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Navigating the Liberal Arts/High-Tech Divide

A panel of professionals representing the world of technology shared how their liberal arts backgrounds give them an advantage in the workforce. 

The special program was held at Ursinus in the Bears Dean on June 1.

“Most of us are in jobs now that we never heard of when we were students,” said Ellyn Rolleston Keith ’12, a Python developer for Kasisto Inc. who majored in French and English at Ursinus. “After getting my degree, I tried the ‘jobs I’ve heard of’ approach. But that shifted to seeking something that I like to do in a more abstract way. CIE is a good embodiment of how you can apply skills to any career.”

Ursinus alumni, staff and friends, all of them graduates from liberal arts institutions, discussed their navigation and transition into technical professions in the commercial, public and higher education sectors.

They also discussed what aspects of the liberal arts experience—at Ursinus and elsewhere—were particularly helpful, and gave feedback on how liberal arts students should think creatively about their skill sets.

“We’ve heard Mark Cuban say that there is a greater demand for liberal arts majors in these professions, and that our best entrepreneurs will also be philosophers, but many students don’t know how to get from point A to point B and what happens after that,” said Meredith Goldsmith, a professor of English and associate dean who organized the workshop.

During the open discussion, the panelists shared with Ursinus faculty and students how the liberal arts help give them a broader perspective about their jobs.

“I wish I can say that I had a plan when I entered college,” said Eva Reid, a senior GIS analyst and training coordinator for the government of the District of Colombia who earned a degree in geography from Macalester College. “But my brain is not linear. I can think in many different directions and it feeds into my creativity. I wouldn’t have that ability without a liberal arts background.”

Kevin Zufelt ’11, who earned degrees in business and economics and biology at Ursinus and is a lead analyst for data stewardship for Comcast, said being empowered to do research as an undergraduate gave him critical thinking skills necessary in his job today.

“It gives you the ability to think outside the box,” he said.

Other panelists included Whitney Hawkins, an institutional research analyst at Ursinus College; Christine Iannicelli, an instructional technology librarian at Ursinus; Johanna Warren ’13, a software engineer for CardConnect; and Cleo Schneider and Elle Nurmi, both directors of engineering at Lola.com, who joined the discussion via Skype.

Hawkins said her liberal arts experience “gave me the confidence that I could learn anything.”

“It allowed me to develop a growth mindset,” she said. “The liberal arts gave me time and space to fail. In my current job, if I don’t fail two to three times, I’m not working hard enough. It allows you to learn from your mistakes. That’s not possible without a liberal arts background.”

Over the course of the day, the panelists also participated in breakout group discussions and joined Ursinus faculty and staff for a discussion on the future of digital studies and the liberal arts at Ursinus. –By Ed Moorhouse