Career Exploration welcomes Jennifer Guyer-Wood


Photo courtesy of Jen Guyer-Wood.

Mandy Week, News Editor

Hoping to provide greater opportunities to marginalized student groups and to continue developing supportive career-centered programming, Jen Guyer-Wood joins Macalester as the new executive director of Career Exploration. Guyer-Wood, who began in her role on Monday, March 27, brings with her fresh ideas and an ambition to further cultivate an equitable space for all students. 

Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Kathryn Kay Coquemont, who served as hiring manager for the position, shared that she chose to be part of the search committee for the position to ensure that student perspectives were at the forefront.

“I asked three students to serve on the search committee, rather than just one, and I wanted to make sure that their voices had the priority for what we needed,” Coquemont said. “I wanted to make sure that this role, of course, was a strategic leader and could work with employers and people in our wider community, but I really wanted to know that they’d be student centered.”

She explained that the committee also looked for a candidate whose work would be focused on supporting historically underserved student groups and helping them navigate the different sets of challenges they face regarding employment. 

“The search committee was really wanting to have someone who, maybe wasn’t a subject matter expert in that, but at least cared to figure out and to hear from students about their experiences, and to do as much as we can to advocate for changes,” Coquemont said.

Coming from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs where she served as the Director of Career and Student Success for eight years prior to arriving at Macalester, according to a Mac Daily announcement from Wednesday, March 8, Guyer-Wood joins Career Exploration with an eagerness to listen to and support students across all backgrounds, and a passion for higher education.

“I am a higher-ed lifer,” she said. “I love working with students. Students are what motivates me, and students that are why I’m here and working on a college campus … I just feel like students are learning and growing so much and becoming adults and really thinking about their futures.”

Describing a parallel she saw between Macalester students and those she worked with in her former role at the University of Minnesota, she talked further about what drew her to Macalester in particular.

“The reason I applied for this job is because it’s pretty similar, in some ways, [to my previous position],” Guyer-Wood said. “The students at the Humphrey School are so focused on social justice and making positive change in the world and developing the tools that they need to be able to actually do that and not just talk about it, and I feel that’s what Mac is about.”

Additionally, she detailed how her personal experiences motivate her approach to her work in career advising and development. Having worked for her college campus’ post office and taken on various jobs throughout her time teaching after completing her undergraduate program, Guyer-Wood spoke to the reality that some students may need to prioritize a job alongside their studies or face additional challenges throughout their time in college.

“As somebody who paid my own way through school, I didn’t study abroad, and I wasn’t very engaged in student activities,” Guyer-Wood said. “All I did was work and study, and part of the fun part about being here on [Macalester’s] campus is getting to see all the ways that students are engaged, but also to hopefully make a difference and have students be able to make choices based on what they want to do and not based on their socio-economic background or how much money they have.”

Understanding that what one student’s college experience might look like could differ greatly from that of another, Guyer-Wood aims to connect with all students, especially students who identify as BIPOC and/or hold other marginalized identities.

“My goal is to reach all students and to give them the tools that they need to succeed,” Guyer-Wood said. “I think the office has been doing a great job of that — they take a lot of data, and they really analyze who we engage with, whether it’s at a program or an event, or whether it’s a resume review or a meeting. But we want to make that 100% [of students].”

To do so, she highlighted the ways in which Career Exploration has been rethinking how they currently hear student feedback on the division’s services: a starting point to hopefully increase engagement.

“We need to make sure that students feel comfortable coming to any one of our staff members, feel comfortable coming into our space, feel comfortable working with us,” Guyer-Wood said. “As we design our programs and our services and how we help students, we have to get that information from students. And I think surveys are great, but surveys are also out of date almost immediately after a student takes them because I think, at Macalester, you are all learning and growing and experiencing so much … To have these kinds of conversations in real time with students is really, really important.”

Part of the department’s efforts to reach more students lies in their search to hire an associate director of internships and an assistant director for career advising, two positions that have been vacant for a while. But, as Guyer-Wood and Associate Director for Career Advising Marcos Cruz emphasized, the department has several additional initiatives that they’re putting their energy toward to make Career Exploration more accessible. 

“In the past, as an office, we’ve operated with a model of ‘we’re going to be putting on these workshops, we’re going to be putting on these components and trying to drive students towards these different experiences,’” Cruz said. “I think we’re still going to have workshops that make sense and things that folks are always going to want to see in a larger context … but not assuming what students need [and] also thinking about these different student organizations and how their particular positionality may mean some differences in these topics.”

Cruz also talked about a balance between turning attention to the parts of programs, like MacConnect and MacExplore, which were strengthened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for new directions to take Career Exploration’s services in, considering all of the changes that have unfolded since.

“With some of the uncertainty that’s going on in the world right now economically, I think there are students that are kind of asking questions like ‘where do I fit into this?’” he said. “A lot of it is ‘how do we continue to serve this population strong?’ but then look ahead to next year, next fall, and say ‘here’s where some of our priorities are moving forward.’” 

According to Guyer-Wood, building cross-campus relationships is key to beginning to answer those questions, as well as what she’s focusing on as she continues to settle into her role.

“My goal for this first month is to meet as many people as possible to ask a lot of questions about how our offices or how students work with us,” she said. “I feel like I’m going to work with everybody: I have faculty on that list, I have folks from upper level administration on that list, I have folks from student organizations and student leadership, Residential Life, everything that you can imagine … We work closely with the Olin-Rice Hub … but we also need to work with the faculty and folks in the other areas that students major.”

Amidst all of the planning and work taking place within Career Exploration, community members expressed optimism and excitement about Guyer-Wood joining the team as executive director. For Cruz, this marks a chance for Career Exploration to put together all of the pieces and hone its mission. 

“I think as a division and as a college, we’re coming out of this very strange moment where the paradigms have shifted,” he said. “How do we recognize and understand that there were some things that we were doing well prior to the pandemic, there were some things that happened during the pandemic that changed that were some really awesome added benefits, and also that there’s a future where we can continue to do better? … For me, I think [Guyer-Wood’s hire] represents an opportunity for us to think about all those three in a new way.”

Coquemont, a member of the comprehensive campus planning steering committee as part of the strategic plan implementation, also shared what this means for the college moving forward.

“I’m really excited about the expertise and her voice that she brings as we are entering into the new strategic plan,” Coquemont said. “One of the components of the strategic plan is focused on how our students are part of the wider community and the world. And anything that has to do with internships, career and research … I think she’ll be a really great leader in.”

Filled with enthusiasm, Guyer-Wood looks forward to getting to know more about the Macalester community and the people who compose it.

“My door is open when I’m not with somebody or in a meeting, and students are welcome to stop by,” Guyer-Wood said. “If you see me at an event, … please come up to me, say hi and tell me what you’re thinking. I really want to get to know you all.”