Entrepreneurship and the Liberal Arts

President's Perspective

This year’s Ursinus Job, Internship and Networking Fair, which took place on 20 February, hosted more than 100 employers seeking candidates for internships and jobs. Amid the proliferation of certificate and online programs designed for career preparation, why are employers eager to make contact with our students? Why are so many Ursinus alumni successful in their careers?

The employers who came to the job fair—and representatives included thirty of our own alumni—are aware that graduates of liberal arts programs possess the creativity, adaptability, and mastery of learning needed for career success. A study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities found that employers sought candidates who were able to effectively communicate orally and in writing, possessed critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills, had the ability to analyze and solve complex problems, and demonstrated proficiency in locating, organizing, and evaluating information from multiple sources. I believe that an Ursinus liberal arts education, which emphasizes academic rigor and the cultivation of reflective judgment, is the best preparation for success.

Earlier this month Ursinus launched a series, Fostering Innovation and Entrepreneurship Through the Liberal Arts, with inaugural speaker Dr. Joseph DeSimone, Class of 1986. A faculty member at both the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State, he holds appointments in Chemistry, Engineering, and Business and is director of the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise. An inventor and entrepreneur, his projects have had wide-ranging applications, from the development of a bio-absorbable cardiac stent and the invention of an environmentally friendly process for the creation of high performance plastics, to the creation of new techniques for detecting and treating cancer and the synthesis of nanoparticle vaccines for infectious diseases. Joe was recently interviewed on how his liberal arts background impacted his success in business.

Reflecting on his Ursinus years, Joe said, “You can never overestimate the impact your education has on the way you view the world. Certainly, I would not be where I am today were it not for my educational experiences. My undergraduate liberal arts education at Ursinus College shaped my approach to scientific research and entrepreneurship. Most importantly, it has shaped me as a person. As an entrepreneur specifically, it is crucial to be able to understand and make judgments in context—to see the big picture and make connections among concepts, among seemingly disparate fields of study, and among people with different perspectives, personalities, and areas of expertise.”

He added that his latest venture was the result of the diverse perspectives of his team. “Only through meaningful discourse in our group do we make our greatest advancements,” he said. “Our success as a group rests on cooperation, dialogue, mutual respect, and the willingness to work hard and challenge the status quo to solve problems.”

Meaningful discourse and sound judgment are at the heart of an Ursinus liberal arts education. Such capacities are the basis for success, particularly for innovators and entrepreneurs. I think of Graham Mackenzie 1974, who pioneered smart cards and prepaid debit cards for use by Armed Forces personnel overseas; George Hines, a 1977 history major who turned his love of music into the multi-state George’s Music stores; Adam Fisch 1984, principal partner at Ampericon, an energy conservation firm he helped to found; and Cynthia Fisher 1983, who was in the vanguard of cord blood stem cell banking and use in therapies when she started ViaCord.

The innovative drive continues at Ursinus. Entrepreneurs in the Class of 2012 include Sam Giler, who has started Back Bay Computer in Boston, and Phillip DeSimone, a founding team member of BUYSTAND, an online marketplace.

An Ursinus education can lead to financial prosperity. Several years ago, Smart Money: The Wall Street Journal Magazine cited Ursinus in a Best Degree Value list for alumni salaries.  PayScale ranks Ursinus alumni earnings at 55th of 151 liberal arts colleges (and 235th out of 1,248 colleges and universities).

But we can also measure value in other ways. Career Services Director Carla Rinde tells us that employers seek out Ursinus students given their experience with the quality of Ursinus employees. In a changing world where 30 percent of our graduates may eventually work at a job that does not yet exist, there is all the more reason to learn to be innovative, flexible, and reflective. On some campuses, liberal education is giving way to career preparation. Judging from the success of our own alumni, an Ursinus education is good career preparation.

Go, Bears!

Bobby Fong

President

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