Esther Livingston’s Meandering Path FROM Berea College TO Berea College
She is a fan of ballroom dancing. She spends much of her free time doing Swing, Cha Cha, Waltz or Hustle. She enjoys music of all kinds, and is a member and frequent attendee of WoodSongs, a folk music program in Lexington. She loves nature and hiking, too, and that is what brought her to Berea in the first place. She is Esther Livingston, and she is the Director of Internships in the Center for Transformative Learning (CTL) at Berea College.
July 2011 was when Livingston began working for Berea College. She had the opportunity to be part of the newly established Center for Transformative Learning, and she took it. “Before I started working at the College, I used to come to Berea to hike and attend convocations. One time after hiking, I mentioned to a friend how much I liked Berea, and he suggested that I work for the college and live here. At the time, I loved my job at the University of Kentucky and was not looking for a new one, but the idea took hold and grew. I inquired out of curiosity, and was delighted to learn about the upcoming position.”
Livingston discussed the prospects and opportunities the new Center entailed with friends and colleagues in Berea, and finally decided to apply for the Director of Internships. “There were two positions open: Internships and Career Development, and I have about the same amount of experience in both of them. At Berea, however, I knew I wanted to focus on Internships and work closely with Career Development.”
Directing Internships was not the only responsibility Livingston accepted at CTL. “Even though the College had a plan to eventually recruit a Scholar of Teaching and Learning to become the Director of the Center, they were not quite ready to make that hire. So, they asked James Atkinson, the director of Career Development, and me if we would be co-directors of the Center and we both agreed.” Consequently, Livingston and Atkinson co-directed the Center for two years starting from July 2011 to July 2013. “There was a lot of work that had been done by faculty and administrators before we arrived regarding the vision of what they wanted the Center to be, and we were charged with implementing that vision from the ground up. The Center needed a space, an administrative assistant, and a director of faculty development, in addition to programming,” says Livingston about her first two years at CTL.
However, this was not the first time Livingston considered coming to Berea College. At 13, her family moved from Detroit, Michigan, where she was born, to Lee County, Kentucky, where she went to high school. After graduating from high school, she applied to Berea College and Ambassador College in Pasadena, California. “I was accepted to both schools, so I had to choose one. Obviously, at 17, Southern California was quite a draw.” She went to Ambassador College for two years, majoring in Business.
She made her family and home in Pasadena for the next nine years and worked for two companies in the Los Angeles area. “My first job was for Wham-O, the Frisbee manufacturer, handling all the special accounts that wanted artwork or logos printed on Frisbees. Then I worked for Aptitude Testing for Industry, a group of Industrial Psychologists who specialized in employee assessments for client companies. Clients used the assessments to help make promotion or hiring decisions. I worked at an administrative level for three years and became very familiar with the assessments, norms, and reports that the company provided. This is what sparked my interest in Career Development.”
Livingston returned to Lexington in mid-80’s and worked for the Thoroughbred Times magazine and Equix Biomechanics before she joined the University of Kentucky, where she spent ten years doing career development. However, when she first joined the University, she worked in the College of Fine Arts. “I was the assistant to the Chair of the Theatre Department. I loved working with students and faculty, and I also did some graphic design work creating programs and posters for the shows.”
While working at UK’s College of Fine Arts, Livingston was finishing her Bachelor’s degree at Midway College, in Midway, Kentucky. In 2001, after she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management, she became the Assistant Director in the Office of Experiential Education. “We were in the same building with Career Services of the University, and we worked closely with them. Later on, when the directors of both offices retired, they merged the departments, and I became the Assistant Director of the newly combined unit.” In Experiential Education and Career Services, Livingston worked with employers, students, and faculty, still overseeing UK’s internship program and also organizing career fairs, reviewing student résumés and conducting mock interviews. While in this position, she completed her Master’s degree in Career, Leadership and Technical Education from University of Kentucky.
“In 2008, I became the Interim Director of the Career Center for a short time, and made the transition to Human Resources as a Career Development Specialist and helped to start up a career development program for employees. I had already worked with students for eight years, so it was really appealing to me to start something new and help employees. The initiative was part of the University’s talent management and succession planning efforts.” Livingston continued to work in HR for three years until she started at Berea College in 2011.
In workshops and individual consultations, Livingston emphasizes the important advantages of doing an internship. “Almost all students who participate in internships state that they gained a better understanding of the concepts learned in the classroom when they had a chance to apply those concepts to real situations and problems. The skills they learn, the confidence they build, and the career-related experience they gain makes them better prepared to enter the workforce after graduation. Moreover, the networking connections that students make while they are interning often lead to their first job. Internships are part of what we refer to as the ‘bridge out’ of Berea. For me, it is very rewarding to have students return from their internships and thank me for the best experience of their lives, or tell me they were offered a job upon graduation. Internships are transformative—on many levels. Students usually gain personal insights as well as job experience.”
Under Livingston’s leadership, Berea College’s Office of Internships guides students to resources that help them find or create internships that support their ultimate career goals and provides funding to help cover their expenses. “The number of students participating in full-time summer internships for academic credit has doubled over the last couple of years. It’s clear that they are getting the word from all directions and understanding how valuable internships are.” Consequently, she advises students to take advantage of these services and plan to do at least one internship before graduation. “Amazing things happen when preparation and opportunity meet. Some people call it luck, but that is not the case. You have to be prepared so that when an opportunity comes, you will be ready and able to take advantage of it.”