University of Dallas students often hear the remark, “You can do anything with a liberal arts degree.” But what exactly does that mean? A panel of UD alumni, all English majors, spoke on Friday, February 21, to a group of students about how they translated their degrees into successful careers and graduate studies.
Panelist Michael Traylor parlayed his degree into a career as a landman, a job that CNN Money calls the third best America. “I didn’t really have a big plan when I was a senior,” Traylor said. “I kept looking around for the perfect unicorn job.” Although some of Traylor’s friends had decided on law school, he wasn’t so sure. He eventually got job researching property rights and leases for oil and gas drilling. “It’s like lawyer-lite,” Traylor said. “I read deeds all day, and businesses rely on my interpretation of them.” A job as a landman might not be on every senior’s radar, but it is an example of one of myriad positions available to not only UD English majors, but to liberal arts majors in general. “Your education prepares you to do anything,” Traylor said, “But narrowing that down can be a difficult process.”
John Corrales, Social Media Editor for the New York Times, said he was idealistic but certainly not deliberate when he was a senior English major: “I had these vaguely romantic ambitions, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.” After graduation Corrales moved back to his hometown of Odessa, Texas and got a job working for the local newspaper. After realizing this wasn’t for him, he wandered about a bit trying different jobs until he finally reached out to a friend’s cousin, who helped him land a job at the New York Times. “You really have to trust yourself,” Corrales said. “You make your own luck. You just have to want it.” And as far as the job he left Odessa, Corrales encouraged students to take a job that’s it’s in front of them, even if it’s something they don’t necessarily like. “You’ll learn something from every experience,” he said.
Seth Gonzalez, videographer and Staff Writer for The Texas Catholic newspaper, also changed jobs a few times before settling in his current position. “You have to bring something to the table,” he said. “You can’t just say that you are passionate about something without bringing some kind of skill related to it. Develop your skills on your own time if you have to.” Seth agreed with Corrales that individuals make their own luck: “Someone told me once that failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
Maria Walley has taken the entrepreneurial route as the co-founder and marketing director of Kandid.ly, a fledgling digital marketplace for photographers. “It’s kind of like Etsy for amateur photographers.” Walley said that liberal arts majors can have success in just about any field because they think differently than those graduates who have more specialized skills. “Instead of just learning a process, we’re trained to think about the process from the outside,” she said.
Megan Wadle, who taught middle school before pursuing PhD work at Southern Methodist University, said that although it’s sometimes difficult to narrow down career possibilities, the naïveté of not knowing one’s limits can be a good thing. “Sometimes, you sign up for things that are really too much for you, but you learn as you go,” she said.
Nate McCabe, also a graduate student at SMU said that he had to make a conscious decision to be aggressive in pursuing his goal of getting into graduate school. “I got waitlisted by SMU and was working as a barista. I decided that I had to go harder to get the door open,” he said. “I started emailing professors. I had just about given up, but as soon as I closed the door on graduate school, I got the call from SMU that I got in.” Nathan said that although he doesn’t get much choice in what he studies, he got a good piece of advice from UD’s Dr. Greg Roper that keeps him going. “You have to suffer the 90% you don’t like to get to do the 10% that you do,” he said.
In closing, the panelists each offered practical advice for soon-to-be graduates:
Corrales: Find an internship. Gain some sort of useful skill–it’ll make you unstoppable.
Gonzalez: Develop an insatiable appetite. Dig into what you’re passionate about.
Traylor: Find the person who has the job you want and find out how they got there.
Walley: Meet with people to learn about different careers. And surround yourself with people who lift you up.
Wadle: Talk to someone who’s actually in the profession you’re interested in. Nobody knows it better than they do.
McCabe: Don’t just analyze information. Learn to synthesize it.
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