The new ‘Portfolio’ is redundant
Last week, the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership unveiled a new program intended to help students organize their extracurricular activities. According to Sharon Stahl, dean of the First Year Center and vice chancellor for students, the goal of the new “Portfolio” program is “to record and maintain information about undergraduate students’ involvement in co-curricular activities.” Unfortunately for a great deal of students, the Portfolio does not seem to offer anything new or significant to the process of finding a job or applying to grad school. It would behoove both students and the University to focus first on basic skills such as resume writing and networking through technologies such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
According to the Record, the Portfolio is an electronic record of a student’s involvement: a list of student groups and community service activities they have participated in, as well as a record of their leadership positions, awards, research involvement, internships and employment. When applying to medical school, law school or grad school, extracurricular activities do play a role in determining admission, but extracurricular activities that matter can generally be included in a required resume. Creating a program to track extracurricular involvement, while well-intended, does not do much to help students whatever their trajectories following graduation.
Furthermore, preexisting services such as LinkedIn provide nearly all the same information as the Portfolio in a widely accessible and easy-to-use format that potential employers are already familiar with. Purchasing a third-party system to serve a purpose already provided for by a service that is both free and widely utilized does not make sense.
The Office of Student Involvement and the Career Center should focus on helping students keep up with the latest evolutions in networking and career-building. A better choice and use of University money would be to show students how to more effectively use LinkedIn or other services through free classes and seminars. Olin Library’s fall Twitter series, for example, is a series of a free seminar open to all students and faculty that give the basics of how to use Twitter and develop professional connections using the social media outlet. Many students do not even have a Twitter handle, let alone grasp how to use it as many more than a platform for snarky complaints about the circ. Facebook, while ubiquitous for college students, is generally untapped as a professional resource; while often seen merely as a place to waste time during class, it can be a valuable tool for making business connections if used properly. LinkedIn, a site completely devoted to professional networking, currently supports 175 million users, including 14 million students. It would be far more beneficial to both the University and its students for the school to offer seminars with helpful tips for using what Forbes has called “far and away, the most advantageous social networking tool available to job seekers and business professionals today” than for it to create a proprietary program that most employers and grad schools have never heard of and are unfamiliar with.
The Portfolio Project is essentially a redundancy. The Wash. U. student body would be better served if the Office of Student Involvement spent more time further developing connections with employers and emphasizing the importance of social networking. Students should work on their resumes and consider getting a Twitter account if they really want their employers—or graduate schools—to take a second look. As the saying goes and your career counselor will likely corroborate, “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.”