Explore: Aaron Moushon
Director, Explore Andrews Program
What is the Explore Andrews Program?
It’s Andrews University’s academic exploration program. Now, an academic exploration program is the industry term that people all around the country use to define working with students who don’t exactly know what course of study they want to choose when they come to college. They know that they want to attend college or university, whether they want to expand their knowledge base or they know that it’s really a key for having more options in the future, but they don’t know exactly what they want to study. Those people make up a third of the students I work with. About another third are probably students who have a professional goal in mind, but there’s not a specific undergraduate degree; I get a lot of pre-law and pre-med students who know what they want to do for graduate school, but they don’t know what their undergraduate program should be. Then I have a diversity of students who have a myriad of interests that they want to study in, i.e. students who have double majors and minors who rather than having four or five advisors, work with me.
Can you explain the difference than from being a student who is Undeclared to what is now a student in the Explore Andrews Program?
As an institution, we are constantly assessing ourselves to ask, “Are we doing what’s right for our students?” One of the areas we looked at showed us that we had a lot of students that were not graduating in a timely manner—as in seven to eight years in undergraduate studies. When we really dove into it we saw that they kept changing their major over and over again. We found that close to 80 percent of our students make some kind of major change during their four years. It came down to this: these students were uncomfortable with the major they had because being Undeclared had a stigma—they felt that there was a need to claim an area of study. Because of that, we kind of wanted to get rid of the idea of being undeclared. The terminology, at least to me, of being undeclared implied a non-something—I could see why it made people feel like it was nothing.
When you come to school, I hear it so much during orientation week, people ask “What’s your name?” and “What’s your major?” When you don’t have a major, you begin to have this identity crisis—you’ve been here on campus for a week and you still don’t have a major. I want to pull “major” away from the student’s identity. Each one is their own individual experience and interests; they bring so much to the table regardless of what their major is. Personally I want to partner with students during their journey to better understand career options and work options, to learn to be a professional and to learn what life will be like after school; I want to help them transition into a comfortable, educated and professional adult, regardless of what they studied as an undergrad.
What led you to take up the mantle of Director of the Explore Andrews Program?
It is very personal to me. There was a time when I should have been undeclared. I was the product of poor counseling in high school—when I went to high school, there were only three things that were only a few viable career options: a doctor, lawyer or a teacher and if you were a girl, nursing was your path. Those were the good jobs. When you’re at that young age, that’s all you hear so I put myself in that box. I was pre-law and I knew lawyers who made good money, but it just didn’t feel right so I kind of meandered through school a bit. I became a college-drop out—I needed a break from all of it so I walked away and worked for five years. Eventually I came back, finished my degree, and started working in higher education; it was at that time that I figured out that I have this soft spot for students who still don’t really know what they’re doing because I’ve been there and I still turned out alright. I have a passion for working with students who are not exactly sure of what path they want to go down, because that is my story too. I’m not a career counselor by trade, but I’ve had a unique experience that led me here.
How does it feel to know that you are so intimately involved with students’ progression into future careers and the adult life? I mean, you’re practically helping them figure out the rest of their lives. When you see them succeed, does that rejuvenate your passion?
The easy way to say it is: their success and growth is why I do what I do. I like to be happy, here I am drinking coffee with pictures of cats on my wall and I’m satisfied. When people come to me and they are struggling, if I can use my tool set to bring some kind of joy to their lives, to ease their tensions, nudge them in the right direction and finally see them happier, that’s it for me. I just love helping people; I believe we are all wired in different ways and that’s just how I ended up. It is such a great joy when I meet with students who had storm clouds over their heads in the beginning of the year come back with a newfound enthusiasm because they’ve found their place, their major and their calling.
Wow, I should have met you sooner. I had a similar situation where I didn’t know what my career path should or would be, but when I found it, I’ve never looked back.
Right? There’s like such a relief that comes with finding your “it”—that niche or path that is more natural to you! It’s such a great feeling and I love it when I see my students get to that point.
For students who are currently struggling with finding their right career path or calling, what advice would you have?
As the Director of the Explore Andrews Program, I would have to say come see me in my office. On a serious note, however, I want to say, don’t be discouraged. There is a lot of opportunity out there for you. We live in a society where you go to school for four years, get a job, work for a few years, get a gold watch and retire. But that’s not it, that shouldn’t have to be our life. If you look at your parents and grandparents, they are products of their circumstances; we live in an age where there are so many more viable and exciting job opportunities available to us. Finally, I want to say that students have to understand that there are possibilities that you will change careers multiple times, but don’t let that discourage you either. Enjoy the time you have here in college because the tools you cultivate here are what you will take with you for the rest of your life.