Kent State works to guide exploratory students to graduation

Morgan Hallam

Every semester, a new freshman class arrives on campus with no clue what career they want to get into. These ‘exploratory’ majors work with the university to find the right program.

Kent State students Ashley Munson and Regan Ahrens took more than one try to find the right major.

Munson, a sophomore human resource management major, joined the exploratory living learning community  and found a mentor to help her find her major.

“As a mentee, I made these connections with EXCEL [mentors], who just a year ago before me were also exploratory, and they showed me the process of declaring through their eyes and then they flipped it so that I would be the one in the same process,” Munson said.

Ahrens, a junior early childhood education major, originally came to Kent as an exploratory student, but with a focus on early childhood education. Ahrens declared her major as psychology before deciding education was better fit for her.

“I finally went out and shadowed some teachers and then finally decided this is totally what I want to do: teach little kids,” Ahrens said. “That’s how I kind of picked my major.”

Exploratory students make up about 12 percent of Kent State’s student population. The Exploratory Advising Center works closely with the students in order to help them declare a major before reaching 45 credit hours at Kent State.

“We know that students will come to us in a range of undecided,” said Nicole Kotlan, director of Exploratory Advising Center. “We have students that are very undecided that can tell you what [they] don’t want to do but not necessarily what [they] want to do. It’s not about what do you want to major in, it’s more about focusing on determining a student’s area of interest.”

Kent State has designed an exploration plan to assist exploratory pre-major students choose the correct career path for them. The plan is designed to guide students through the exploratory process in order to help them declare a major by the time they reach 45 credit hours.  

When students come to Kent as an exploratory pre-major they’re required to select one of 13 areas of interest that narrow down what they might want to major in. Picking an area of interest is the first step in the student’s master plan.

Exploratory students pick from a wide range of First Year Experience courses. They can take a career-themed class which co-registers them with an intro course based on their area of interest.

“We actually have two sections of first year experience that are focused on being first generation college students, so they’re actually in a class with other students that are first generation or identify as first generation college students, meaning neither parent graduated from a four year institution.” Kotlan said.

There’s three sections of Flash Connections, which allows students to participate in an out-of-class trip and overnight experience, like working with non-profit organizations or celebrating African American culture

There is also a section of FYE only offered to students in the exploratory living learning community.

“We want to give the student experience they want to have, so students aren’t forced into certain sections, they have the opportunity to select what is of interest to them,” Kotlan said “We make recommendations based off what they share with us at Destination Kent State to help them narrow it down.”

If a student is still exploratory by their second semester, they are recommended to take a course called “Career Navigation.” Students that come in with credit already have the option to take that course their first semester.

“That class is really focused on the student learning more about themselves and then having dedicated time to research careers and majors,” Kotlan said. “Hopefully that means you learn more about yourself, you’re then learning more about what type of careers might give interest.”

The course is partnered with the Career Exploration and Development center. It is designed to help students figure out what major or career they want, but some students had a different opinion on the course.

“We did this project called the Holland code and it was like what type of person are you and mine came out to be music as my first thing. I’m like ‘I don’t want to do that for the rest of my life.’ It didn’t make any sense,” Ahrens said. “The one helpful thing that we did was they had us interview somebody in a career choice we were interested in.”

“I thought it was just filler stuff,” Munson said. “And then the more you get into the class, the more the instructor shows how its applied to who you are now, and who you are now is like, going to determine where you want to go. It made me realize how involved I wanted to get with people. I started joining clubs that semester and I started coming to more Excel events.”

Exploratory first-year students also have the option to join the EXCEL Learning Community, located in Lake Hall. Lake Hall and the Center for Undergraduate Students (CUE) are connected which allows students who live in Lake to have access to their advisers without leaving their building.

“I felt bad coming in exploratory, but then I went to EXCEL,” Munson said. “I met so many people that were also exploratory and I just felt better about being surrounded by other exploratory students.

Munson is one of eight EXCEL mentors. Mentors hold office hours during the week to allow exploratory students to come to them for support and to assist with resources. The EXCEL mentors plan events in order to engage with students to help them feel more comfortable using the mentors as a resource. 

“You have to be comfortable with being exploratory. When I wasn’t comfortable, it was hard to explore,” Munson said. “So, once I was comfortable exploring all those options it narrowed it down tremendously. Being comfortable is the biggest aspect because it’s really uncomfortable to say you’re undecided.”

Morgan Hallam is the recruiting and retention reporter. Contact her at [email protected]