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Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

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Current and Future World of Work

Marc Lautenbach

Marc Lautenbach makes a point while the panel listens.

Marc Lautenbach, a managing partner in global business services with IBM Corporation, started the panel discussion with the reminder that millennials are the first generation with the potential to have a lower standard of living than their parents.

With this statistic in the current economy, it’s not surprising that parents are concerned that their children choose majors with clear career paths and high earning potential.

Students attending liberal arts schools with strong writing programs have an advantage. “The number of college graduates who can write well is shockingly small,” Lautenbach said. Young people with writing skills have a significant advantage in the marketplace.

Panelist John McConnell, CEO of Wake Forest Baptist medical center stressed that medical schools are looking more favorably on students who come from non-traditional pathways. He also talked about the rapidly-growing allied health care field and the opportunities for physicians assistants and nurse practitioners — who will be providing more primary care services going forward. “We won’t be able to train enough people for these jobs,” he said.

Donna Boswell, a partner with the international law firm Hogan Lovells, emphasized the need to offer appropriate career guidance to students who think they want to be corporate lawyers. While legal firms are looking for well-rounded, critical thinkers, she noted that new corporate lawyers are expected to pay their dues with long hours and less than scintillating work. “You have to know that you are passionate about corporate law to succeed,” she said. “Otherwise, you will be miserable.”

When asked what advice she would give students interested in pursuing corporate law, Boswell said that an understanding of corporations and an empathy for business people is critical. “Look at different kinds of legal venues if you don’t like business,” she said. A fairly recent challenge law students face is that changes in global competition and technology mean legal firms can no longer offer extremely high-paying positions to law school graduates. There is a growing need to offer scholarships to offset this.

What are the critical success factors that students need when they graduate? President and CEO of VF Corporation Eric Wiseman said the ability to lead and the ability to communicate are top. Though these skills can be developed in any discipline, Wiseman said that liberal arts institutions must be willing to help guide students before they choose a major — providing data on what kinds of jobs alumni with a particular degree have pursued and what they are earning.

Liberal arts graduates who are teammates and consensus builders and are willing to take initiative will do well, said Wiseman. “But universities must help students to unlock the value of their education,” he said. “We all know that the kids we are interviewing are smart. We are looking for the hook. How will this person add value to our company.”

— Guest post by Kim McGrath,
Wake Forest Communication and External Relations,
from the “Rethinking Success” conference

Video: Katharine Brooks

Katharine Brooks, the director of the Liberal Arts Career Services Center at the University of Texas, answers questions after speaking on a panel at “Rethinking Success: From Liberal Arts to Careers in the 21st Century,” a conference held by Wake Forest University on April 12, 2012.

Video: Katherine Brooks »

Demystifying 'college to career'

Katharine BrooksEveryone fears the unknown. In the world of the college students the biggest, scariest unknown of them all is the “real world,” that strange place we are all expected to enter upon graduation. At the Rethinking Success panel “Understanding Today’s Students,” conference participants were led to reflect on how universities can help demystify the “college to career” journey for their students.

Katharine Brooks, director of the Liberal Arts Career Services Center at the University of Texas, challenged universities to change their campus culture around the career search. She presented four concrete areas for change:

  1. Shift the way we talk about the career journey. Finding a job today is a practice in chaos theory. It’s not a standard linear path. Instead, many students will “fall” into positions by taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. Bottom line: it’s OK to not know what you want or where you’re going. Focus on developing yourself and learning who you are, and you will be ready to take advantage of the unplanned chances that come your way.
  2. Give permission to explore. Create spaces where students are encouraged to engage in deep explorations of how the liberal arts connects to vocation.
  3. Encourage reflection. Students need to figure out the value of their education for themselves. Don’t give them the canned answers about why history matters. Get a group of history majors together and ask them what makes a good history major. What unique perspectives, methodologies and skills do they have because of what they study?
  4. Make students practice their story. A consistent theme of the conference has been the inability of liberal arts students to translate their college experiences into meaningful narratives. Newsflash: Telling your story is difficult. The first time you try, you’re not going to be very good. So please ask students good questions about what they love, how they think and how they want to change the world.

Brooks said that “Everyone on campus has the potential to be a career coach.”

I would argue that if universities are going to support their students like they should, everyone on campus must be a career coach. We should all be invested in helping today’s students discover who they are and where they want to go.

— Guest post by Beth Ann Williams (‘11),
Wake Forest Fellow,
from the “Rethinking Success” conference

Fea: 'A Wake Forest Model of Career Development?'

Among the attendees at Rethinking Success are presidents, career office directors, liberal arts deans, and faculty from more than more than 70 colleges and universities – from Ivy League institutions to large public schools to small liberal arts colleges.

If you’re interested in what we’re blogging about here, you’ll probably enjoy the perspective of John Fea, an associate professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College. We were particularly excited to read his blog post called “A Wake Forest Model of Career Development?” He also happens to be one of the most prolific Tweeters about #RethinkingSuccess (follow him @JohnFea1). Thanks, John!

Video: Martha O’Connell

Martha O’Connell, the executive director of Colleges That Change Lives, answers questions after speaking on a panel at “Rethinking Success: From Liberal Arts to Careers in the 21st Century,” a conference held by Wake Forest University on April 12, 2012.

Video: Martha O’Connell »

The view from liberal arts colleges

Stanton W. Green
Dean, McMurray School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Professor of Anthropology, Monmouth University

Stanton W. Green

Where do liberal arts majors find jobs?  “They find them where they are looking for them,” Green said.

He suggests some students are not looking in enough places and said that faculty and administrators can help.  “We need to learn where the jobs are, so we can advise them,” he said.

The majority of the people who get hired in the world are liberal arts graduates, he said. “The liberal arts are all about preparing for careers.”  The challenge for college and universities is to help graduates tell their stories of how a liberal arts education has prepared them for the workplace.

“Employers do not care what you majored in — for the most part.  Tell them what you can do and what you have done.”

When making hiring decisions, HR people are looking for these skills:  reading, writing, speaking, working with data, working effectively as a team member and team leader.  He encourages faculty to consider how what they are assigning matches skills students’ need for jobs.

Martha O’Connell
Director of Colleges that Change Lives, Inc.

Martha O'Connell

As she talks with high school students and their parents, O’Connell tries “to calm the frenzy surrounding the college admissions process.”

She says many students have given over the college search process to their parents, partly because they think they need to know all the answers at the beginning of the search process.  “We need to encourage independent thinking” and get the students to take the lead in finding the right place for them.  “We need to help them move beyond thinking they need to know what they want to be.”

Students don’t need to know what they will be or even what their major will be to select a college.  She suggests other important questions:

  • Who am I?
  • How do I best learn?
  • Why am I going to college?
  • What learning community would be best for me?

She has a simple answer for parents and students who ask if a liberal arts education is worth it for four years?  “This is not about four years. It is about the education of a lifetime.”

Mark W. Roche
Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C. Professor of German Language and Literature, and Concurrent Professor of Philosophy and former dean of the University of Notre Dame

Mark W. Roche

What concrete steps can we take to make students and employers aware of the skills and abilities that liberal arts students bring to the workplace? Roche says start with the syllabus.

He suggests faculty begin a syllabus “with a paragraph or two on the fascinating questions the course will address,” to demonstrate to students the intrinsic value of what they will learn.

Then, the syllabus should highlight “learning goals for developing formal skills and outcomes” to show the practical value beyond the course. These might be writing making oral presentations, critical-thinking and problem solving, gathering and evaluating data, or working in teams.

“I bring the latest issue of Job Outlook to class and tell my students the skills they need for this class are the same skills they will need in the job market,” Roche said.

— Guest post by Cheryl Walker,
Wake Forest Communication and External Relations,
from the “Rethinking Success” conference

Lunch with A.G. Lafley

A.G. Lafley and Andy Chan

A.G. Lafley speaks while Andy Chan listens.

It’s not often that a former C-suite executive describes his educational and career path as “a bit of A.D.D.”

But that’s exactly how former chairman, president and CEO of Procter & Gamble A.G. Lafley kicked off his luncheon address at Rethinking Success.

Lafley considered majoring in math, English literature, French and, ultimately, history as a student at Hamilton College, where he currently serves as the president of its Board of Trustees. His career path included studying Hebrew in the Navy, being stationed in Japan, and serving in the Vietnam War before he eventually settled down in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he would work for P&G for 33 years.

Having served on the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, Lafley said that while much has been made about jobs in today’s society, the real emphasis – from policymakers and educators – should be on competitiveness. He said that talent, innovation and productivity are three factors that drive competitiveness. Talent, he said, is the root of the latter two, “so it’s all about talent.”

Lafley is a big believer in networking and early identification. He reminded the audience that no one waited three years to discover a University of Kentucky basketball center named Anthony Davis. He likened the identification of athletic caliber to the way some recruiters, much to his approval, scout prospective hires from the early days of their college experience.

For the students in the room, he cautioned them not to rely too heavily on the Office of Personal and Career Development.

“You have to go out and get it yourself,” he advised. “This world is a networked world. The positive is that it’s much more open. The negative is you’ve got to cut through a lot more clutter. The challenge is you’re going to have to tell your story and make your case.”

Lafley often reflected upon the motto of Hamilton College, which is “know thyself” and its relevance to each person’s journey through life, from classroom to career.

“The great thing about the liberal arts is that you have a fair amount of time to get to know yourself, which I believe is a lifetime,” he said. “It doesn’t end until you end.”

For more information about A.G. Lafley’s perspective on how a liberal education equals career preparedness, read his recent guest column in the Huffington Post.

— Guest post by Katie Neal (’03),
Wake Forest Communication and External Relations,
from the “Rethinking Success” conference

Video: Teresa Sullivan

Teresa Sullivan, the president of the University of Virginia, answers questions after speaking on a panel at “Rethinking Success: From Liberal Arts to Careers in the 21st Century,” a conference held by Wake Forest University on April 12, 2012.

Video: Teresa Sullivan »

View from the top

Rightly or wrongly, colleges are being judged by their ability to place students in jobs immediately after graduation. Inside Higher Ed Editor Scott Jaschik opened today’s Rethinking Success conference with this insight and launched an engaging discussion among college and university presidents, whom Jaschik referred to as “eloquent and able defenders of the liberal arts.” The following collects a few of their thoughts:

University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan

Teresa SullivanThe governor of Virginia is making a major push for students to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines. It is important to remember that science and mathematics are part of the liberal arts curriculum, which is the bedrock of undergraduate education.

Recent focus groups of parents demonstrate a broad misperception of the liberal arts. One of most prevailing and hazardous misperceptions is that liberal arts graduates are unemployable. Job attainment related to specific degrees is misleading. Only 27 percent of the courses a student will take are directly linked to his or her choice of major.

Additionally, not all liberal arts graduates are created the same. We must consider the quality of the education they received – an argument almost always overlooked in the conversation.

Apple, Google and Facebook were all created at the nexus of multiple liberal arts fields.

Davidson College President Carol E. Quillen

Carol E. QuillenAt Davidson we have a very clear primary purpose and it is still relevant. We ask ourselves, “What does it mean to prepare students for lives of leadership and service, now, in this world?”

We hear the buzzwords – globalization and technology. These two trends have significant effects. The barriers to communication are lower than ever before. The barriers between individuals and information are very low. We can’t continue to define ourselves by the information people used to pay us to dispense.

Liberal education is defined by its aim not by the disciplines it encompasses. We must think about doing things differently in higher education.

We need to expose students to the power of computation. We must help them develop quantitative instincts – valuable in every field. Success in the workplace will invariably depend on the ability to make sense of massive amounts of data.

We need to help students understand an entrepreneurial approach to problem solving;  not because they are going into business but because this approach to thinking is necessary in every field.

We need to help students develop clarity of expression. The lower barriers to communication and access to information make this increasingly important.

We are taking more responsibility for moving students from academia to impact the world and these skills will all be critical for tomorrow’s leaders.

Pomona College President David Oxtoby

David OxtobyAround the rest of the world, particularly in Singapore, Hong Kong, and China, governments are investing heavily in the liberal arts model of education to increase creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Ironically, the U.S. is cutting back on this investment to focus on technical skills, job training and the more direct outcome of placing graduates in their first job. The rest of the world is thinking long term and preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist.

One key point we must recognize is that there are many pathways to a single career goal. Career offices are often asked by students and parents for a silver bullet solution – the answer to the question,  “What do I do to get the job I want?”

English and philosophy majors can take you to Wall Street. Students don’t need to restrict themselves to one narrow path.

Hamden-Sydney College President Christopher Howard

Christopher HowardAt Hamden-Sydney we are so old school that we are new school. We teach rhetoric and grammar at the collegiate level – skills students may not come in with but need before leaving.

When thinking about what our key stakeholders want, I am reminded of the following: Parents want scholarships. Alumni want football; Faculty want parking; Students want sex.

Students in the Millennial Generation grow up faster but stay young longer than any prior generation. They are striving to answer complex question like, “Who am I?” “What is this world around me and where do I fit in?”

Employers report that they want to hire students with critical thinking and communication skills. They lie. They want to hire students prepared to fill an immediate need with relevant technical skills. This level of specificity will get you in the door but there is a reason corporations have terms like “General Manager,” and the military has “General Officers.” That which makes us most human guarantees our long-term employment – innovation and a creative spark.

— Guest post by Brett Eaton,
Wake Forest Communication and External Relations,
from the “Rethinking Success” conference

Inside Higher Ed: Jobs & the Liberal Arts

Day two of Rethinking Success got off to a great start this morning. Inside Higher Ed editor and co-founder Scott Jaschik wrote a thoughtful and compelling article that highlights Wake Forest’s College to Careers course series, our approach to preparing students for life and work after college, and some of yesterday’s dynamic Rethinking Success speakers.

We were thrilled to have Scott join us again this morning, this time as moderator of a panel featuring college presidents. Another blog post is coming on that panel soon, but for now I hope you’ll check out his story, “The Liberal Arts and Careers,” and let me know what you think. Tweet me at @chanfucious using the hashtag #RethinkingSuccess.