The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Liberal arts grads excel in careers

Is there really an alternative to graduate school for liberal arts majors?

This was the question plaguing the minds of the attendants at the alumni career panel discussion held by the Hegi Career Development Center Monday evening in the Varsity.

Hosted by Jeanene Anderson of the Dedman dean’s office, the panel began with an introduction and brief biography of each of the 10 panel members. All but two of the members were female, and most had completed their undergraduate work in the ’90s. Their career choices varied from journalism to genetics, and one of the speakers, Allison Ballard, is completing her third year of law school. Each of the speakers had received a degree (or two) from Dedman College.

Anderson kicked off the discussion by asking the panel to answer two questions: “What skills did you obtain from your undergraduate work that helped you secure your first position?” and “What effect has the economy had on your market?”

Each panelist then spoke for a few minutes about his own experiences in the real world. The general consensus? Internships are crucial, networking is invaluable, and critical thinking skills are paramount for securing a position in today’s competitive job market.

Internships, paid or unpaid, are a great way to procure knowledge of and to meet potential references within a field of interest.

Cassandra de Ridder’s first job after graduating with a bachelor’s in international studies and a minor in Spanish was an unpaid internship with the International Trade Center in Dallas.

“Take the internship, whether it’s paid or not. You may [make money as] a nanny, but what will that do for your resume?” she said.

Internships are also beneficial when the time comes to negotiate salary.

The experience that one of the panelists, a genetics counselor, gained through her internships bumped her salary up 25 percent. The two or more internships Anderson suggests a student have under his belt upon graduation will literally pay off.

Networking is another important skill stressed by the speakers. It’s been said “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” and the panelists’ experiences spoke to that maxim.

Mark Miller, a 1985 graduate with journalism and history degrees, is now a news development editor for Newsweek. He secured his position with the help of a recommendation from a professor in the SMU division of journalism.

Kristin Sullivan, a 1999 graduate with journalism and political science degrees, obtained her job with the Fort Worth Star Telegram through faculty recommendation as well. She says that strong relationships with professors will prove advantageous to students ‘ transitions from college to career.

All of the panelists said that a broad range of classes in the liberal arts is supremely beneficial to a students’ marketability. Doug Champion, a 2001 graduate with English and math degrees and a minor in art history , attests that his diverse background has been a tremendous help to him in his work as a management consultant

His background in math has made him an astute problem solver, and his English education has given him the communication skills he needs to clearly and effectively address CEOs 20 or more years his senior.

Sullivan says that fields such as journalism are really just trade schools. She advises students majoring in such areas to pick up a second major in history or political science, as these subjects help to expand one’s mind and abilities. Critical thinking skills are just as, if not more, important than a mere trade in the eyes of employers.

As for the economic influence, it varies from field to field. However, the general attitude seems to be a positive one. While certain markets, such as technology, have taken a serious hit, the field of genetics has more jobs available than people to fill them.

Budgets are down in the non-profit sector, said Yesenia Reyes, who graduated with a degree in anthropology and now works for a Catholic non-profit agency. There are a lot of people competing for entry-level jobs. But, the economy is on the rise, and companies that have cut back on hiring are gradually increasing their numbers.

Sullivan is optimistic.

“Our economy is cyclical. We’ll ride this thing out,” she said “You can get a job in whatever field is your passion. You just have to work hard.”

So liberal arts majors, take comfort in the experience of those who have gone before you. There is an alternative to grad school … a career.

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