The core of education

Career ConversationsI was already a fan. A Mac computer sits on my desk in Park Hall; at home, an iPod contains a good portion of my music collection; and an iPhone travels with me wherever I go. Like millions of others, I have found my life changed by Steve Jobs’s vision, and I read the stories about his life and accomplishments with admiration, respect and a sense of satisfaction.

Although a college dropout, Jobs consistently expressed a deep appreciation of the liberal arts. He famously credited his study of calligraphy at Reed College as later influencing the development of the first Apple computer. He described the company he founded as a liberal arts organization as well as a technology firm. “I think our major contribution [to computing] was in bringing a liberal arts point of view to the use of computers,” he once told an interviewer. One commentator dubbed Jobs an exemplar for liberal education.

Alumnae/i (above) shared their insights and experience with students during a ‘career conversation’ event at Homecoming in September.

The liberal arts needs such champions. The voices of those who question the value of rigorous study in the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences have never been louder. It is easy to understand why. The high cost of higher education, combined with the worldwide economic slowdown, has trebled families’ concerns that the investment of college tuition earn a return in the form of a well-paying job after graduation.

It is precisely in such challenging times that the liberal arts shines. Recent employer surveys show that the vast majority of companies place a premium on hiring employees capable of analyzing complex information, synthesizing ideas from a variety of sources and communicating ideas effectively. These skills, which are the hallmarks of a liberal arts education, allow individuals to adjust to rapidly changing conditions.

Flexibility is key. Wheaton alumnae/i regularly talk about the unexpected twists and turns of their personal and professional lives—English majors who become computer programmers, philosophy majors who pursue degrees in medicine. The common thread is the credit that our graduates give to their liberal arts background in providing the foundation to follow their interests and the opportunities that life presents.

Wheaton has long excelled in demonstrating the economic and professional usefulness of liberal arts study, even as we have believed in its inherent value in promoting the life of the mind. For more than two decades, the Filene Center has been an engine for demonstrating the connections between academic endeavors and the world of work. However, as the volume of questioners increases, we need to be louder in highlighting those benefits. In many ways, we’ve already started that process.

Over the past year, Career Services in the Filene Center has been working to unify the broad range of resources and programs that are offered to help students connect their academic passions to the world beyond campus. The advisors there have mapped out a full, four-year program that is designed to help students plan for their working future. We call it the Career Curriculum.

Our goal is to get every student “enrolled” in this curriculum early. The first year is not too soon to visit. The career counseling staff offers programs for students at every stage of their college career: from guidance on how to get scholarships and stipends for interesting summer internships and field experiences to writing résumés and cover letters and being effective in interviews.

Alumnae/i play an important role in this. Many alumnae/i help current students on their way. The Alumnae/i Association has helped very directly by co-sponsoring several “career conversation” events on campus at Homecoming. And individual alums contribute as mentors, internship sponsors, and contacts for informational interviews. And always, alums are our ambassadors to the world, illustrating the power of the liberal arts.

We know we are on the right track. The liberal arts lies at the core of every pursuit. Steve Jobs demonstrated that in Apple’s innovative melding of technology and art. Wheaton students and alumnae/i are proving it every day, in every field. It is very much the abundant life to which Wheaton’s founders aspired and to which we continue to strive.