When Danyelle Carter, C’2016, transferred to Spelman College in 2013 from Miami Dade College, she knew exactly what she wanted to study: communications. Determined to take full advantage of the Spelman experience, Danyelle didn’t let the fact that communications wasn’t listed as a major in the College’s admissions materials sway her. The English and comparative women’s studies double major, who also cross-registers in a number of mass media courses at Clark Atlanta University, is presently taking full advantage of her Spelman liberal arts experience.
“I know I want to work in a public relations environment that focuses on women’s issues like reproductive health,” said Carter, “so I thought coming to Spelman was a good way to bridge my educational goals.”
Carter’s comments perfectly capture the goal of a liberal arts education. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, a liberal arts education is “an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity and change.” Liberal arts students study a range of subjects, such as science, culture and society, while receiving in-depth study in a specific major. Benefits of a liberal arts education include developing a sense of social responsibility, as well as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, which are transferable and applicable in the work place and real-world situations.
“I view a liberal arts education as a holistic form of education, which seeks to develop the student in all dimensions, relative to technical training which tends to hone in on a specific set of skills,” shared Angelino C. G. Viceisza, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics at Spelman. “A liberal arts education develops the student’s intellectual and critical-thinking skills broadly and prepares her for a variety of career possibilities and life paths.”
A number of Spelman alumnae have utilized their liberal arts background to branch out of the expected confines of their majors. Chemistry major Rosalind Brewer, C’84, is CEO of Sam’s Club, the nation’s eighth largest retailer and a leading membership warehouse club in the U.S and Puerto Rico; English major Celeste Briggs, C’81, is director of General Motors’ Women’s Retail Network; economics major Kelley Nayo, C’90, is chief of operations at Qeyno, a company that organizes hackathons across the nation; and English major Tameka Montgomery, C’93, is associate administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration. “I would argue that one of the reasons these ladies have been able to successfully branch into areas that are different from their studies is due to their liberal arts background,” explained Viceisza.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors also benefit from studying liberal arts in addition to their technical training. Lauren D. Thomas, Ph.D., a 2006 graduate of Spelman’s physics program, draws on her liberal arts background in her day-to-day work in engineering.
“Engineers work with and design products and processes that are used by and developed for people. It’s necessary to understand people for those products and processes to be effective,” shared Thomas, who works as the multicampus coordinator for the Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education at the University of Washington. “I don’t claim to be an expert in social sciences and humanities, but through my liberal arts education I did develop an appreciation and respect for the scholarship that has proven useful in my work. In my professional work, I have been able to use concepts like womanism and emancipatory perspectives that I was introduced to at Spelman.”
Employers are also aware of the benefits of a liberal arts education. “Many employers are drawn to students with a liberal arts background for their verbal and written skills, critical-thinking skills, leadership and research skills,” said Harold Bell, director of the Office of Career Planning and Development at Spelman. “These skills are transferable to a number of industries and allow the employer to focus more on competency-based training that is enhanced by a liberal arts foundation.”
According to Bell, leadership roles within organizations, practical experience obtained through competitive internships and undergraduate research, global experiences, community engagement, teamwork, communication skills, and project management experience are all qualities employers find more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major. “A liberal arts environment provides these opportunities through a community of resources consisting of the classroom, student activities, study abroad, leadership centers, career services and community service,” explained Bell.
Liberal arts graduates are not viewed as the “underdog” of the hiring world stressed Bell. “According to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers regarding full-time offers received by the Class of 2014, the majors showing the greatest level of improvement as it relates to job offer rates were liberal arts majors,” shared Bell. “These former ‘unsung heroes’ have employers taking a second look at the value these majors bring to their businesses in terms of diversity, depth and dollars.”
Kia Smith, C’2004, is social media coordinator for the Office of Communications.