,” Gonzalez said. “We believe that our students deserve that, and it’s very important to provide guidance — and guidance that does not start in the spring semester of your senior year, but guidance that starts when you are a first-year student, so that you develop a profile that makes you very competitive, whether you want to be applying to fellowships, scholarships or jobs.”
The expansion of and investment in career centers among liberal arts colleges — which have faced pressure since the Great Recession to prove their value to prospective students and their families — is a trend throughout the country, both Gonzalez and Savior said. With the pressure to prove that liberal arts graduates can secure jobs in mind, the search committee found Walker an attractive candidate because of her experience in both a college career center and the private sector.
Before coming to Occidental, Walker was the director of career services for mid-career programs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Prior to joining the Woodrow Wilson School’s career center, Walker worked in the human resources department at Coach, Inc. and ran her own retained executive search firm. In this role, Walker connected people with careers at companies such as L’Oreal, Lancome and Ann Taylor and helped high school students get into college and undergraduate students into graduate school or to find jobs.
“At this point in my career, I wanted to share all of the knowledge I gained from my experiences in human resources, compensation, recruitment, career development and career coaching with bright, energetic students who were ready to launch their careers,” Walker said via email of her transition from talent acquisition to college career counseling.
She became familiar with Occidental when Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, and she continued to learn more about the college throughout her time at Princeton. For Walker, the associate vice president position here is exactly the type of position she would like to have long term.
“Oxy is widely regarded as one of the leading small liberal arts colleges in the country, and I was inspired by the prospect of working with an excellent career center team,” Walker said via email.