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Alumni Give Advice on Leveraging a Liberal Arts Major

Alumni Give Advice on Leveraging a Liberal Arts Major

For many students, settling on a major is a choice that causes anxiety and quite a bit of hand wringing. Will I learn enough to succeed after graduation? Will I gain the skills I need to get a job?

At a recent panel hosted by the Office of Personal Career Development entitled “You Majored in What?” a group of UD alumni explained to anxious students how the comprehensive liberal arts education they received at UD opened doors and led to opportunities that they would never have thought possible. Below are their responses to questions posed by students, faculty and staff.

Yvonne Freeman
Bob Hyde
Steven Harrell

Matt Victorine
Shannon Doherty

How did your background in liberal arts help you in your career?

Yvonne Freeman (BA Mathematics, 1989), VP of Total Rewards, Michaels: I think people underestimate how effectively liberal arts majors can block and tackle and process problems. There were a lot of things I could’ve done–and my liberal arts degree opened up a lot of possibilities for me. I, personally, would rather hire a liberal arts major because they are better prepared to tackle the unknown.

Bob Hyde (BA Secondary Education, 1975), Senior VP, Bank of Texas: They used to say that BA stood for “didn’t buy anything,” but I disagree. One of my first assignments was to take a 6 page letter that my boss wrote, make it better and reduce it to one page. People with liberal arts degrees focus on the view from 10,00 feet instead of the microscopic view.

Steven Harrell (BA English, 2009), Communications/PR Specialist, Jackson Spaulding: Marketing and communications is really just storytelling. With a liberal arts degree and especially with an English major, you’re really trained to tell stories and to synthesize large swaths of information from an intelligent point of view.

How do you balance the pursuit of education with the pursuit of a specifically liberal education?

Shannon Doherty (BA Psychology, 2013), Business Development Analyst, GM Financial: I had no technical skills when I graduated. But it I had 90 days to get a job or I would be living in my parents’ basement. You have to find a way to gain some hard skills. Chip away at them through summer jobs and internships. That’s one thing I wish I would have done differently.

Matt Victorine (BA History, 1991), VP and Regional Manager, Fidelity Investments: When you apply to a company, learn about all the jobs that they have to offer and figure out what skills you need to get into the job you want. You want to apply to a company that teaches how to do their jobs. I’ve done hundreds of interviews and these days, if you can half-way speak well, you’re advancing to the next round.

Hyde: Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not expected to have a full skill set when you graduate. And macroeconomics are in your favor–there’s a shrinking work force right now. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. If an opportunity doesn’t work out, chalk it up to experience. Don’t get caught in analysis paralysis.

Victorine: There’s no better job market in the country right now than Dallas/Fort Worth. It’s a fascinating time if you’re looking to explore different companies. If you’re flexible and nimble, there’s a lot of jobs out there.

Harrell: I wandered in the desert for a good long mile. But I did a lot of freelancing while still at UD and I learned to say “yes” to just about everything as long as it was ethical. Even though I might not be an expert in a particular subject, I at least had some familiarity and could move forward with a little training.

Freeman: We have a saying at Michaels that we hire for attitude and train for skills. If someone can at least carry themselves well, that’s half the battle. As a hiring manager, I know I’m not getting someone with a lot of prior experience, but I know that I can train the right person for the job.

The University of Dallas does not seem to have a high brand recognition, even in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. How have you explained UD to potential employers?

Victorine: It’s important to know your story. Explain to people that UD is a great, small university and tell them why you came here.

Harrell: The lack of recognition can be a negative but it can also be a real positive. You can tell your own story: “Here’s the kind of person I am because I went to UD,” instead of, “Oh, you went to Baylor, I know what you’re all about.”

Doherty: There are a lot of Ivy League grads in the The GE Capital Leadership program that I’m in. But because UD grads have proven themselves so well, there are more and more UD people in the program. UD people want to help UD people.

How did you gain the additional skills you needed to be successful in the job market?

Victorine: Take the first opportunity you can to get in the door of a good company, and then they will train you to do the job they want you to do. Big companies will teach you how to do the job.

Hyde: Think about what you would like to do, and then getting paid is the frosting on the cake. Look for companies that have a future and who are doing something good in the community.

Do you use your major in your job?

Freeman: Math at a liberal arts school is different from math at another college. I feel like I use my ability to think logically every day. I like having problems to solve. I would get bored otherwise.

Hyde: You’ll be surprised–you’ll use your major in unusual ways.

To make an appointment to talk about choosing a major or career field, click here.

 

 

 

 

The Road Less Traveled: UD English Majors Talk About Various Paths to Success

The Road Less Traveled: UD English Majors Talk About Various Paths to Success

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.

To make an appointment to meet with an OPCD counselor, click here.