Helping students and alumni

Creating your professional toolbox

Approaching career center services from a personal side

Many students arrive for college with the expectation that they should have their lives planned out like an easy-to-follow road map. Although this may be true for some students, the path from relating college courses and personal skill sets to a career isn’t always clear.

Thankfully, students at Lenoir-Rhyne have a career champion in Katie Wohlman, director of the Alex Lee Career and Professional Development Center.

Katie Wohlman

Located on the first floor of Mauney Hall, in an office decorated with photos of alumni in graduation regalia, cheerful posters, a candy dish and Bear pride — Wohlman greets everyone with a smile.

“I think that the Career Center on any college campus is a place that you have to put in work for students to know that you're there to help them,” shared Wohlman, who joined the LR staff in 2008. “When it comes to our students’ careers, it's often an anxiety-producing situation. Whether it's ‘I'm undecided and I don't know what to major in,’ or ‘I thought I was going to be a nursing major, and that is clearly not working for me.’ So, we want to make sure that we have an accessible, nonjudgmental, warm and welcoming Career Center for our students.”

When approaching how to help students, Wohlman breaks it down into two pieces: discernment and readiness. For career discernment, she helps students answer the questions: What am I going to major in? What are my interests? What are my talents? What am I good at?

The next step is accessing career readiness — which brings the students from a place of knowing what they want to do and helping them answer the question of how to get there.

“This is when we talk about the resume writing, mock interviewing, networking skills, what to wear to make a great first impression and LinkedIn headshots.Anything you could think of that someone needs to have a professional brand in the world.”

For the students who come into the process with a sense of defeat or feel they have hit a dead end in their internship or

career search, Wohlman is encouraging and assures them there is nothing wrong with them.

“It’s a very normal thing to feel when you try and nobody responds back. It’s honestly hurtful. And you can't help but think, ‘Is there something wrong with me? Is there something I'm doing that's wrong?’ So, I am here to help empower students and reassure them you're not doing anything wrong. It's hard to get your foot in the door.”

Relating to students with personal experience 

As an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill, Wohlman came into college as a pre-med major with career ambitions of being a pediatrician. But it did not take her long to see she was not enjoying her classes or excelling with the course material.

“I bounced around the idea of alternative careers based on my interests — from teacher to artist to dancer to interior designer. I had what felt like a blank slate

as to what my purpose was and what career to pursue. I thought, 'Well, if it's not that, what is it?’ This lack of clarity and doubt negatively affected my self-esteem and motivation,” she said.

After changing her major to public relations, she found a little bit more joy in her classes — but still didn't know what she was going to do with her degree.

“And you're asked that so often. ‘What are you going to do after graduation?’ So, I identify with our students when they feel that pressure. As a young person, thinking to yourself, ‘What are you going to do with the rest of your entire life?’ And the pressure to know it right that second is unrealistic.”

Post-graduation, Wohlman accepted a job selling newspaper advertising — and found herself miserable.

“I had graduated, did what I was supposed to do in earning my degree, and I was not enjoying my professional life. I had a quarter-life crisis and thought to myself, ‘Life has got to be better than this.’”

After some motivation and exploration, Wohlman did what she now suggests to students in her everyday appointments: do some self-assessing. During that process, she saw a career counselor and personal counselor who helped her identify her next career move — helping lost college students like herself.

While going through the college student development graduate program at Appalachian State University, Wohlman said she felt a drastic difference between her undergraduate and graduate school experiences.

“I had a purpose, I wanted to be there, and I was just soaking up all the knowledge. It was night and day, and that's part of my message to students.”

Being flexible and adaptable

Through the years, one thing has remained a constant for the Career Center and for Wohlman — the ability to adapt and change.

“We're always looking at how can we do what we do better? How can we innovate again? How can we reach students in a way that is engaging for them?”

Katie Wohlman interacts with students

As the Career Center team dives into the 2022-23 academic year, they've implemented a new approach to classroom visits with the gamification of the center’s workshops. With the help of an alumna who earned her doctorate in the same topic, games were designed to help bring some fun to the large amount of information presented.

“The goal is to help them understand that even though you feel a lot of pressure as a young person to map out your entire life, your future is actually pretty unpredictable,” explained Wohlman. “And this education at Lenoir-Rhyne will help you prepare for the twists and turns. You don’t need to lock into a five- or ten-year plan — you just need to be flexible and adaptable.”

With the changes in student’s needs — the center stays focused on continually striving to offer the best support they can.

“As more diverse students enter higher education, they often have less familial support, especially when it comes to social capital/networking. That is why we strive to make as many connections in the community as possible. More students need to work while attending school than ever before, so while we help them with that job search, we also want to help them learn time management strategies so that they can excel academically, which will open more doors for their career options in the future.”

As for the next generation of students, the Career Center is prepared to help them in their career search and updating their approach to meet those needs.

“Students have stayed consistent in expecting to be ready for a career by the time they earn their degree, but I would say that students of the Gen Z generation consistently want meaningful careers that also can give them financial security. They have often witnessed their parents deal with recessions, economic downturns and the pandemic — so they tend to be interested in solving the world’s problems while also being practical and fiscally responsible with their career choices.”

Successful not just in their careers, but in life 

With a Career Center on nearly every college campus — Lenoir-Rhyne sets itself apart by supporting its students’ career and vocational journeys in a holistic way.

“We’re not just resumes and mock interviews — though we do a lot of those,” said Wohlman. “We help our students connect to potential mentors, networking contacts, transformational experiences and building their confidence along the way that they are capable of any goal they set.”

Danielle Heindl

One of those former students who gained confidence is Danielle Heindl ’21, who first met Wohlman when interviewing for a student work-study position within the Career Center.

“I went from being a part of the Career Center team, assisting in time-management, motivation and study tips to being a student who reached out to Katie for help with my internship,” said Heindl, who works in the division of talent

recruitment & corporate communications for Hickory Brands, Inc. “She helped me so much with understanding how I want to fit in the world and what my goals were.”

For Heindl, Wohlman was a big part in realizing what her strengths and areas of improvement were and gaining an understanding on how these areas fit in the bigger picture of employment.

“Simply, she helped me with where I wanted to go with my career. She understood that I had many ambitions, took these ambitions, and helped me create them into a reality/career choice. The Career Center overall truly helped me from start to finish with assisting with my resume/cover letter to then helping me find work after graduation.”

As the first student worker Wohlman hired when starting the work-study program and the Career Education Officer (CEO) positions, Thinh Truong ’17, attributes an incredible amount of his success to working with Wohlman.

Thinh Truong

“I was just a newly admitted freshman at LR in the fall of 2013, and meeting with Katie genuinely helped me to adjust to the new Bear family,” shared Truong.

Though she doesn’t play favorites — Wohlman beams with pride when she talks about Truong and his story.

“When he first came to the university, he had ambitions to be a nuclear engineer,” explains Wohlman. “So, his original plan was to transfer to NC State. But, when he was a sophomore, he changed his mind. He felt like he could grow his communication and leadership skills better at Lenoir-Rhyne and he stayed with us to graduate with a math and physics degree, became SGA president and was our first-ever student Fulbright grantee. He then earned a master’s degree in Finland in nuclear engineering and is now an entrepreneur. We’ve stayed in touch since he graduated and I’m always so proud of his career and life milestones.”

Truong not only has fond memories of working with Wohlman in the Career Center mentoring other students, but also in obtaining help for his own life and career.

“Throughout my four years at LR, Katie and the Career Center helped me tremendously with finding internships, mock interviews, resumes, scholarships, and so much more. Being involved with the Career Center and being exposed to numerous sources of knowledge and information through Katie, I redefined my education and career path in a positive way,” he said. “I learned that there isn't always a straight path from where I am to where I want to be. I believe that my involvement with the Career Center and working for Katie have shaped me into who I am today in being able to make decisions and handle different situations wisely and smartly concerning my career.”

Going from a researcher to an entrepreneur was a lifepath that Truong didn’t originally see for himself, but thanks to his work with Wohlman and the skills learned at LR, he has persevered.

“Deciding to terminate my research job and open up my own business was something that I had never thought of before coming to Finland. Being an entrepreneur and also an employer to myself has opened my eyes to new possibilities and allowed me to further develop my skills and expertise whereas I wouldn't be able to experience new aspects of being an entrepreneur just from working in my previous office work,” said Truong. “Being an entrepreneur brought many challenges; however, I feel confident and knowledgeable from what I learned and what I practiced at the Career Center. While my entrepreneurship is only temporary in Finland, I believe that these exceptional skills and expertise I acquired from this experience would favor my future career path once I return to the U.S.”

For Wohlman, stories like Heindl and Truong’s solidify that she has found her calling, and she comes to work every day with a smile ready to help the next student who drops by her office.

“I am fulfilling my vocation and purpose by helping our students find and fulfill theirs, and every day that I get to hear our students’ stories and help them connect to their passions and goals really lights me up.”

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