Senior class gifts come in all shapes and sizes, and they usually benefit the campus community. This year, the Class of 2011 has taken a different tack, choosing instead to honor alma mater with a gift that impacts alumni.

On March 3, seniors gathered at Donovan’s Pub to launch a new initiative within the Maroon Advantage — a partnership between the Office of Alumni Affairs and the Office of Career Services.

Dollars from their project will be used to retain Caroline Dowd-Higgins, a career advising professional, who will establish an online toolkit, travel to alumni events, and consult one-on-one with graduates of all class years.

CDHweb.jpgAt the pub, students had the chance to meet Dowd-Higgins in person. She outlined her qualifications, beginning with her current position as director of career and professional development at the University of Indiana’s Maurer School of Law.

A regular blogger with the Huffington Post, she recently released her first book, This Isn’t the Career I Ordered, surveying 150 women from around the world who came to a fork in the professional road and took it.

Years ago, Dowd-Higgins made her own shift from opera singer to career counselor. “My values changed,” she said. “The commute from Germany to Indiana was getting long.”

So she evaluated her talents and passions, consulted with friends and colleagues, then played to her strengths while strategically marketing herself.

At a time when universities around the country are cutting budgets and restricting their career services staff to student-only services, the Colgate community is thinking of inventive ways to expand services for graduates who are weathering an inordinately challenging job market. “You get it, and I’m incredibly impressed,” Dowd-Higgins told seniors.

Colgate career services director Ursula Olender offered her own praise and thanks, noting that her staff dedicated 274 hours to 380 alumni last academic year alone.

Meanwhile, they conduct a robust series of educational programs for students, including signature 30-Minute Kickoff sessions, which help sophomores plan today for the questions employers and graduate school programs will ask tomorrow.

Tomorrow is just around the corner for the Class of 2011, and, in a flash, they could be looking at a mid-life career change. Thanks to their own generosity and foresight, the Maroon Advantage could prove to be their golden parachute.

To learn about seniors’ plans for life after graduation, check back to visit our Class of 2011 profiles page. You can see what last year’s graduates are doing here.