What does a college graduate do with a degree in philosophy? For that matter, if you don’t want to teach, what do you do as an English literature major? What about a history degree? Most employers don’t care about a well-rounded education; they want to know what you can do for the future of their companies.
In today’s challenging job market, and at a time in our nation’s history when science and math are stressed as the country’s greatest educational need, a liberal arts degree—once the hallmark of a well-educated, gentleman or gentlewoman—has fallen into mild disrepute.
But the University of Connecticut’s Torrington campus has set out to persuade its young scholars that they are every bit as viable in the job market as those with more specialized degrees. Asian Studies lecturer Christine Reardon, with the blessing of campus director Michael Menard and assistant Melissa Flaherty, has launched a program called Career Conversations, in which small groups of students are invited to meet over lunch with business leaders to discuss career options.
“A couple of years ago, the regional campuses of UConn were asked to define the various campuses’ niches. Looking at our strengths, we defined [the Torrington campus] as the ‘Landscape for Arts and Humanities,’” Professor Reardon said. “A lot of people ask, ‘What you are going to do with a liberal arts degree? Where do you go with a degree in philosophy?’ But I strongly believe in both the pleasure of studying the liberal arts and the utility of the degree for business careers for liberal arts students.”
Having defined the campus’ niche in the UConn system, Professor Reardon said she then realized that the college needed to do a better job of helping students transfer from school to the business world. She said that many people do not work in the specific area in which they train, but that a liberal arts education often develops skills that can be transferred to different fields.
“My daughter, for instance, has a degree in philosophy,” she said. “People used to say to me, ‘What is she going to do with her degree?’ But philosophy teaches you things like critical thinking. She is logical and detail-oriented and now she works in corporate accounting. What good is an English degree? Employers will tell you they don’t have the time to teach people to write.”
Having recognized the need to help students transition from the ivory tower of academe, she came up with the idea of Career Conversations, which are held six times during the academic year—three times in the fall and three times in spring. The size of the gatherings are limited to Professor Reardon, a community guest and eight students. “We wanted the lunches to be intimate so there can be a real conversation,” Professor Reardon said, adding that she is now considering some panel discussions to reach out to more people.
The program kicked off in November with Greg Oneglia, CEO of O&G Industries, Inc. “Our guests tell the kids about their career trajectory and what they look for as employers. Greg Oneglia was our inaugural guest, and the kids loved it. It was very helpful to the students to see how they could take academic disciplines that they don’t see how they can be useful and apply them to business.”
She reported that Mr. Oneglia singled out hard work as the greatest asset employees can bring to the workplace. “He told them that they might not think the long hours they put in to do a job well will be noticed, but that they will,” she said. “He told them to find something they have a passion for doing because then they will work hard and will succeed.