What’s It Worth To You?
The value of a diploma is measured in
By Rachel B. Peterson
Assessing the value of your education. It can be a challenging task.
But if you, like me, are interested in figuring out what those four
years at St. Lawrence were all about, it might be useful to start with
a brush-up on what the University wants its students to get out of
their experience. St. Lawrence’s “Aims and Objectives” statements
says, “St. Lawrence seeks to provide an education that fosters
in students an open, inquiring and disciplined mind, well informed
through broad exposure to basic areas of knowledge; an enthusiasm for
life-long learning; self-confidence and self-knowledge; a respect for
differing opinions and for free discussion of those opinions; and an
ability to use information logically and to evaluate alternative points
of view.” Pretty lofty--but if you think about what all that
means, you might realize that your knack for fiction writing or ability
to counter a faulty argument didn’t materialize on its own. Chances
are that your experience at St. Lawrence helped in some way to foster
those abilities and interests you prize the most.
But what is the payoff? What do you, as a liberal arts graduate,
have that others might not? What makes your St. Lawrence education
so valuable? The answer is simple: a St. Lawrence experience equips
students with the key skills and character traits that create exceptional
work and working partnerships; but the benefits of these skills and
traits also transfer into all aspects of a graduate’s life, from
building rewarding personal relationships to accomplishing long-term
A recently published St. Lawrence brochure aimed at employers seeking
to hire recent graduates cites the following skills and traits that
its alumni possess: communication, honesty and integrity, interpersonal
skills, teamwork, motivation and initiative, and analytical reasoning.
These skills are also those most desired by employers. And they are
certainly not learned in the classroom alone. Take a look at how your
St. Lawrence experience might have helped you develop these skills
and characteristics in ways you never considered.
Communication: The ability to express
thoughts clearly is one of the most important skills a person can have.
Beyond the First-Year Program, which stresses written and speaking
skills, St. Lawrence expects writing to be employed in all departments.
(So that’s what
all those papers were for!) Maybe you held a leadership position
in an organization, team or residence hall, or did you have the opportunity
to present work at a professional conference? If so, you developed
your ability to speak in public and communicate with a variety of people.
And let’s not forget the student-run newspaper, literary journals
and periodicals. All of these offer ways to learn to communicate effectively
with peers, educators, and the community.
Honesty and Integrity: St.
Lawrence students abide by an Academic Honor Code, which states that
they are “bound
by honor to maintain the highest level of academic integrity and encourage
all others to do the same.” Violations are not taken lightly.
Integrity, or adherence to an ethical and moral code to attain a sound
sense of being, is fostered through a variety of organizations on campus.
Did you take part in service organizations like Circle K, Alpha Phi
Omega, or Habitat for Humanity? Did you contribute to the community
as a member of a Greek organization? Participants in community-based
service learning projects and in Thelmo develop the ability to make
ethical decisions and care for others, two irreplaceable skills in
Interpersonal Skills: You
are never going to get away from people. So it’s a good thing
St. Lawrence prepared you to interact with them. Your community assistant
worked hard to create meaningful living-learning communities, connecting
you to floor-mates as well as the campus community. Perhaps you were
a teaching assistant, peer tutor, writing center employee, sexual assault
advocate or orientation leader. And let’s not underestimate the
value of daily social interaction. Research conducted by (student)
and mathematics professor Patti Lock shows that St. Lawrence students
are well connected to each other, with only three degrees of separation
between any two students and with more than half the students within
two links of all other students (look out Kevin Bacon!). Simply by
living in such a close-knit community, you learned to interact with
a variety of people, and that’s
what drives society.
Teamwork: The ability to work with others toward
a common goal is essential in many occupations, and St. Lawrence provides
many opportunities to develop this skill. Maybe you were among the
75% of Laurentians who play varsity sports. If not, maybe you were
involved in one of over 100 clubs and organizations whose members work
together to set up programs for the campus or promote a common interest.
And many faculty members require their students to complete at least
one group project. All of these are ways you might have honed that
ever- important skill of working efficiently with others.
Motivation and Initiative: Did you ever hike your
way to the top of a mountain as part of Peak Weekend? Maybe you stood
before Thelmo to get a new student organization approved. Volunteer
activities such as blood drives, the Big Brother/Big Sister program
and SLU Buddies are among other ways St. Lawrence students demonstrate
motivation and initiative. Each year, the Leadership Academy trains
student leaders to develop skills so that they can motivate others
to get involved in their groups and successfully lead organizations.
Most employers seek motivated employees who will take the initiative
to perform when necessary. St. Lawrence produces such individuals.
Analytical Skills: Analytical skill is not limited
to working with numbers or scientific data. If you wrote a research
paper, then you honed your analytical skills by gathering and analyzing
information to determine how (or if) it fit your topic. Assessing a
situation and choosing solutions to problems also require analytical
skills. Leaders of organizations from Greek houses to Dance Ensemble
to academic honorary societies spend plenty of time solving problems
to help their organizations function better. These experiences are
easily transferred to situations in the later workplace or everyday
life. Figuring out the best car to buy or how to close a deal with
a client requires those very same analytical skills that were put to
work at St. Lawrence.
These skills and traits are the common outcome of most liberal arts
educations. So what makes St. Lawrence different? I have become increasingly
aware in the weeks since graduation of two things: the strength of
our alumni network, fortified by an extraordinary sense of Larry pride;
and the interdisciplinary nature of a St. Lawrence education.
A strong web of St. Lawrence alumni are willing to reach out to students
and fellow alumni to provide career mentoring, advice, or good old-fashioned
conversation. From coast to coast and even around the world, your chance
of meeting someone with a St. Lawrence connection is uncannily high.
With regional gatherings, the CareerSLUth mentoring database, and an
online record of alumni e-mail addresses, it is simple to keep in touch
with friends or make new ones.
Here is a suggestion for young alumni: e-mail graduates from the 1940s
or ’50s and ask about their St. Lawrence experience. You are
likely to get amusing stories and encouraging advice that will inspire
in you a newfound sense of pride in your alma mater.
The other unique aspect of the St. Lawrence experience—interdisciplinary
education—is one whose value students often overlook. The number
of cross-listed courses in the University’s catalog attests to
the multidisciplinary focus of the University’s curriculum; students
are given the flexibility to take courses from numerous departments
to form a well-rounded education that simply isn’t attainable
at many other institutions. Students can choose from interdisciplinary
minors such as European studies, outdoor studies and cultural encounters
that require courses from several different departments. It also is
common for students to work on research projects with faculty members
outside their own major department. The St. Lawrence faculty is dedicated
to providing students with the best education possible, and that means
a sincere willingness to help in whatever ways they can.
So, instead of looking at that piece of paper hanging on your wall
as just a piece of paper, use those refined analytical skills and think
deeper. Think back to your experience as a member of a team, that summer
you completed a research fellowship with a favorite professor, or the
evenings you sat up late studying with friends. Those experiences influenced
the person you are today, and they will continue to influence you as
long as you let them. The value of a St. Lawrence diploma does not
lie in the job you secure or the salary you make. Its value lies in
the experience, the skills, and the character traits possessed by each
St. Lawrence graduate that are fostered at an institution committed
to life-long learning and the development of disciplined, inquiring
Magna cum laude Laurentian Rachel Peterson, of King of
Prussia, Pa., finds that the value of
her diploma came through her double major with honors in French and
philosophy, her participation in the Early Music Ensemble and her
membership in Chi Omega sorority.