STEM Panel Encourages Lifelong Learning

STEM Panel Encourages Lifelong Learning

Although graduating with a degree in chemistry, physics or math often leads to job heavy on technical expertise or specific scientific skills, the variety of a career paths represented at a recent panel consisting of University of Dallas STEM field graduates underscores the fact that these degrees can open doors to many fulfilling careers. And according to the panelists, a liberal arts degree from UD uniquely prepares graduates to become lifelong learners–a characteristic that is crucial to success in the knowledge economy. The panel was presented as part of the Clare Booth Luce Speaker Series.

Dominic Hilario, a self-employed chemical consultant, said that his degree in chemistry from UD gave him the technical skills he needed to start his career. “But my job in the lab wasn’t that exciting,” he said. “So I decided to learn the business side of things.” Although he didn’t have a business background, Hilario believes that his liberal arts degree gave him the tools to be able to learn from others.

Joe Constantino
Joe Constantino

MacKenzie Warrens, a junior physics major and a Clare Boothe Luce scholar, said that her experience doing undergraduate research last summer highlighted the contrast between herself and other students. “Liberal arts students are able to talk about so much more than just physics,” she said. “You can have conversations with other majors as well.”

Alessandra Marchi, another CBL scholar, said that her boss specifically noted her problem solving ability. “He called me a hard worker,” she said. “And said that I could grasp concepts without having learned them previously.” According to the alumni on the panel, this ability to grasp complex situations, along with an ongoing desire to learn, is the key to success in any field.

Joe Constantino, owner and president of Einstein’s Eyes, said part of the learning process after graduation includes taking chances on a job you’re not sure if you’ll like. “Don’t resist doing something for just a year,” he said. “You’ll find out something about yourself in the process. As an employer, I don’t look down on that.”

Anne Hoeschler
Anne Hoelscher

Anne Hoelscher, senior manager of product development at BMC Software agreed. “It used to be that you would probably be in a job for the rest of your life,” she said. “Now, I see resumes where people stay at a job for a year, fifteen-months, two-years. That’s not a big deal any more. But I do want to know what you learned from each of those experiences.”

For Kara Earle, working for Fidelity Investments has allowed her to try different career paths, all while staying with the same company for sixteen years. “Fidelity really invests in its people and in their career development,” she said. “I would recommend looking for a company whose culture values its people learning and growing.”

Along with becoming a lifelong learner, Dr. Carla Tiernan, Assistant Dean, UTA College of Engineering, said that being flexible and open to opportunity is also an important part of future success. “I never wanted to be an academic,” she said. “But you never know where your career is going to end up. Be open to possibilities,” Tiernan added that internships and research experiences can also be help with discernment. “Find out what you don’t like to do is really helpful,” she said.

Kara Earle
Kara Earle

An audience member remarked that University of Dallas President Thomas Keefe often says that students are preparing for jobs that don’t exist yet. He asked how undergraduates should prepare for those job without knowing what they will entail.

Hoelscher said that adaptation is the key: “UD grads are continually learning. Because of that, when a new industry comes out, you’ll be capable of adapting your skills to meet the challenge.”

Hilario’s answer came complete with a graphs entitled “Knowledge Acquisition of Normal Humans Over Time” and “Knowledge Acquisition of Lifelong Learners Over Time.”

He explained them like this: “Normal humans are born and continually acquire knowledge until they graduate college. Then they get a job and learn just enough to keep the boss happy, completely flattening out until retirement. Lifelong learners, on the other hand, know that just keeping the boss happy isn’t enough. They have to keep learning and growing. A couple of years at this pace and they’re managers. Then maybe CEOs. And finally, if they keep learning and innovating, they might even make it out of the cave.”

Graphics by Dominic Hilario

Graphics by Dominic Hilario

Hilario added that the real engine of the kind of growth represented on his graph is innovation. “When you keep learning, you can become a specialist in your field,” he said. “Then you can leverage your knowledge and begin to innovate.

The Henry Luce Foundation has provided a grant for one-year full-tuition scholarships for female students at the University of Dallas majoring in computer science, mathematics, physics or engineering. These scholarships are named Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) Scholarships, and students receiving these scholarships are named as CBL Scholars.

In addition to the scholarships, the University has established a Clare Boothe Luce Speaker Series, Clare Boothe Luce Discussion Panels for Undecided Students, and a support organization for women in the sciences.  These initiatives are designed to attract women into physical science, engineering, and mathematical areas and to support them once there.

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