Don't take our word for it. Hear directly from William & Mary alums how their liberal arts education comes to life in their careers.
I believe that the value of a liberal arts education does not lie with the subject matter itself, but with the skills it nourishes. If my undergraduate education had been narrowly focused on physics, I would not have developed the communication and critical thinking skills necessary in my current position at the Department of Energy. Even in graduate school, the time spent writing research papers for philosophy, international relations, and history courses in undergrad helped me synthesize subject introductions for technical papers.
While pursuing my PhD in Physics at UNC, I regularly used reading, writing, and research skills developed in history, international relations, and philosophy classes to gather information and to communicate my findings to others. My broad educational background also made me a better teacher, as I was able to frame highly technical ideas in a variety of perspectives for my students. The breadth of subjects that I studied at William & Mary has eased my transition from basic scientific research to science policy in the federal government. My current position at the Department of Energy requires me to constantly interact with people with a diverse set of backgrounds, knowledge and ideas.
No matter how many lab reports or problem sets you complete, you will be hard pressed to know how to integrate a diverse set of perspectives and information without a liberal arts curriculum and its associated papers and projects. That skill is invaluable both at work and in your everyday life. The ability to communicate with people with a broad range of backgrounds makes it possible for me to collaborate effectively on the projects necessary for my job.
I work for Food & Friends, a nonprofit that focuses on public health issues. However, I graduated from William & Mary with a degree in economics. What is interesting about my career path is that it was not a complete surprise. As an undergraduate, I discovered my deep passion for nonprofit organizations and as a liberal arts student I was able to pursue this passion. Whether it was an economics course that drew comparison between nonprofits and for-profits or a sociology course that explored the need of nonprofit organizations in society, at no point throughout my education was I pigeonholed into my major. As a result, I find that I am able to move fluidly in this field, and I suspect other fields, without fear of feeling inadequately prepared for the challenges ahead.
My liberal arts education allowed me to gain proficiency in a field or two but did not hinder me from immersing myself in other subjects. I was able to take courses in sociology, arts, mathematics, computer science, philosophy, government and the list goes on. All of these courses taught me something valuable that has increased my knowledge of the world and different perspectives. I feel confident that I could pursue a career in government, public health, economics or just about any other field. Through the diversity of my study I have acquired skills that are useful in any career path: research, writing, public speaking and critical thinking skills.
Talking is something that everyone has to do. Some people have to do it in front of large crowds. In my current position, I am expected to give presentations multiple times per week. Before college, I was not a seasoned public speaker. In fact, I was plagued by paralyzing stage fright. This was quickly expunged as I was called on to present in most of my classes. Presenting on a wide variety of subjects has provided me with the confidence to get in front of a crowd and talk about my organization, a subject that I know quite well. I also took a course on public speaking and, to this day, I use the skills I learned. Recently, I sent an email to my professor thanking her for her tutelage on the subject of public speaking; the skills have served me well.
Another aspect of my job is the need to answer questions not just about my organization but about the current state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in DC and sometimes around the world. These are questions that usually require me to touch on government, sociology, epidemiology and economics. I am able to speak with confidence and knowledge about a wide variety of topics. People are multifaceted and I believe our education should be as well. I received a multifaceted, liberal arts education at William & Mary and I know that I am all the better because of it.
A liberal arts education enables you to look at things from a variety of perspectives, which is a highly useful skill in the working world. Personally, it has helped me develop the writing skills I use daily which allow me to be more effective in my job.
My liberal arts education taught me what has been reinforced throughout my time in the working world – that everything is connected. Just like every academic field brings to bear certain implications for other disciplines, seemingly divergent industries overlap and interact in important ways. In particular, my liberal arts education rendered me well suited for a career in government and politics, which touches on a wide array of issues and concerns.
The purpose of college is to teach you how to think, not to develop a trade skill. Unless you plan to go to medical school, it has been the experience of my contemporaries and me that it does not matter to an employer what your major was. It matters that you can think and write clearly. A liberal arts education will provide you with those abilities.
The skills developed and the experiences gained through a liberal arts education are applicable to every industry. I graduated from William & Mary with a degree in mathematics, which typically leads to a career in teaching. My studies in a variety of disciplines opened my eyes to a broad range of career opportunities, and I have been working in the publishing industry since graduation.
During my liberal arts education, I developed strong communication, problem solving and critical thinking skills by exploring different fields, interacting with diverse groups and tackling various challenges. I gained a breadth of knowledge and the confidence to take chances. Because of my liberal arts education, I secured a job prior to graduation, achieved two promotions and began managing a team of project leaders.
The greatest skill in the practice of law is judgment. The second greatest skill is the ability to communicate. A liberal arts education cultivates both of those skills. When a student graduates from William & Mary, his or her judgment is informed by the human experience in the very broadest sense. His or her ability to make decisions is informed, at every step along the way, by good and bad decisions made by those who have come before. Similarly, a William &Mary student is an expert at articulating his or her thoughts to others – a skill which is critical in the practice of law.
I practice law on the plaintiffs' side. Invariably, I find myself making legal arguments to persuade courts that there is a compelling, policy-related reason to interpret the law more expansively. Each time I do that, I draw on my own practical experience of the world around me. I take a step back, and think about how the law impacts real people. My liberal arts education enables me to do that.
Every time I make a legal argument, in a brief or in front of a court, I thank Cicero – because when I read Cicero as an undergraduate, I didn't just learn Latin. I learned how to think, and how to articulate myself in a way that persuades others. The Latin authors had a certain cadence and style to their writing that affects the way I communicate even today.
It was my liberal arts education, moreover, that led me to reach outside my legal career to co-found Global Playground, Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization which builds schools in developing countries and then facilitates cross-cultural dialogue among children at those schools and here in the United States. William & Mary cultivates deep concern for the lives of others, which I've integrated into my life as an attorney.
I started a nonprofit organization during my sophomore year of college. For the past five years, I have been developing and growing my organization from 2 members to over 5,000; from 2 college campuses to 60; from one orphanage in Honduras to a hundred families across the northern region of the country. William & Mary made it easy for me to do this. My mentors, donor network, research opportunities, volunteers and diverse avenues for revenue were readily available during the start-up stages. The William & Mary community showed me that I didn’t have to get anyone’s permission to change the world - I gave myself permission.
I can reflect back on my experience and pinpoint exactly how a liberal arts education helped me succeed and pick the right career path. First, it taught me how to think rather than what to think. As a women’s studies and American studies major, I learned how an interdisciplinary approach to analyze complex issues can lead to the right questions and ultimately, thoughtful options to convert theory into practice. By having a general, yet deeply thoughtful background in sociology, research methodology, history, storytelling, philosophy and theory, leadership and economics, etc., I was able to analyze and frame challenges from multiple perspectives. Secondly, it gave me a love for learning. Curiosity, creativity and persistence are important for social entrepreneurs. We have to keep up with the literature, growing networks and latest trends in order to succeed. That is the only way we are going to understand human nature and thus the challenges that face our generation.
I learned early in my career that a team of people with diverse backgrounds is absolutely necessary to tackle some of the key challenges of development. Scientists develop the research statistics that empirically demonstrate the need for a sanitation system to protect the public’s safety, engineers design the structurally sound system, CFOs with finance backgrounds help allocate resources and procure funds effectively, public policy workers help articulate and shape the legislative field to ultimately help make your efforts scalable and sustainable. This is just to name of few of the key players I had to identify and forge partnerships with in order to build a sanitation system in Honduras. As founder and former president of a growing nonprofit organization, the multi-disciplinary perspective I learned in undergraduate studies provided me the foundation skills to launch a successful business.
Go broad first, then deep.
A well-rounded liberal arts education allows students to explore several different professional options within a specific interest area. For me, that area of interest is the arts. Since graduating in 2004, I have worked in theater production, arts advocacy, and arts management. The broad range of knowledge and skills I received prepared me well for all three of those career tracks.
Some people might say that a double major in International Relations and Theatre is an odd combination. While I was at William and Mary, I chose those areas of study simply out of personal interest. In retrospect, they each provided a solid basis for my career in arts management. The government classes I took as part of the International Relations program laid the foundation for my work in arts advocacy. Theatre classes and participation in WMT productions provided practical, hands-on learning opportunities.
In my current position at VSA, I draw on many of the skills I initially developed at William and Mary. For example, when I produce performances at the Kennedy Center, it directly relates to my experiences working on shows in the Theatre Department. When I execute arts education programs, I utilize the writing and project management skills I developed in many of my International Relations classes. In managing staff members, I remember the tools I learned through my work as an RA and Head Resident at William and Mary. A liberal arts education provides the critical thinking, writing, and problem-solving skills necessary for students like myself to succeed in the professional world.
As someone with a major of “Interdisciplinary” and concentration in Women’s Studies, my liberal arts education allowed me to take classes in a variety of departments across campus, including sociology, religion, literary and cultural studies, music, and English as well as in the women’s studies department. I regularly saw the connection of sexism (and other systems of oppression) across disciplines, and more specifically in my life. In the classroom I learned about sexism in the media, eating disorders, and sexual assault, among other topics, and then went back to my residence hall to help students dealing with these issues throughout the three years I worked for Residence Life.
I would not be in my current job as a rape prevention coordinator without my liberal arts experience. I took my first women’s studies class to fulfill a GER as a first-year student at W&M. Practically speaking, because of my liberal arts education, I found my passion!
Today’s students should know that a liberal arts education is not just about the academic experience– it is also about what leadership positions you hold, what jobs you work and what experiences you have with people who are different than you. That type of academic experience makes you truly competitive in this job market. I can’t think of any field where it is not to your advantage to understand where others are coming from and be able to relate your work to any area of life.
My liberal arts education has given me a broad knowledge base from which to draw. I specialized in the social sciences, which has helped me to navigate the corporate world with a better understanding of company cultures, as well as interpersonal relationships. I ended up in the business world, first as a Marketing Director and then as a Branch Director, despite not having been a business school major. I had a passion for helping others and my liberal arts background allowed me to be successful even though I took a different path than what I had initially envisioned for myself. I originally thought I wanted to be a child psychologist, but for the last 7 years I have been working with the elderly in the healthcare field.
Majoring in psychology and sociology set the ground work for my graduate training. As an undergraduate, William & Mary afforded me the opportunity to intern at Avalon battered women's shelter, Head Start and Walsingham Academy. Additionally, I worked for the Sociology department in their "research experience for undergraduates" (REU) program. These experiences gave me a strong foundation. In graduate school I was able to further sharpen my interpersonal skills, which has been invaluable in the work environment.
My parents wanted me to major in business but I have always wanted to work with people in a helping capacity. I was drawn into the social sciences and then the world of healthcare - first behavioral health and then traditional healthcare. Ultimately, I have ended up within traditional business roles as a Marketing Manager, and then Branch Director of an agency. I followed my passions and what I enjoyed, and ironically still ended up in the world of business. When I was taking the general educational requirements, I took classes that I found interesting: Greek literature, art history, the anthropology of food, the history of East Asia, and Biomedical Ethics, to name a few. It has allowed me to talk to just about anyone regarding just about anything, and believe it or not that can really come in handy when you are trying to build rapport with people. Relationship building is a key to success.
A liberal arts education has enabled me to explore a vast spectrum of careers. It has given me the ability to look beyond job titles and forge connections between fields. Some would say that a liberal arts education makes you “a jack of all trades, master of none.” In reality, the range of courses required in a liberal arts education enables you to adapt well to new situations and also apply knowledge from other fields to your current work.
After completing my BA in History and Modern Languages, I went to Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship. Knowing that I didn’t want to “simply do history,” I started a Masters in Historic Preservation Project Management and International Management.
Currently, I work for SDL International, which specializes in Global Information Management. As a project manager for a global information management company, we have to offer our clients technical, software, and people solutions. Thus, you must be able to think outside of the box.
If I had only been trained in one career, this would not have been possible. You have to be able to see the client’s situation, assess its nature, and form a multi-faceted solution. Sometimes these solutions are drawn from your psychology class, sometimes your international relations class, and sometimes your chemistry class. I am often amazed at how much I use my liberal arts education.
More than anything else, my liberal arts education has expanded and deepened my awareness and appreciation of the world I live in. It has allowed me to continue learning even though I have essentially moved beyond my school days, and prepared me to work in a variety of fields of employment. My liberal arts education has even prompted me to become an educator myself. I want others to share the pleasure I take from learning.
A liberal arts education can prepare you to engage in a variety of fields of employment. It is true that particular skills are crucial for certain jobs and that people sometimes get the jobs they planned for, but the world of work just as often leads us to employment that we did not plan for. A well-rounded education gives you the adaptability and perspective to handle any number of jobs. It teaches you to engage with material in many creative, flexible and, ultimately, successful ways.
One example of my own education being valuable to me in the work world involves my first long-term, steady job after graduation. I hadn't anticipated working as the shift manager of a restaurant, but I was hired for the job and wanted to do well. My job required me to run a shift of twelve to fifteen employees in a fast-paced, stressful environment and to not only be attuned to the temperaments and tendencies of my employees, but to monitor the flow of customers. The attention to detail necessary in all of my college classes was a dramatic boon to me when it came to managing employees and producing the most efficient and cheerful team possible.