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Liberal arts students receive liberal dose of career skills


May 15, 2008
What’s next after you take off that cap and gown? Answering that question is potentially more complicated for students earning their bachelor’s degrees in liberal arts fields than in professional programs.

This spring, students in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences received free training from professionals in the career planning field, along with advice from individuals in a variety of professions, to help them answer this and other career questions with confidence.

Trainers from Leathers Milligan/OI Partners led students through a series of workshops on topics such as assessing one’s skills and interests, researching potential employers, resume writing, and interviewing skills. Leathers Milligan & Associates is the Arizona partner of OI Partners, a corporation of career consulting, executive coaching, leadership development and career transition professionals in 200 locally owned offices.

Student participants then gained career insights from panelists representing the public and private sectors in a series of panel discussions.

“The move from backpack to briefcase is a huge transition, and it can be quite intimidating,” says Zabdy Montenegro, who just completed her B.S. in psychology through New College, located on ASU’s West campus. “Participating in this program gave me the tools and skills to help me walk into a job interview with confidence.”

Montenegro says she received helpful practical advice about preparing for interviews and writing her resume. “I found out it’s important for your resume not simply to list what you’ve done, but to address the skills you’ve gained through your work and school experience,” she says.

Her participation in the career preparation program has yielded results – Montenegro received three job offers and is in the midst of more interviews.

“Employers need graduates who are well-prepared to deal with the realities of the workplace, and this program enables students to be more knowledgeable and effective when engaging prospective employers,” says Mark Leathers, founder and partner of Leathers Milligan/OI Partners and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for New College.

A Leathers Milligan employee was taking a class taught by Elaine Jordan, New College’s director of college internships, when their discussions led to creation of the series of workshops developed in collaboration with ASU’s School of Global Management and Leadership. “We are grateful to Leathers Milligan and the panel participants for the time and expertise they have donated to this project,” Jordan says.

Students said the training they received in how to describe themselves was particularly valuable. “We believe industry leaders already see the value in hiring liberal arts graduates,” Jordan says. “This program helps students fully understand and better articulate the immense value they bring to the business world. You could see them grow in self-esteem and confidence as the program went along.”

Adds Leathers, “Confidence also comes from having a plan, knowing how to talk with potential employers and evaluate what the employer is saying to us. Students said they gained a sense of empowerment that they can be successful in finding the job that is right for them.”

Gwen Scheetz, the Leathers Milligan senior consultant who conducted the workshops, describes the student participants as “gutsy” and willing to try out new skills, such as networking. “Not many job seekers enjoy networking at first,” Scheetz says. “But having a chance to practice, as we did in the workshops, makes all the difference. We told the students that the only way to get good at this is through practice and more practice!”

Students had the chance to meet professionals from a range of public and private fields who volunteered to participate in panel discussions that Jordan coordinated. Panelists represented organizations including the city of Glendale, Great Scott Productions, Habitat for Humanity, the FBI, State Farm Insurance, and others.

“It was a fantastic experience for the students to meet people from the professional community who took an interest in them,” Jordan says. “Panelists shared their email addresses with students and were generous with their time.”

The final session Jordan held with students was a debriefing designed to look for ways to improve the program in the future. Already it’s been a great success. Students evaluated themselves before and after the program and showed a 73 percent improvement in their ability to assess their skills, construct a resume, interview, negotiate and network.

“The skills they learned will benefit these students not just in the short term but for years to come,” Jordan says. “We’re looking forward to helping a new group of students this fall.”

ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences offers degree programs spanning the humanities, arts, and social and natural sciences. More information is available at http://newcollege.asu.edu/.