Looking for the Launchpad

I teach in the School of Business at Portland State, a class called “Advanced Business Communication” aimed at helping about-to-be accountants, supply chain managers, marketing staff, financial analysts, and operational managers be better writers and speakers in their future jobs.  I’m always happily surprised by the business students’ level of engagement, not only about my class but also how eager they are to stride into a future they’ve just begun to imagine.  They see themselves as ready to contribute, to work on projects, generate product ideas, improve warehouse efficiency, create financial reports, research the competition—whatever it takes.  It doesn’t matter that they’re sometimes naïve about what’s ahead:  they see themselves as ready, and in some important ways they certainly are.

Thanks to the blogs I write for liberal arts students (this one and “For English Majors”), I also hear from a lot of liberal arts students, especially students in the humanities, who approach their futures differently.  While they like the subject matter they’re steeped in—French, philosophy, history, American literature—many are quite despondent about their professional futures.  Here’s a re-cap of what they tell me:

“I don’t really know what to do after I graduate.”

“Everyone asks me if I’m going to teach.  Teaching is fine, but is that the only thing I can do with my degree?”

“After I graduate, I should probably just take time off because there are no jobs and I’m not really prepared for any paying jobs anyway—except maybe cashiering or retail or something like that.”

“My roommate is a business major.  He has a resume, and he got a lot of help from his department to put his together.  No one in my department ever talks about resumes.”

“I can’t believe how many people tell me I should look into a career in publishing.  How many jobs can there be in an industry that’s going all online anyway, and in which there were never very many jobs in the first place?”

Is this really what our broadly, richly, liberally educated students think of their future prospects?

Admittedly this is only my experience and not a broad, in-depth analysis of current student conditions and mindsets.  But I see and hear this difference every term:  eager confident business students who see themselves as ready to launch; capable, thoughtful humanities students who need someone to show them where the launchpad is.

I enjoy helping business students become better writers and better speakers.  I want to do more to help liberal arts students get just how much they have to offer–and that includes helping their faculty and advisors know just what valuable professional people they’ve helped to create, what launchpads their students are prepared to climb onto with confidence.

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