Roger Woolsey compares first-year students to start-ups.
They are experiencing cognitive dissonance again. They are learning how to think and how to problem-solve. They are meeting people from around the world and learning how to live on their own.
“It is important for us to help accelerate or incubate a start-up and help prepare them for what’s beyond academia,” said Woolsey.
Woolsey is the new executive director of the Becker Career Center. He takes over for Robert Soules, who retired last fall.
Career services is a core component of the student experience. According to a recent study, the majority of students cite jobs and career outcomes as the number one reason for going to college.
Demand has never been greater for services at career centers. In 2010, Becker hosted 2,038 student appointments for advising services. By 2020, that number had skyrocketed to 3,154. In addition, the center typically manages 150-200 student appointments with alumni each year.
Woolsey wants students to realize that career services is more than just a place to create or update a resume, or learn how to apply for a job. He wants career education to be a four-year endeavor, equipping students with financial literacy and other critical skills.
“We want to complement what’s going on in the classroom in meaningful ways through experiential learning and internships,” Woolsey said. “I want them to realize that we can help them connect with mentors within the alumni community be engaged with parents in certain industries that are looking to mentor or for interns to hire.”
Most importantly, Woolsey aims to establish the career center as a place of empathy.
“We want to help students realize the importance of empathy,” he said. “Students who don’t know what they want to do is a perfect example of empathy. All of us have been there in our lives. What is my next career move? What do I want to do when I graduate because I have no idea? Those are the students I want to come into the career center as often as they want to utilize all of our resources.”
A native Californian, Woolsey has overcome significant challenges in his life.
Born with congenital cataracts, he is legally blind. Given up for adoption at birth, he spent his first four and a half years in foster care until he was adopted by a couple in Los Angeles. At school, officials tried to teach him how to read Braille. He was offered a cane and a seeing-eye dog. He resisted it all. Instead, he played football and lettered in wrestling.
“My parents never raised me as if I were disabled or had an eye problem,” he said.
One concession to his disability is that he does not drive. On his visit to Schenectady, the entrepreneurial spirit he encountered walking around the downtown impressed him. He wants students to feed into that spirit.
“You go to a restaurant and sit at the bar, you talk to developers, you talk to venture capitalists, and you realize the growth of this city and the entrepreneurial spirit that is here,” Woolsey said. “I want to help our students be a part of the change here in Schenectady, which would contribute to their resume and overall experience.”
Woolsey has extensive experience in higher education, having overseen career centers at both Dartmouth College (2013-19) and Colby College (2008-13).
He started a financial literacy and career readiness service in 2019, but then COVID hit, dramatically slowing business. He then spent a little over a year as the executive director of the career center at Cal State San Bernardino. He was anxious to get back east when the Union position opened.
“Union is a natural fit for me,” said Woolsey. “I’m used to the liberal arts. That’s where I belong.”
“We are so excited to have Roger join us,” said Fran'Cee Brown-McClure, vice president for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. “He has an energetic personality and a can-do spirit. His wealth of knowledge and experience at Dartmouth and Colby will benefit our students and alumni. We are thrilled to have him be a part of the Union community.”
Woolsey started at Union in mid-December. He is following what he calls his 1066 plan (the first 10 days, the first six weeks and the first six months) before he shares specific ideas for the career center.
“I’m trying to understand the campus culture, taking in the perspectives of colleagues, faculty and staff,” he said. “I want to meet with alumni and local business leaders. I want to get to know the area. Then I want to start building the frameworks that I think will take us to the next level.”
Outside the office, Woolsey loves to run. He is also a vociferous reader, studying trends and changes in the jobs market. He enjoys watching his 12-year-old son, Johnny, play youth hockey.
Woolsey holds a master’s degree in management and marketing communication from Emerson College and a bachelor’s degree in communication from San Diego State University.
After working at a number of college campuses, Woolsey said he has never felt more welcome than he does at Union.
“I want this to be the best version of my professional career,” he said.