J. Violet Gannon joined the Trinity community as the Director of Career Development this past February. Shortly thereafter, she paid a visit to my senior seminar. Violet captivated a room of seniors plagued by career anxiety with her calming presence and common sense attitude, offering insight and advice to students with professional interests that ran the gamut. She impressed me instantly with her thoughtfulness and tangible dedication to a student body and a community she had only just been introduced to. I wanted to get to know her better and I knew our HC readers would, so I shot her an e-mail. Days later I was seated in her office tucked in the Career Development Center receiving a formal introduction to her pet moss.
Violet graduated from Brown University, an institution that committed her to a liberal arts education. She learned the important role that this well-rounded approach to education serves in cultivating critical thinking and playfulness, as well as the opportunities it affords students in co-curricular opportunities. One such opportunity is how she landed her first job the day after graduation at an in-patient psychiatric unit where she had worked as a student. Here she realized how crucial making connections outside of the classroom could be. Violet could see that I was puzzled, wondering how and why she made the leap from a psychiatric unit to our career development center—given my own extreme apprehension about the future, I could think of a few similarities but I didn’t want to. “They’re both process-oriented,” she told me as she drew more sensible parallels between both experiences. “I love seeing people flourish…watching them grow and thrive. I believe in starting where people are at. There are many parallels with mental health work.” Violet describes herself as being “other-centered,” a quality that lends itself to both professions. Another similarity she pointed out is that there isn’t a lot of instant gratification in these things that are so process-oriented. She stressed that while her career is indeed rewarding, she finds the elusive instant gratification in other things like making jewelry, gardening, painting, and playing the guitar. I imagine the pet moss, whom she’s affectionately named “Mo,” might be another source of on the spot happiness.
Violet grew up in Connecticut but explored other parts of the world for twenty years. During that time, she lived in Berlin, Germany for a period and later worked in Career Development at the University of Chicago. Violet wanted to return to the east coast so when she learned of the position as Director of Career Development at Trinity she came out to interview. “I was drawn to the college’s institutional commitment to support students,” she explained. She was also attracted to the strong connection Trinity has forged between the liberal arts and career development. Violet met with Mary Jo Keating and Paul Mutone, two people whom she praises for their warmth and commitment to thinking critically about the challenges facing higher education that affect “how we do business,”—something that will make us leaders in the future. “Then I met you guys,” she smiled. “Everyone has a certain happiness about being here. This appealed to the playful part of who I am.” She gestured to the moss in front of me. I nodded in agreement.
I was honest with Violet and mentioned that the Career Development Center doesn’t always receive the positive publicity I think it often deserves. I asked her what she wished the entire Trinity community could know about the CDC. “There’s a group of people deeply committed to your success. Even the most brilliant student can benefit from something in this office, whether it’s a mock interview or learning to negotiate a salary. We’re more than just résumés and cover letters.” She went on to say that a college education is more than just developing competencies. In order to be professionally successful, students need to know how to articulate those skill sets to future employers. In this way, there is something to be gained for everyone at the CDC.
It should come to no surprise that Violet is excited and optimistic about the future. She plans to be deliberate in reaching out to first year students. She wants to focus on career exploration early to help students answer questions like who am I? What do I like? What am I good at? How does this map onto a major? How would that transfer into a career? In the same vein, she wants to expand the exposure Trinity students have to the professional world by developing “treks,” which provide an opportunity to network with employers in major cities. She looks to establish more externships and job-shadowing experiences, which would make a productive use of winter and spring breaks by allowing students to organically explore what they’re interested in. Violet seems perhaps most eager to begin a program of CDC Fellows, whose purpose as upperclassmen mentors would be to stress the importance of starting early in thinking about a career and provide insight into how they navigated course selection and internships, among other things. Additionally, as evidenced in a similar program she ran at the University of Chicago, she notes that these Fellows are hugely helpful in offering feedback and speaking honestly about what is working and what isn’t. The prevailing thread that ties all of these plans together is the idea of working longitudinally with students, from matriculation to commencement and beyond.
Violet made one last reference to her medical background that neatly summarizes her approach: “I’m more a fan of preventative medicine than emergency medicine. A career is a process, not an event.”