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The Value of Career Nights for (English) Majors

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Call:  Spelman College English Club will be hosting Career Night on October 5.

Response:  Perceptions of career planning at Liberal Arts colleges are a “major” problem.

I posted the following article on LinkedIn.  The text of this article is copied and pasted below.

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Spelman College English Club is sponsoring Career Night on October 5 @ 7:30 p.m.  This event will introduce students to the vast possibilities available to students proficient in reading, writing, and communication skills.  I am excited about participating in this event because I am interested in learning more about how students perceive the value of having a BA in English.

Last fall, I conducted a similar event at Truman State University, and it seemed to reinforce major misconceptions about the major.  In particular, the majority of students in attendance seemed to believe that all they could do with English was go to graduate school, teach, or go to law school.  The reasoning behind these perceptions is unclear.  The diversity of occupations available to students was being articulated to them in their department, as well as the Career Center. Nevertheless, a significant number of students seemed to think they needed to go to graduate school.  Upon investigation, their choice correlated with a fear of entering the job market in any capacity.  Consequently, I believe that hosting career nights and embedding discussions about the economic recognition and marketability of skills is critical to a 21st century education.

At a liberal arts institution, writing instructors might introduce students to the frameworks of information literacy, discourse analysis, and argumentation through applied skills of summary, interpretation, evaluation, and analysis via the retrieval and observation of large data sets available through the United States Bureau of Labor’s website.  For example, I have required students to closely examine certain areas of this vast portal, which links to several critical resources for preparing for careers:

These links are instructive for numerous reasons.  First, students may practice developing claims through facts about the workforce demographic profiles and recent facts about which occupations constitute U.S. employment.  They may be asked to consider the relative competitiveness of their intended profession and critically analyze the skills necessary for qualifying for such occupations. Moreover, they may begin to consider various ways they might be able to leverage the institutional resources available to them.  For example, if an English major wonders what they can do with the major, they should be prompted to visualize how their coursework combined with their participation in (and management of participating in) workshops, lectures, student organizations, service, projects, social media management, and civic engagement contributes to all kinds of learning abilities. Through the English major, students might realize that every human experience is an opportunity to examine how phenomenon are named and acted upon through language.  The degree to which they are able to connect that skill to their own creativity (e.g. “to narrate, sell, and argue”) is crucial to what the federal government defines as “advanced professionals.”  (e.g. producers, actors, lawyers, doctors, scientists, programmers, executives, advertisers, journalists, educators, etc.)

Indeed, the explicit teaching about the research and discourse of occupations, employment, and careers as part of an overall sustainable pedagogy might synergize with a focus on science, technology, and society.  The extent to which technological development, for instance, syncs with occupational growth, and is acknowledged in communication about the overall quality of life is a humanist inquiry that reinforces the significant difference between a purely technical education and that of the liberal arts.  “Practical” knowledge is embedded in the entire enterprise of learning about humans–what and how they create, how they use certain creations, interact with their environments (through study and use), procreate, protect, and destroy.   The English major wonders how human beings communicate about how they perceive and feel about all of the above, and how that communication sets causal chains in motion that affect how humans think about their perception, and consequently, their choices and what they ultimately do.  Detail-oriented, inquisitive, precise communication are desirable skills to acquire and demonstrate.  If combined with design and technical skill, analytical acumen and textual creativity endow a person with the ability to create and innovate learning environments–especially digital ones.

This kind of event is an ideal context for market research about the English major.  It seems that students are more attracted to writing than English, but I am not sure how students differentiate or connect the two subjects.  Therefore, I will be collaborating with the English club to conduct a survey for the event participants.  The survey questions will seek to obtain the following data from respondents about:

1.  Their expectations about the career night

2.  Their motivation for pursuing the English major

3.  Their beliefs about the identity and functions of a college major

4.  Their perceived uses of the English major (before and after the event).

5.  Their opinion about what could make English majors more attractive to college students.

Overall, the student feedback from Career Night will enable me to enrich my attempt to learn more about the relationship between majors and careers.  I am excited to attend this event to share my own professional experiences, as well as acquire information about student’s professional objectives and assumptions about what the English major is and does.

ALockett7

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