Career Center Series: Michelle Ponce

Jillian Spaulding


Michelle Ponce 2018.jpg

For the third and final installment of the Weingart Center for Career and Professional Development (WCCPD) series, the Quaker Campus interviewed Interim Assistant Dean of the WCCPD Michelle Ponce. Ponce divides her time between the duties of Interim Dean and advising students as a career counselor. She said, “To be able to individually work with students to watch their growth process is very rewarding,” she said. Ponce’s one-on-one sessions are her favorite part of working at Whittier College because she has the time and ability on such a small campus to get to know the student body. Ponce describes her personality as “very ‘peace, love, and happiness’,” which helps her in her work with students every day.

Ponce is the youngest of three sisters and, with both of her sisters attending Marymount College, it was destined that she would as well. From there, Ponce transferred to California State University of Fullerton, where she earned her Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Human Services. Eventually, Ponce moved on to Chapman University, where she would work toward her Masters in Counseling, and work with campus counseling students. Pam Schechter, Ponce’s advisor and mentor from Marymount, offered her an Interim position while she was a graduate student. Ponce’s mentor, who she is still close with, said, “You can’t have my job, but do you want to come work with me?” Ponce fondly remembered going into the interview process completely unprepared, having to borrow professional attire from a friend. However, she was able to negotiate, turning that one-year, full-time position into a two-year one. During this time, she developed the skills that she uses in her position today. 

Ponce’s main focus is her family. She decided alongside her husband to start working at a high school near their home. “I took a position at a high school in Long Beach, and I was basically the director of the College and Career Center,” said Ponce. “That’s when I started my family.” 

Ponce has a son and daughter who are the center of her world. While both face academic challenges, she spends what she calculates as 120 – 180 minutes from the time they get home to the time they go to bed, to ensure they are supported academically and socially. Ponce says that her husband is the perfect partner, as their personalities balance each other as introvert and extrovert. Ponce knows her priority, and that being a mother will always come before all else. “I recognize that my number one priority will always be my family, as it should be in my world,” said Ponce.

Today, Ponce’s main focus in her career, she said, is “making sure that the operation of the office is promoting the student body and are alumni to the outside world.” Ponce sits on committees such as the National Association of College Employers and the Consortium of Liberal Arts and Independent Colleges, which both promote the students going out into the workforce — and does so strictly on a volunteer basis. All of these things help Ponce to better understand how she interacts with her students and to “allow our employers to realize how amazing you [all] are and to share those accomplishments of what you’ve done on and off-campus,” said Ponce.

Ponce is also taking on the role of published author, as she is writing a chapter for a book about adult learners. She does all of this not for herself, but because “[she wants]  [students] to wake up every day and love what [they] do,” said Ponce. She does this by helping students and alumni to learn to sell themselves, and all that they’ve done while in school. For those students who have not had a chance to go into the Career Center or have been too afraid, the office resources are always available for free after graduation. Ponce said, “We work with alumni who have been in the industry five, ten, twenty years and they want to change, but they haven’t done interviewing, networking, negotiation or résumé building in a long time.” Ponce does urge students to use the resources as soon as possible because, as the WCCPD puts it, school is a job that you will get a pink slip from in four years, and it’s counting down. Ponce wants to teach students to “make sure [they] take their learning in real time and their academic courses and apply it in real time,” she says. So, as each staff member has urged, make your appointment on Handshake as soon as possible.