I went down to the Gerstacker office to have a conversation with Laurel Draudt, the associate director of the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management, over break. What follows is part of our conversation that afternoon.
Z: Laurel, what is your position, and what do you do at Albion?
I am the associate director of the Gerstacker institute. My main focus, as the associate director, is to work with students in regards to the internship realm. So whether that is finding an internship, either directly matching internship opportunities for students when I’m aware of their interests, or by bringing to light some of the things on the Briton Network by helping them see the things that are available to them (I know all the students are checking the Briton Network!), I help bring these opportunities to their attention. So I help them find internships, help them prepare for the application process, write their cover letters, prepare for professional development, coach their interviewing skills (which we do a lot of in the Gerstacker Institute through our mock interview program), things like that. But my main focus is helping students with that professional development, and securing internships. I follow up with them while they’re on their internship, I want to make sure things are going well, and that they’re getting professional experiences out of it. [laughs] It’s a long answer.
Z: I imagine pairing students with internships is a bit like matchmaking. What is one of the coolest internship placements that you’ve helped set up?
Somewhat! Gosh, that’s a great question. I have now been here for 3 … this last semester would have been my 4th internship semester if you will, because we do internships in the summer. And I need to think about that. We have one coming up which I think is going to be really cool, I actually just emailed the student. She will be working with World Clothes Line which is a non-profit organization that was started by a recent Albion College alumna, and she needed help with marketing. So our student is doing an internship with her, and our student wants to go into marketing. So it’s a really good match; I’m really interested in seeing what comes of that. But I think its a really good match for them, for both of them. I have to think… It’s a hard question to answer because I really like going to the different offices, I visit most of the locations, learning more about the companies, and seeing how the students interact in that more professional experience. So many of them appreciate school so much more! [laughs] So I don’t know if I necessarily have a favorite location, I just find it all really interesting. That’s one of the parts of my job I really enjoy, to be able to connect with both the student and the employer and learn more about the industry and the specific companies.
Z: Albion is a tiny college, sort of in the middle of nowhere. How do you end up in Albion?
My husband and I moved to Michigan for a couple of reasons. We were in Arkansas for a couple of years, I’m originally from Ohio and he’s originally from Michigan, Ann Arbor, and we wanted to get closer to home after being in Arkansas for a couple years. He got a position at the University of Michigan, and I worked there for a year as well, but my position was contractual. So, as the school I was working for was re-figuring their budget, I thought “I am going to be smart and safe and look for other jobs, just in case.” So I applied for this one, and got the offer. My last job offered to keep me, but I felt like I could have a bigger impact at Albion, and I love professional development, so I thought this would be a great place to do that. I went to a small college, and all the universities I had previously worked at were large, either Big Ten or SEC schools, Research 1; I wanted to come back to my roots in regards to a small, liberal arts college, and have an impact there.
Z: Remind me again what college that was?
I went to Marietta College, so southeastern Ohio. But very similar to Albion.
Z: What do you love about Albion now that you’ve been here for a year and a half?
So, to bring it back to my roots, I remember the first time I was really aware of how neat being at a small school was. With campuses the size of Albion’s, the focus is really on the student, and as someone who likes to provide students with career opportunities, that appeals to me a lot. Before this job at Albion, I taught at large schools, and I would often take my graduate students down to small schools so that they could get a feel for the environment. Often, they were clueless as to the kinds of things small colleges did! On one of these trips, we actually were on Albion’s campus, and I remember feeling really at ease, at home, with the environment. So when I saw this position open up, it felt like a completely natural fit. I really love what I do here. My position is all about learning and engaging with students, it’s very meaningful for me.
Z: What do you do in your free time?
I found that I have a love of gardening. It was actually a chance discovery; we inherited a very large garden with our house and I started taking care of it. I love it. It’s really nice just to get your hands dirty every once in a while, and the garden looks so beautiful. It’s like an oasis in our backyard! There’s always something blooming.
Z: Have you had a Just One More moment on campus yet?
Actually, I’m about to have my first one tonight! I’m going to the double-header men and women’s basketball game. Living in Ann Arbor, attending campus events can be difficult. If the events don’t start until 8 pm, it makes for a very long evening! Especially when you have to get back to campus early the next morning. But I’m really excited to attend this game tonight, hopefully both men and women will have excellent games.
Z: Tell me one fun fact about yourself!
I can’t swim. I feel like that’s a fun fact, because swimming is something everyone expects you to know how to do. I just never learned. I also have another fun fact that I think is more fun, but most of my students don’t understand the reference, it’s before their time.
Z: Try me.
I have Dennis Hopper’s couch. See? You missed the reference. Dennis Hopper was a pretty well-known actor, at least with my generation and the generation before mine. I think the movie Speed might be his film you’re most familiar with. He died a few years ago, and his estate was put up for auction. My husband and I both admired him, and we had just moved into a new house with a lot of space. We thought it would be funny to put a bid on the couch, not really expecting to get it. We won the auction. It was a bit of an adventure trying to get it from Christie’s in New York to Ann Arbor! Now all of our friends love it. Every time they come over, they always ask us if they can sit on Dennis Hopper’s couch.
Z: Do you have any advice for returning students?
I do. Everything in moderation. I think it’s really important to study hard, obviously. Also it is important to play hard, and engage hard, if you will, with the campus and community. But I think sometimes in this mindset it’s easy to lose focus. So I believe doing everything in moderation, remembering to scale back sometimes, can be a very crucial thing.
Z: If someone was considering Albion for a college, why would you tell them to pick Albion instead of somewhere else?
One of the really cool things about Albion are the different institutes offered to students. With the institutes, you’re going to have this additional layer of people to look out for you and know you. We keep track of the interests of our students so that when we find unique opportunities, we can send them directly to the student. The institutes are an extra support support system, and they provide additional opportunities to learn. Your success is constantly in our minds; we want you to be successful. Not that the rest of the campus doesn’t, but that’s my whole purpose at Albion College. Let’s get you internship experiences that are meaningful so that you are even more competitive when you graduate from Albion. I think that’s very unique to a lot of small colleges, and we really try our best. And from working with the other institutes, I can say that all of us really have students in mind when we do things. So if the student falls into any of those institute categories, wow. You know, do it. This is a great place to be.