August 5, 2022

Career or Job? How Career Services Takes a Holistic Approach  

SETTING HER SIGHTS: MFA grad Chelsea Boxwell says working with CGU's Career and Professional Development office and Michelle Ponce has helped her see more job opportunities. Ponce "really helped my confidence,” she said, “and helped me find ways to explain how my arts background is useful and connected to the kinds of aesthetic needs in marketing."

Chelsea Boxwell (MFA 2018) has been an artist for a long time. Ever since she was 6.

She still remembers taking a crayon and drawing on just about everything and anything—which is why her mom enrolled Boxwell in art classes as a child. Boxwell went on to take a BFA at the University of North Texas and an MFA at CGU and has become a successful painting installation artist.

As accomplished as she is in art, Boxwell felt that she was still facing a dead end in other professions. Take marketing, for example. She was interested in entering that field (her interest was piqued from running social media pages for the Art Department) but struggled with a question: Would anyone in marketing take someone with an arts degree seriously?

“I had trouble seeing how my skills would translate,” explained Boxwell. “I’m classically and aesthetically trained, and I know how my fine arts training relates to the aesthetics of marketing. But the people hiring you don’t know that. On interviews for marketing positions, would my not having an actual marketing degree work against me?”

Michelle Ponce didn’t think so.

Do you know how to translate your skills so that employers understand? Michelle Ponce can help you.

Ponce, who is the director of the university’s Career and Professional Development Center, said many find themselves in situations similar to Boxwell’s.

She calls it an articulation problem.

“Chelsea has so much to offer, but the problem she had is something most students and alumni have. It’s that we all have our specialty areas, but we have trouble articulating them for laymen who don’t understand our industries,” she explained. “In Chelsea’s case, she has this amazing background that works in many different areas. But she didn’t quite believe it. My goal was to show her.”

What Ponce provides is a far cry from the old-fashioned resume reviews of years past. Ponce says the old approach to career counseling doesn’t work.

“I’ve worked at five institutions,” she said, “and I’ve been at places where they were on autopilot. All they did was review resumes and check off a list. They weren’t helping their students articulate their talents and who they are. It was just transactional.”

With many organizations today seeking well-rounded job applicants with an ability to work in many areas–one of the buzzwords you hear often is “cross-functionality”– Ponce says current students and alumni must deeply examine their backgrounds so that they know how to respond to such a demand in the job market.

She helps them with that.

“We do a deep dive,” she explained, “and it goes into their emotional intelligence and career values. This is really about helping them prepare for their professional journey, not finding a single job.”

Michelle Ponce, director of Career and Professional Development at Claremont Graduate University

 A Holistic Approach

Ponce says it’s not hard to find a job. But it’s challenging to find a career. Those two words, despite what you may think, are not exactly interchangeable.

“You and I could go today to Target and probably get a job,” she explains, “but what I’m doing is helping them think of their entire professional journey.”

Boxwell spent many hours working one-on-one with Ponce. They held weekly meetings on Zoom to go over all of her paperwork and redoing it—her resume, cover letter, other queries and applications—and Boxwell learned to take a new approach to her experiences and how to reply to interview questions about her background.

“Michelle really helped my confidence,” she said, “and helped me find ways to explain how my arts background is useful and connected to the kinds of aesthetic needs in marketing. It’s made a big difference.”

What Boxwell realized was that her background suited her to be a brand and marketing coordinator who, because of her arts training, can see and define solutions that your typical marketing professional can’t. Equipped with this new sense of identity, Boxwell felt eager and excited about the job hunt–not dreading it like before.

And then serendipity intervened.

Lavanya (top) and Melissa Jawaharlal. (Photo credit:

A Small World

While Ponce worked with Boxwell, another CGU student entered her office: SES student Lavanya Jawaharlal who, with her sister Melissa, a Drucker MBA student, have created an amazing educational program for children.

They are the founders of STEM Center USA, which offers individualized K-12 programming to inspire the next generation of STEM leaders and excite them about the sciences in the same way that the sisters are (both hold degrees in mechanical engineering).

This sister act scored a major success early on thanks to an appearance on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” but they were still wrestling with several issues involving their business.  One of the most important involved the business’s branding.

Ponce said she had one of those a-ha moments when the needs of one client overlapped with the situation of another.

Boxwell’s search for experience as a marketing professional satisfied what the Jawaharlals needed. Since then, she’s assisted STEM Center USA with its branding work, enhanced her portfolio, and given her a clear real-world example of how her arts training can be utilized in marketing.

For Ponce, it was a perfect match–with the added bonus of bringing together CGU alumni to support each other.

“It’s really a holistic process that involves a lot of synergies,” she said.

It’s the Journey, Not the Job

Ponce noted that a focus on someone’s entire professional journey has resulted in her office moving away from the phrase “career placement.” She said her goal isn’t to plug people into specific jobs but to empower them to discover themselves, develop the best tools (including how to negotiate a salary), and find the right opportunities.

She also said that the center offers something else: a way to strengthen bonds with alumni and nurture their future support of their alma mater (and now, with her student support staff and the arrival of Ro Lee as the center’s associate director, their efforts in this regard will increase).

“The great thing about CGU is that students and alumni have really enjoyed their experiences here,” she said. “Because of that, they have this surreal desire to stay connected. Sometimes they need the help. Sometimes they’re in wonderful careers and want to give back. It’s important for us to support them when they’re moving through spaces of change in their professional lives so that they’ll come back one day and help us, too.”