It’s 7:45 a.m. on a classic fall Friday and Raul Bernal ’03, Director of Career and Professional Success in the College of Liberal Arts, stands in the entryway to McConnell Hall, clipboard in hand, checking off the names of 18 students who file on to a charter bus to begin a full day of career networking. During the next eight hours, they’ll visit three New Hampshire organizations where they’ll explore career options and learn tricks of the trade for landing that first job after spending the better part of four years studying communication, philosophy, English, history, classics and other liberal arts.
First up, the crisply curated rooms of the Currier Museum, followed by the cube-centric office space of networking solutions provider Single Digits, where founder and CEO Stephen Singlar ’94 shows how natural it can seem to major in political science and go on to co-found a $100 million technology company that provides wi-fi to the New York City subway system and major hotel companies. The day closes at GYK Antler, a dog-friendly, strategic marketing agency whose web developer has a red beard, is built like a rugby player and wears a kilt to work.
The settings may vary but the message aimed at the students is unified: Tracey Carrier, a fine arts major in college and now the Currier’s manager of membership and guest services, captures it when she says, “No real investment of time in something you love is a waste of time, even if you don’t know exactly where it will take you. Everything you do teaches you something important and useful.”
Later, over lunch around a Single Digits conference table, Singlar exhorts students to embrace the critical thinking, writing and interpersonal skills of the liberal arts, while urging them to cultivate a lifelong learning ethic to fill in narrow technical gaps. “Our company has a tuition reimbursement program that enables us to hire bright people from different backgrounds and teach them what they need,” says Singlar. “Around 25% of Single Digit employees have taken a certification or degree program.”
At GYK Antler, CEO Travis York offers what is perhaps the single best learning moment of the day at the end of his remarks.
“Any questions,” he asks?
When no hands go up, he offers a lesson in Life After College 101.
"...studies have shown that liberal arts graduates, by mid-career, catch up with and even surpass professional and pre-professional graduates in terms of various measures of success, such as salary and position."
“Okay, when someone has agreed to meet with you for an interview, whether informational or for a job, always be ready with questions. The kinds of questions you ask say far more about you than whatever it was you majored in.”
Almost at once a legion of hands shoot up, and the questions prove to be quite excellent.
Making the COLA Connection
Krista Jackman, principal lecturer in English, and her colleague Molly Campbell, senior lecturer in English, are co-directors of The HUGEmanities Project, a three-year, Mellon-funded effort to shed greater light on the value of the humanities as a foundation for pursuing successful careers.
Today, they hope to meet professionals with liberal arts degrees who might become subjects for a series of short videos they’re producing to show how the liberal arts are translated into active and productive careers. She and Campbell have plenty to choose from on this trip, which in addition to Single Digits’ Singlar, includes four COLA alumni on a GYK Antler panel who show the many different pathways that may be taken to get to that desired place.
“Nationally, students don’t immediately understand the value of what they’re doing when they get a degree in social science, philosophy or theater,” says Jackman. “But studies have shown that liberal arts graduates, by mid-career, catch up with and even surpass professional and pre-professional graduates in terms of various measures of success, such as salary and position. Liberal arts students aren’t preparing for one job but for a whole career.”
The college has doubled down on its career preparation services with the office of Career and Professional Success (CaPS). Bernal directs the office of two full-time staff and six student interns. “Our goal is to help students see the connections between their education and potential career choices, and then be able to articulate how their education has prepared them to succeed,” Bernal says. “Too often, there’s a disconnect between genuine employer interest in liberal arts graduates and how students see themselves.”
Dean Michele Dillon, who also participated in the trip, believes that programs connecting students and alumni will help students discover their professional voices. “I am energized by the many highly successful COLA alumni I have met with over the past year and who are eager to help COLA in this effort,” she says.
The students seem to be making the connection. Many on today’s tour have already taken career prep courses in which they’ve learned everything from shaking hands and making eye contact, to crafting persuasive resumes and LinkedIn pages and conducting sophisticated online job searches.
One of them, Ariane Faro ’20, is focused on ramping up her job search skills, expanding her network and learning about different careers. “I’d like to have a job as soon as possible,” she says, “but if I don’t, it won’t stress me because I feel I’m laying solid groundwork.”
For the English and sustainability dual major from Melrose, Mass., the bus trip reinforces not only where but how she hopes to work someday. “What I enjoy most is collaborating.” In her sustainability methods course, for example, the entire class wrote a textbook — The Sustainability 501 Methods Reader — for use by future classes at UNH and other universities. “I loved all the whiteboards and the way people worked in teams. You can be creative in a business setting.”
Juliet Karam ’20 has built up impressive hands-on credentials while majoring in communication. The senior from Scarborough, Maine, has already had three internships at creative agencies in Portland and wants to squeeze in a fourth before leaving UNH.
“I’m interested in videography and graphic design and I’ve done project work,” says Karam, “so now I want to learn the marketing side.” Karam has sized up the difference between profit and non-profit organizations and admits to preferring the in-your-face energy of for-profits and, specifically, smaller agencies such as GYK Antler, which, truth be told, has Karam’s name written all over it.
Does she wish she’d majored in marketing instead of communication?
“Not a bit. My communication classes helped me learn how to communicate verbally and non-verbally and be creative. I may have some quantitative work to catch up on, but I’m interested in relationships, and if you can bond with people it will get you as far as you want to go.”