Skip To Main Content

Browse Issues

Issue 1
Winter 2024
Issue 2
Summer 2023
Issue 1
Winter 2023
Issue 2
Fall 2022

Browse Categories

Your Career Coach

“It’s OK to wander into things and try them out,” says Katharine “Kate” Stroup Brooks ’72, in describing how students can approach decisions surrounding choosing a career. 

In fact, she recommends it.

A nationally recognized board-certified career counselor and coach who has helped college students and adults find meaningful careers for more than 35 years, Brooks developed the “Wise Wanderings” career-coaching system for liberal-arts students. Her book, You Majored in What? Designing Your Path from College to Career, provides techniques students and others can use to guide them to successful careers. 

The book was initially published in 2010 and completely revamped in 2017; it was a product of her experiences and a class she taught at the University of Texas after working in career services at Dickinson College, where she found that her students were not quite ready to set career goals.

While students should have room to sample different things, Brooks emphasizes that students should be focused. “There is a wisdom element to it,” she says. “Students should focus on what’s important to them and then wander into those career fields to see if they like them, with an internship or some informational interviews to learn more.”

The first step for students is finding out who they are and where they want to go by completing a mind map or a “Wandering Map.” This helps students focus on the themes that are important in their lives and how those themes relate to jobs. 

The next step is mapping out different jobs that may interest students by completing an exercise called “Possible Lives.” Once it’s all on paper, the information can be analyzed and the student can best decide which jobs to pursue while excluding others. 

“Somebody might say they want to be an actor, but as they look at what it takes to be an actor, they might think, ‘No, that doesn’t really fit me. I need more security than that,’” says Brooks. And as a result, the student could focus on channeling that same creative desire into a better-fitting job.

Brooks, who recently retired as executive director of the Vanderbilt University Career Center, is highly lauded for her work in the field of career services. She has twice been listed as one of the “10 Most Visionary Leaders in Career Services” by Central Statistics Office Research and received the Kauffman Award from the National Association of Colleges and Employers for her service to the profession. Brooks co-authored (with the late Richard Bolles) What Color Is Your Parachute? and What Color Is Your Parachute? For College. In addition, her free downloadable workbook, Picture Your Career, received the NACE/Chevron Award for outstanding achievement in innovative programming. 

Brooks suggests students think broadly when pursuing a degree, unless they have a specific career in mind (such as accounting). Many fields are open to a variety of backgrounds, she says, but one should have the ability to intelligently explain to an employer what they can bring to that job or work setting. “For example, if you’re an English major, you can sell yourself in the world of business by simply talking about the skills you get from being an English major: analysis and critical thinking, writing skills, or the understanding and empathy toward people that would help you do public-relations work.” 

She believes Mercersburg gives students the educational foundation necessary to succeed in college. “Students will find the benefit of the small classes they’ve had, the types of instruction they’ve had, the abilities they’ve been given in and outside the classroom—all those things will enhance their college experience,” Brooks says. In addition, Mercersburg can broaden students’ minds to the possibilities of what’s out there and help students define their top skills and how they might choose to apply them. “And they may want to keep wandering,” she adds. “They’re only 16, 17, or 18.” 

While recognizing that a liberal-arts education is not for everyone, Brooks is an advocate. “A liberal-arts education won’t ‘make’ the banker, but will make the banker better,” she says. “A banker who has knowledge of history, political science, economics, or other subjects can help improve their level of thinking as they go into things.”

In thinking about attending college and students’ careers, Brooks suggests Mercersburg students and their families first consider how focused the student is about working in a specific field and whether college is necessary to obtain the desired skills. For some, pursuing a technical or computer-based route might be the best option. 

However, if they are certain about attending college, students should seriously consider the type of curriculum offered. For those who are not focused, Brooks recommends finding a school that offers flexible programs with curriculum that allows students to experiment. “Get your core courses in for whatever your major is and then every time you’ve got an elective, fill it with something unique with the arts or humanities or something different,” she says.

Brooks attended Mercersburg for only one year, enrolling as a senior and living on the second floor of Tippetts Hall with about 20 other girls. Her class was the first to enroll female boarding students. A few other girls who lived in town attended as day students; “It was a very different school back then,” she says.

The most influential courses she can remember were taught by music faculty member Jim Smith P ’83, ’91, ’93. “There were several of us who were very interested in music theory and he created some classes that he had not taught before,” Brooks says. “I just ate those courses up. At that time, I was planning to be a music major.” She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology from Gettysburg College and then master’s and doctorate degrees in educational psychology from West Virginia University.

In June, she returned to campus to celebrate her 50th reunion and catch up with “the girls of Tippetts,” she says. “It was so much fun reconnecting, to see where everybody had gone, what they are doing now and just what interesting people they all are.”

Brooks not only enjoyed reminiscing about her Mercersburg experience but also enjoyed seeing what the school offers students today. “I was so impressed when I did some of the tours and sessions that Mercersburg offered when I was there Reunion Weekend,” she says. “There is a whole world to experiment in. Mercersburg has so many opportunities to try. If you don’t like it or don’t do so well in the art class, then you can wander back out.”

  • Feature
  • Top Story