February 18, 2014

Post-reboot, Career Advancement is in a JAM

Third-year Will Craft, an aspiring journalist, plans to work for an investigative newsletter that tackles corruption in the oncology drug industry this summer. Last quarter, seeking funding for his unpaid internship, he found a grant online through UChicago Careers in Journalism, Arts, and Media (UCIJAM) that promised to do just this.

When Craft met with UCIJAM’s Ben Waltzer, he was informed that the grants, still advertised on UCIJAM’s website, no longer exist. He attempted to have his internship turned into a Metcalf through the program, but after several months of “nothing really happening,” decided to simply begin emailing Career Advancement (CA) advisers at random. Eventually, he got in touch with someone from UChicago Careers in Health Professions, and converted his internship into a Metcalf within two weeks.

UCIJAM, a new initiative that replaced both UChicago Careers in Arts (UCIA) and UChicago Careers in Journalism (UCIJ) at the beginning of autumn quarter, is headed up by Waltzer (he is the Klingensmith Program Director). Waltzer, a full-time employee, has absorbed the duties of former part-time employees Lloyd King and Kathy Anderson, who ran UCIA and UCIJ respectively, plus the role of a counselor in “media” professions. Anderson, who left last April, declined to be interviewed for this article. King was hired in 2010 when UCIA began; he left his position last May.

The $4,000 grants Craft was seeking used to exist as UCIJ grants, but now most closely resemble UCIJAM’s apprenticeship program, started by King and a part-time student assistant, Kunal Basu-Dutta (A.B. ’13). Through this program, students are able to work with mentors in their field for 50 hours over a flexible time period and receive a stipend of $500. The loss of the grants places artists, journalists, and media-ists in the same field of competition for funding of unpaid opportunities.

Studying abroad in Oaxaca, Craft remains excited about his upcoming work. He commented that his situation “is a bit strange, since I am going to be a journalist. But hey, I got funding for the summer.”

King began the apprenticeship program because he had found that a traditional internship model, with predictable working hours over a fixed period of time, could rarely be extrapolated to the arts in a way that made sense. The apprenticeships provided a new model for arts mentorship. This also allowed UCIA to parcel out its limited funds flexibly: For every Metcalf allotted to the program by what was at that time CAPS (now Career Advancement), there were eight apprenticeships.

University spokesperson Jeremy Manier wrote in an e-mail that the number of Metcalfs could be expected to expand. “I’m told that last year we had more than 100 Metcalf internships connected to these career areas,” Manier said, adding that the University would not have an official number of Metcalfs for the year until the end of spring quarter, when the recruiting season ends.

Numbers aside, the transition from two part-time employees to one full-time hire has left the program spread thin in other capacities. King reported that he saw around 15 students per week when he ran UCIA, with an average wait time of one week for an appointment. Waltzer, too, sees 15 people per week, but many students have encountered a wait time of near three weeks.

Despite this, Waltzer is optimistic about his role in restructuring arts career counseling. “I want to build it from the ground up and take suggestions from students in terms of what they want,” Waltzer said. “These fields are in a state of great flux, but there’s also great opportunity happening…, It’s a challenging opportunity, and it’s a challenge that I welcome.”

He does not currently have plans to hire part-time help of the sort that both King and Basu-Dutta both said would be crucial to the new program’s success. “I’m thinking about getting some help with a student worker…, But in terms of any full-time thing, that’s not on my horizon, although it may become so. All things that are thriving at the University tend to build, and that’s a possibility in the future.”

Basu-Dutta noted that the transition from two programs to one has been difficult to pin down. “I still receive e-mails asking about UCIA,” he said. “As far as I know, UCIJAM can’t [engage students] right now…. There are things that are coming up—like a [career] trek has been planned—but how much talk has there been about it? Do students even know who Ben is? Have students met him? Do they know UCIJAM is actually journalism, arts, and media—or are they just confused about what that stands for?”

“It’s really about the students here,” King said. “The students are going to get better advice if there are people like me and Kathy, who can come in part-time. But I understand the pressures that [CA] is under, and that if they’re not able to come up with a model that includes part-timers, then that’s the way it is.”