The Piper Center for Vocation and Career — named in 2012 in recognition of the Piper family’s gift in memory of H.C. “Bobby” Piper, longtime chair and chief executive officer of the Piper Jaffray Companies — offers a broad array of experiential opportunities to help students connect their liberal arts education to a meaningful career. “My father believed that each of us is called to use our gifts and talents for the good of the world, and he challenged those around him to discern how their working lives could fulfill that call,” says St. Olaf Senior Regent Addison “Tad” Piper.
Today, the generosity of St. Olaf’s large network of alumni, parents, and friends continues to sustain the Piper Center’s many programs and resources. Students benefit from top-notch guidance in vocational and career discernment throughout their time on the Hill, and Oles at every stage of their life, from prospective students to first-year students to graduating seniors to alumni of any age, can use the center’s services.
“The Piper Center supports students in identifying their values, interests, gifts, and skills to enable them to take a vocational journey and find meaningful work, service, or post-graduate study,” says Director Leslie Moore ’77. A newly launched program, led by Associate Director of Alumni Career Services Jenele Grassle, offers the same coaching and services to alumni. While those participating in the program tend to be alumni within the first 10 years of graduation, coaching is available for alumni of all ages. The program is part of a collaborative effort between the Piper Center and the Office of Alumni and Parent Relations to offer comprehensive career services to alumni.
Because students will go on to work in ways that we can’t yet fathom, and in an employment environment that requires them to be nimble and open to change, the Piper Center isn’t just focused on helping students find jobs. The inclusion of the word vocation in the center’s title is intentional. It comes from the Latin word vocare, or “to call,” and points toward the center’s mission of considering life after college as a holistic journey that goes beyond a first job.
“The concept of vocation is important to Lutheran theology and education,” Moore says. “It’s a powerful way of listening to the world around you, to the opportunities in your path, and to your neighbors and community so that you can find your place and match your gifts to the world’s needs.”
Moore says that students are understandably focused on determining the next step, such as “What classes should I register for? What should I major in? Should I study abroad? What fellowship or internship should I apply for?”
“Students are focused on the now, which is fantastic because that’s where they need to be,” she says. “We help them understand that there’ll be a whole series of next steps going forward, and that decisions they make now aren’t shutting off all future possibilities. They can major in philosophy and still go into nursing later, for example. It’s about contextualizing their decisions and helping them articulate a liberal arts education.
We have a very engaged body of alumni, parents, and friends who help guide our students in vocational and career discernment. — Leslie Moore ’77
The Piper Center’s strength is in meeting students where they are and then ascertaining how the next step may fit into an overall journey. The center provides support in the form of Class Year Guides that help students engage in specific activities during each year of college, from choosing a major to pursuing on-campus and summer work to meeting with a career coach to finding an internship, fellowship, or research opportunity. Students also can get help with concrete tasks — like writing a résumé or creating a LinkedIn profile — and attend networking events with alumni in law and policy, business, health, social justice, the arts, STEM, and entrepreneurship.
“Our aim is to connect students with the people who, or opportunities that, would be most meaningful for them,” Moore says.
Many of the resources the Piper Center offers, as well as its success in engaging nearly three-quarters of the student body annually in using its services, are made possible by generous financial backing from supporters of the college. “We operate from a position of gratitude for the tremendous support we receive in funding our programming,” Moore says. “We also have a very engaged body of alumni, parents, and friends who help guide our students in vocational and career discernment. The depth and strength of these connections are outstanding, which enables us to provide a lot of individual support and coaching.”
We’ve highlighted four of the Piper Center’s signature programs and services — Connections, Quo Vadis Sophomore Retreat, Peer Advisors, and Entrepreneurship — for a better understanding of the center’s impact.
By the Numbers
Recent data give a glimpse into the Piper Center’s impact.
In 2018–19, 72 percent of students attended an appointment or event at the Piper Center (it’s not just seniors, either; attendance is nearly level across class years).
Career coaches and peer advisors fulfilled 6,679 appointments with students during the 2018–19 academic year.
71 percent of students in the Class of 2019 participated in an internship.
89 percent of students in the Class of 2019 participated in an experiential learning opportunity, including an internship, mentored research, field experience, academic civic engagement, and long-term shadowing.
St. Olaf awarded $580,000 in funding to support student participation in internships and other career-enhancing experiences.
More than 650 students have participated in a Connections program since its inception in 2011.
85 students attended the Quo Vadis sophomore retreat in 2018–19; 1,011 students have attended since the first retreat in 2011.
96 percent of graduates in the Class of 2018 were working, engaged in a full-time service program, or pursuing further education within nine months of graduation.