Institute founders promote student success

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Following the success of the fifth-annual Sophomore Institute at DePauw University on Tuesday, The DePauw sat down with Ken and Carrie Coquillette, the founders and sponsors of the event. They spoke about the history of the event, where they hope to see it go in the future and what makes DePauw students so special.

The DePauw (TDP): What prompted you to start it?

Ken Coquillette (KC): I had been spending time giving DePauw students career advice, and it became crystal clear that we had to get students thinking about their plan earlier than second semester of senior year. That’s two years too late, because in the banking business, recruiting happens sophomore or junior year. We wanted to prepare students to take their next six semesters, two summers, and three Winter Terms and make the most of them. That’s where Raj (Bellani, dean of experiential learning and career planning) came in to create this one-day program. We’re not going to fix everything in a day, but it helps students get focused. Also, the world has become more outcome-driven, and we couldn’t sit idly by and not take ownership of this. In our own little way, we’re just trying to help.

TDP: What is your vision for the future of the institute?

Carrie Coquillette (CC): We would love for it to be mandatory, but not quite. We want the students to want to sign up and take ownership of their future; you can’t force someone to do that. Everyone matures at a different level. Even those who were in attendance, there was some variance. But it has a great effect on some students. We want there to be a bias for action. Students think three years to graduation is a long time, but it’s really not. We want every student to have at least one experience abroad and at least one internship. But in order to get that, you need the skills taught today. We want to give students the tools. Some seniors who came two years ago walked on campus this week with a job in their pocket. Hopefully, they’re the rule. We just want students to have lots of opportunities.

TDP: Is the Sophomore Institute modeled after a program from another institution?

KC: It was completely bespoke by Raj and his team. This is unique to DePauw. Some people have tried to copy this, but we were the first. We’ve had tremendous alumni support providing speakers and resources. The program has grown from 50 kids the first year to 250 this year. The faculty have been receptive to students thinking beyond that class as a result of what they’ve learned here.

TDP: What is your background that put you in the place to create the Sophomore Institute?

CC: We’re both DePauw graduates and were economics majors.

KC: I had two alumni-sponsored internships as a DePauw student that helped launch me into a career in financial services, where I’ve been successful. Our son graduated from here, so we’re very much in the mix. We want to give back to this place that helped get us to where we are now.

CC: We’ve endowed the Sophomore Institute forever, and we’ve also sponsored the CPCs (Coquillette Peer Advisors, student advisors who support the Hubbard Center staff by providing their peers with help on resumes and professional opportunities). Underclassmen are more likely to listen to upperclassmen rather than staff, unfortunately. There’s a big difference between an alum saying it versus a peer. It has more resonance.

TDP: What makes DePauw students distinctive?

KC: Are they the most technical? No. Are they the most aggressive? No. But we produce leaders; liberal arts graduates are prepared for careers in leadership. We have a lot of social, extroverted, self-aware thinkers. Whether in the classroom or outside the classroom in a setting like a living unit or team or organization, DePauw provides lots of opportunities for leadership. Are our graduates 100 percent leaders? No, but they are more prepared than other schools’ graduates, and we’d like to think this institute and the work of the Hubbard Center and our professors will help that even more.