Why We Do What We Do
A liberal arts education does more than simply prepare one for a career
By Bryce Hinchman
Everyone arrives on the St. Lawrence campus with their own set of goals, ambitions and expectations. For some, maybe that’s trying to secure a job at a Fortune 500 company. To others, it might be finding a true calling in life. Or maybe they’re just trying to find their place in the wide world around them. As many graduates quickly realize, a well-rounded liberal arts education does more than simply open the door for future career endeavors. “What your job is and how much you make are markers that are too narrow when you’re talking about a good outcome of a college education,” says Roland King, vice president of the National Association for Independent Colleges and Universities. Pointing to a high salary as the best possible outcome of a college education overlooks the value of human capital and the positive traits that develop along the four-year journey.
Transferable skills, such as the ability to communicate clearly and effectively, give college grads the power to adapt in a volatile economy and rapidly changing workplace. “That’s why you’ll see a history major from St. Lawrence who goes on to head a multinational corporation,” says Tom Denham ’88, a counselor with Careers In Transition, LLC. “It’s what your education can do for you in the long term.”
Employers actively look for these kinds of “soft skills” and traits among their job applicants, he explains. They want someone who can communicate, someone with strong interpersonal skills who can lead when necessary. “And that’s exactly what you learn at St. Lawrence,” Denham says.
Students at vocational schools might not have that same degree
of flexibility because their skills are tailored to highly specialized fields. But a mixture of art, history, literature, math and science anchors the broad liberal arts curriculum, giving students the chance to whet their intellectual curiosities while developing a solid foundation for the future.
“There are peoplea at large universities who’ve only studied, for example, for-profit business, and now they graduate and get a job in a non-profit business,” says Carol Bate, director of career services at St. Lawrence. “Suddenly they’re switching their focus and need to adapt quickly because it’s not what they’re prepared for at all.”
At smaller liberal arts colleges like St. Lawrence, students get hands-on attention from faculty members to help engrain the fibers of a rich liberal arts education. With a faculty:student ratio of roughly 11:1, St. Lawrence stands out from the crowd of national schools that boast ratios of 16:1 and higher. Many St. Lawrence graduates walk away with a desire for lifelong learning, a thirst for self-improvement and a greater understanding of the world at large. Not to mention the reasoning, analytical, communication and critical thinking skills they develop along the way. Pretty good for “just” a liberal arts education.
“The faculty at SLU were certainly tough,” Adam Casler ’06 says. “But their willingness to work one-on-one to ensure your success can’t be matched.” Utilizing his networking abilities, Casler recently landed a job in residence life at Siena College, a liberal arts institution just north of Albany, N.Y.
“I couldn’t be more satisfied with my St. Lawrence education,” he says. “It helped me to communicate well with people in all walks of life, and I think it also helped me gain confidence in myself – the person I am today is still learning from everything that I do.”
A focused and committed group of faculty members provide the individualized attention that students need to develop these valuable qualities and morph into well-rounded, civically-engaged individuals. “Unlike larger universities, we aren’t divided into different ‘schools’ that may have different missions; we have one institutional liberal arts mission and ethos,” explains Kim Mooney, recent director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at SLU. “We want to prepare students to live in a highly complex world,” she continues. “We don’t just want them to get by; we want them to be able to produce new knowledge, contribute to important discourses and make improvements in global contexts.”
Heather McCauley ’06, a public health researcher at Harvard University, can probably attest to that. “During my graduate program [at Harvard], I was surrounded by individuals hailing from every major top-tier college or university in the nation,” she says. “I was able to draw from my experiences in the St. Lawrence classroom and abroad to push my colleagues a step further than they had previously been asked to take.” McCauley maintains that she gained a “critical consciousness” about the world during her four years at St. Lawrence.
Beyond just earning power, St. Lawrence alumni walk away with a wealth of knowledge that will open the doors for them socially, academically and professionally. “That’s the purpose of a liberal arts education,” Denham concludes. “So you can lead a fulfilled life and handle adversity at every turn.”
A 2008 graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, Bryce Hinchman worked in St. Lawrence’s office of University communications in summer 2008, before heading West to seek his fortune, or at least a job.