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Stephanie D. Powell has been Assistant Dean of Career Services at Mercer University School of Law for three years. She was born and raised in Valdosta, GA. Ms. Powell earned her B.A. magna cum laude from Oglethorpe University, a small liberal arts college in Atlanta. After working for a few years following graduation, she decided to tackle law school. Ms. Powell graduated magna cum laude from Mercer University, Walter F. George School of Law, where she served as a member of Law Review and was the Student Writing Editor.
She is a member of the State Bar of Georgia, Macon Bar Association, Atlanta Bar Association, and the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). Ms. Powell has been a member of the law school community since 2006.
When asked about her hobbies and interests, she stated, "I love to travel. It doesn't have to be anything exotic, but just touring a new place is a lot of fun for me. Although I enjoy watching sports, I haven't followed a particular team religiously. But with Mercer's new football team, and the basketball's team upset of Duke in the NCAA tournament, it's been a lot of fun to watch the Bears this year."
Ms. Powell is an avid reader. She is a frequent visitor of middle Georgia's Grits Café and she enjoys Margaritas, a local Mexican restaurant.
Successful Assistant Dean of Career Services
Does Ms. Powell have a most memorable law school experience? "I cannot pinpoint any one experience, but just generally loved the environment at Mercer. The community at Mercer made law schools a great experience."
Why did she decide to become a career counselor? Ms. Powell explained:
"Like many people, I sort of 'fell' into the job. I practiced for several years as part of a tax/employee benefits team at McKenna Long & Aldridge, before I returned to Mercer to work in our Admissions/Financial Aid Office. After working in that office for about 4 ½ years, our then dean asked me to fill my current role. It was the opportunity for a new challenge that allowed me to connect back to the legal community while still working with students. So, I decided to take the leap into this field."
What is the best part of her job? "Working with students is hands down the best part of the job."
What does Ms. Powell have a knack for? "I think I have a knack for encouraging others. Often, the job search can be frustrating if not completely disheartening. Students often need someone to just be in their corner and let them know that success may take longer than they would like, but it will happen."
How has the market affected students' ability to obtain positions they want? Ms. Powell acknowledged:
"Obviously, the legal market has significantly tightened in the last six years, so it often takes longer to find a job and may mean starting in a position that is not the dream job, whether geographically or practice area. Our message to them is two fold: (1) focus on finding work that will allow them to grow professionally so that they can develop the skills and qualities that my help them in reaching that dream job down the road, and (2) be open to a wide variety of experiences. Although an opportunity may not look like your dream job, you may end up loving it."
What does Ms. Powell do to prepare students who are entering the workforce in a downward economy? She asserted:
"Our curriculum at Mercer has long emphasized developing practical skills, especially research and writing skills, and on having the opportunity to practice those skills through real world experiences. So our students are well prepared with the lawyering skills they need. In addition to the basic job search skills, our office focuses on many of the 'soft' or professional development skills that may be a little trickier to learn when navigating a professional environment."
What advice would she give to students who are about to graduate and enter the workforce? "I encourage them to keep the long term perspective in mind. A career will often take a number of unexpected twists and turns so where you start is not necessarily where you will end. They should be open to new experiences and opportunities not only at the beginning of their careers but throughout."
What advice would Ms. Powell give to a student who is struggling with their coursework? "To seek help. We all have areas where we struggle. Learning to identify areas in which you need help, seeking assistance, and persevering to overcome the obstacle is critical. Also, to keep the importance of grades in perspective. While they seem all too important in law school, the reality is their importance decreases dramatically after school when experience will matter far more."
What advice does she give to a student who doesn't know what career path to take after he/she graduates? Ms. Powell advised:
"Unless a student is especially passionate about a particular practice area or issue, I think it is important to figure out how you like to work before you commit to a practice area. Do you need to work with people? Or, do you prefer the solitude of working on a project individually? Can you work on projects that may take years to complete or do you prefer the satisfaction of quickly marking projects off your to do list? Often, these factors, more than what you are working on, will drive career satisfaction. Once they have a sense of those factors, the best thing they can do is talk to a wide variety of people and ask questions to determine if the day to day of any particular job matches the characteristics they need in a job."
In regards to her strengths and one weakness as a college career counselor, Ms. Powell admitted, "My strengths would include my ability to relate well to others and a strong sense of empathy. Even though it's been a few years, I still remember the challenges of navigating law school, the job search, and transitioning to that first legal job. My weaknesses include that I often do too much hand holding of students. I'm working on that!"
As the assistant dean of career services, what area of counseling is she most passionate about? "I'm not particularly passionate about any specific area such as public interest or judicial clerkships, but I am passionate about helping students determine what they want to do and why they want to do it. I wish I had gone through that self-reflection process before I started practicing."
What motivated Ms. Powell to become a college career counselor? She noted:
"One of the common denominators in my professional background is that I enjoy working directly with others to solve a problem or achieve a goal. If it's a goal or problem that is personally important to them, all the better. In this role, I can directly help students determine what kind of work they want to do and develop a plan to reach that goal. Essentially, I enjoy helping people find their own version of success."
If she wasn't the Assistant Dean of Career Services at Mercer University School of Law, what would she most probably be doing? "I would likely still be in law school admissions, as I enjoyed that work as well."
Where does Ms. Powell see herself in five years time? "The million dollar interview question: I'm always open to opportunities that push my own skill development to the next level. I'm not sure what that will look like, but we'll see!"
Non-profit Organizations, The Downside of Her Position and Ms. Powell's Goals
Is Ms. Powell involved with any non-profit organizations? "Most of my involvement in nonprofit organizations is professional as I'm involved in several bar associations as well as NALP."
Is there a downside to her position? "The most frustrating parts of my job are seeing students who are flailing about in searching for a job, but for whatever reason, will not take advantage of the help we offer. The other extreme that creates frustration is the student who is doing everything right, but has not yet clicked with that right opportunity."
Does the assistant dean of career services have goals? "Personally, my goal is to build a little more fun into my life. As you gain additional responsibilities in life, it is just a fact that you have to plan for fun or it won't happen. Professionally, I always seem to have at least a short list of things I am working to further develop. Right now, that short list includes better time management and coaching skills."
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