The notion that a liberal arts education and career preparation are incompatible is being discredited. The very characteristics that employers value in job candidates are those fostered at liberal arts colleges like Ursinus.
A 2013 study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities found that employers want job applicants who can effectively communicate orally and in writing, possess critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills, and have the ability to analyze and solve complex problems: nine out of 10 employers said that “innovation is essential.”
Colleges have a responsibility not only to provide the academic rigor that cultivates reflective judgment, but also to equip students in practical living. In the September 2011 Perspective column titled “Liberal Arts and Practical Experience, A False Dichotomy,” I wrote shortly after beginning my presidency that “part of our responsibility entails helping students orient themselves to life after graduation by guiding their next steps into the world beyond the College.” One year ago, we sponsored the event Fostering Innovation and Entrepreneurship Through the Liberal Arts, at which Joseph DeSimone, class of 1986, spoke on how the nature of a liberal arts education fosters the characteristics of entrepreneurship.
In December, I was pleased to announce a new initiative: U-Imagine! The Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies. Directed by an interdisciplinary faculty team—Carol Cirka from Business and Economics, Rebecca Jaroff from English, and April Kontostathis from Mathematics and Computer Science—the U-Imagine! Center will imbue an entrepreneurial spirit that permeates the Ursinus campus culture and fosters entrepreneurial competencies in students, regardless of major or post-graduate goals. Throughout our curriculum, students master the communication skills and achieve the scientific, cultural, and historical literacy that are fundamentals of a liberal education. The mission of the U-Imagine! Center is to extend these competencies and give students the confidence and the ability to recognize and take full advantage of opportunities to apply their learning. We aspire to enable our students to become creative and compassionate leaders.
The Center supports several initiatives, including the U-Innovate! entrepreneurial competition, in which students are encouraged to come up with a “big idea” and vie for awards in a public forum. According to the organizers, the U-Innovate! competition asks students to develop “inspired, imaginative and innovative ideas for a product or service that fulfills a market need and/or solves a social problem.” Funded by Trustee Will Abele, class of 1961, winners will receive cash awards and the opportunity to live on campus during the summer to start working on their projects with a faculty mentor.
In an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer Professor Kontostathis explained that computer science students who developed phone apps needed marketing support. Liberal arts colleges increasingly want to give their students “a more concrete transitional path between their education and careers,” she said.
Another initiative is the U-Inspire! Speaker Series, which has sponsored alumni visits and speakers throughout the fall. On Jan. 29, our students will be celebrating the new center’s opening with a talk by Anne Beiler, founder of a hand-rolled soft pretzel franchise you might know as “Auntie Anne’s.” If you are interested in attending, please register here.
The Center directors also are working on a U-Initiate! program to connect students with the community. Examples include building new links between students working on issues related to the environment or urban planning and the Collegeville Borough and local environment/preservation groups; and students lending their accounting, marketing, and computer expertise to non-profits. News of the Center has garnered numerous inquiries from business executives and consultants as to how they might be able to contribute as speakers or mentors.
Our commitment to offering a “Liberal Arts Plus” experience that enhances student outcomes does not stop with the Center. During the recent winter break, our Career and Professional Development Office ran its first-ever externship program in which 17 students shadowed alumni who graciously lent their time to give students insight into various careers. Participating alumni included a legislator, a museum development officer, a fish and wildlife manager, and business executives. Students will discuss their externship experiences at the Feb. 12 Job, Internship and Networking Fair, which again is attracting a record number of employers, many of them Ursinus alumni.
The U-Imagine! Center and other initiatives reflect our commitment to linking studies to the world beyond the classroom. All Ursinus students have the opportunity to study abroad, conduct research, or complete an internship in the Independent Learning Experience (ILE). You can read more about student ILE experiences on a new ILE web page.
What characterizes liberal education is the bringing together of knowing and doing. With support from our faculty, alumni and the greater community, Ursinus is forging paths that extend beyond the four years on campus.
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