- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

Sara Wilson senior, a senior at St. John's College in Annapolis, faces her spring graduation with an apprehension shared by other liberal arts graduates that of finding a job.
Miss Wilson, who is 23, says the rigorous curriculum at St. John's College, which has no majors or departments, has prepared her for any field.
She has been interning with photographer Annie Leibowitz and is considering photography as a career.
"It's been very difficult in the sense that I can't find any courses in what I want to do," she says. "You have to be self-directed."
Although parents of liberal arts students may question how someone can use such a general degree to find a job, educators argue that the course work teaches something more important how to think and write. They also say college is not supposed to be job training but an opportunity to expand the mind.
Roberta Gable, director of placement at St. John's College, says graduates from that school's program have the advantage of being able to analyze and synthesize information. Because its students have a four-year, nonelective program in which they read, discuss and write about the great books that have shaped the world, she says, they are able to find creative solutions to problems.
The curriculum includes studying works from ancient Greece to modern times, including Homer's "Iliad," Plato's "Sophist," the Bible, Virgil's "Aeneid" and Copernicus' "On the Revolution of the Spheres."
"If all you are looking for is preparation for a career, you are not looking for much," Ms. Gable says. "An undergraduate education is not trade school."
She says St. John's graduates do not have problems finding jobs. Statistics collected by the college show that 21.9 percent of alumni work in the education field, 18.8 percent in communications and the arts, 17.3 percent in business, 9.7 in law, 9.4 in the computer industry, 6.9 percent in the health field and 6.6 percent in the social services.
Rebecca Brown, professor of law at Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, Tenn., is a St. John's alumna. After graduating from in 1978, she attended Georgetown University Law School, then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Although Ms. Brown didn't know she wanted to become a lawyer during her days at St. John's, she believes the experience emboldened her.
"I thought, 'If I could get through German philosopher Emmanuel Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason,' that there's no court ruling that's harder to understand than that,'" she says. "The fear that most people have in law school was lessened in me."
Liberal arts education also lends itself to the entertainment industry, says Lee Zlotoff, a writer, director and producer in Santa Monica, Calif. Mr. Zlotoff, a 1974 graduate from St. John's, wrote and directed the 1996 feature film, "The Spitfire Grill."
"I have a sense of why we think the things we think," Mr. Zlotoff says. "The collective human process of thought changes and is shaped frequently by books, plays and poetry, and now by movies and TV."
Georgetown University's liberal arts graduates in 2000 found jobs in many different fields, says Sylvia Robinson, executive director of the MBNA Career Education Center at Georgetown University in Northwest. For instance, psychology majors became employed as paralegals, consultants and analysts. One philosophy major works as an analyst with Goldman Sachs, a leading investment bank in New York City.
However, she does concede that it usually takes liberal arts graduates longer to find employment than students in other fields. For instance, graduates in the health industry are trained for a specific career field. Their destination is determined from the beginning of their undergraduate program, which makes it easier to find jobs and internships. They usually become nurses, health workers or researchers.
"Do liberal arts graduates have a tougher time finding jobs in this job market? The answer is yes," Ms. Robinson says. "Many liberal arts graduates are unsure about their career path, and it might take them longer to decide on a specific career goal."
Clay Clemens, professor of government at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg says students choose a college based on its reputation, not whether it is a liberal arts school. Sophomore year is usually the first time students consider how the course work will help or hinder their careers, he says.
"They are a little bit curious or nervous how this adds up to a job," Mr. Clemens says. "The value of it lies in having exposure to a lot of different subject matters in which they're going to be forced to think about things differently and analyze problems. It encourages them to be innovative, creative and imaginative."
Though students from William & Mary graduate with liberal arts degrees, they have a focus, such as chemistry, economics or English, says Barbara Watkinson, dean of undergraduate studies.
"Intuitively, I can tell you that we don't have many that go on to be waiters, but those things are hard to track," she says. "Students will work for a while and then get a law degree or go to graduate school."
Julie Cella, a physics major at William & Mary, says she plans on continuing her education after completing her undergraduate studies. Miss Cella, who is a 20-year-old junior, would like to study at the University of Virginia's medical school in Charlottesville.
"I didn't really want to go the biology route," she says. "You get four more years of that after college in medical school."
Unlike many in the Western world who view liberal arts with a secondary importance, most Easterners place a high priority on knowing and producing literature, says Young-Key Kim-Renaud, chair of the East Asian Languages and Literatures Department at George Washington University in Northwest. Knowledge of culture and the arts is prized.
"I was at a small dinner party where everybody else was an ambassador or ambassador's spouse," she says. "The whole evening, we were talking about a piece of Korean-American literature. We didn't talk about international bombings. We were talking about literature. It just showed that the people were very well-read, and that makes them impressive ambassadors. In East Asia, it's how they have a sense of power."
Catarina Kim, 19 and a sophomore at George Washington University who has a double major in international affairs and East Asian studies, says that in today's career world it's a good idea to have a specific focus. Because she was born in Seoul, South Korea, East Asian studies is a subject that interests her personally and professionally. One day, she may work as a diplomat, educator, lawyer or businesswoman.
"We need leaders that are not only articulate, but eloquent when they speak," she says. "They can quote from poetry. They have a good knowledge of world religions and philosophy. That can only come from the base of a liberal arts education. It's not only important to be superior in your specialization, but to be a well-rounded person."
Bob Richard, president and executive director of the Career Counselor's Consortium of New England in Boston, says the trick is that liberal arts students must properly market themselves to prospective employers. Someone who is a history major is probably analytical, thorough and good at research. He says those are skills that are useful in a myriad of jobs.
"A lot of majors such as history, literature and music, which may on the surface seem useless are actually quite valuable," Mr. Richard says.


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