Whitman’s Student Engagement Center announced their partnership with Seattle-based company Koru on Feb. 20, adding to the array of post-Whitman resources the SEC offers to Whitman students and young alumni.
Koru is a new company that partners with colleges to act as a connector between college students and the working world. It runs training sessions in the summer to give students hands-on experience with companies.
“Koru was brought to our attention at the very beginning of our start-up process from one of the governing board members who has a relationship with its co-founders. We thought it was an interesting program,” Director for Business Engagement Kim Rolfe said. “It’s a great complement and a good option to be able to offer to students in addition to the many other programs we’re putting together.”
Koru functions as a go-between for recent and soon-to-be college graduates and the business world. It offers work experience with companies to help students build relevant skills with executives who have real-world experience, which will make candidates stand out in the application process.
“We see [the partnership with Koru] as a complement to Whitman education. It allows them to get the focused education here, and then find a way to refine it in the workplace,” Rolfe said. “Their focus on mission-driven, rapidly growing organizations who are hiring right away seems like a really good fit for Whitman students. And the fact that they’re hiring right away is also very nice.”
Students who apply and are accepted into the Koru program pick one of three sessions during the summer months to attend. Most programs are based out of Seattle, but according to Rolfe, Whitman is working with Koru to expand the program to cater to other locales of interest to Whitman students, such as Austin or the bay area in California. It is a fee-based program, but scholarships and payment plans are available to students. During each session, participants learn, by working within a company, how to use the skills attained at a liberal arts college in more focused, practical way.
For the past few months, Whitman has been running a pilot program to see how participants reacted to Koru’s services. According to Rolfe, students have reported that their education at Whitman has given them a broad understanding of how to learn, how to question and how to think critically, and Koru has been able to take those skills and apply them to the business community.
“We all go to an incredible liberal arts school that teaches us how to learn and how to think critically, but we don’t have much to market to employers,” said Koru participant and senior Signe Burke.
Burke worked specifically at Zulily, a clothing company for mothers and children. She commented that she learned skills students do not necessarily get in college, such as design thinking, business communications, business analytics and personal branding.
“They want relevant skills and real world experience. Koru helped bridge this gap between schools’ ‘soft skills’ and the working world’s ‘hard skills’ by putting participants through challenging project[s] within a real company trying to solve a real problem,” she said.
Senior Robert Dalton had a similar experience during his time at Koru. He commented that the session he attended gave him the opportunity to apply critical thinking and other core skills of a liberal arts education in a professional context. He found those skills to be valuable in helping him succeed within the company he worked for.
“There are a lot of concepts and tools that we don’t learn here that are needed to bridge the gap between Whitman and the professional world,” he said. “Koru is a crash course in those things, and I truly feel that it will help me to find a satisfying first job after Whitman and that it will have a lasting and meaningful impact on my career.”
Alumna Michaela Gianotti ’12, who is a current staff member at Koru, discussed the process in which she sees Koru as a supplement to a Whitman education for newly minted college graduates.
“Having seen the transformation that happens over the program, I think Koru offers recent grads hope––hope that they can find a job that isn’t just a job, but something that has meaning for them. I think one of the most important things that people come out of it with is a sense not only what they are capable of doing, but what they want to do,” she said in an email.
The next Koru program will take place March 17-26 in Seattle. Participants will work with the Nordstrom Innovation Lab and Smartsheet, a fast-growing cloud-based software company that worked on the Super Bowl’s back-end operations.
Editor’s Note 6 March 2014 at 8:43 a.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that Whitman has been running the pilot program for the past few months, not years, as indicated on an older version of this article.
Editor’s Note 6 March 2014 at 11:29 a.m: A previous version of this article falsely indicated that Michaela Gianotti had participated in Koru’s pilot program and that she had taken an unpaid internship tutoring high school students which then turned into a permanent position.