Humanities and Liberal Arts majors are going into business

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BYU’s liberal arts students may never take a business class but end up in the world of business anyway.

Liberal arts and humanities majors, including history, English, philosophy, dance, music and drama, may contribute to businesses in different ways than engineering, mathematics and computer science majors.

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, brought together ideas from different products and industries, and even different schools of thought. Jobs firmly believed that business success occurs at the intersection of liberal arts and technology.

“I think our major contribution [to computing] was in bringing a liberal arts point of view to the use of computers,” Jobs said. “Our goal was to bring a liberal arts perspective and a liberal arts audience to what had traditionally been a very geeky technology and a very geeky audience.”

After being discouraged by many about majoring in English, Alana Maielo, from California, discovered that her degree could lead to jobs seemingly unrelated to her major. She learned of a friend’s experience interning in business and then she pursued a job in investment banking. In November, Maielo accepted a job offer from a large investment banking company.

“I researched a lot, and spent hours at the career fair … and when I talked to the manager, he told me that I was exactly what they were looking for, and that shocked me,” Maielo said. “It really changed the whole course of my future.”

She also encourages other humanities majors to explore options and take classes that might not be directly related to their majors. Due to her business minor, Maielo’s business experience helped her to understand her skills and abilities.

“I thought I wasn’t good enough or smart enough to go into business,” Maielo said. “But that’s all changed, and the more I study in the business school, the more I realize I really can make a contribution. So I think you really have to be open-minded; you never know where your skills could be the most effective.”

Greg Williams, 22, a media arts major, has also recently expanded his job search into fields outside those traditionally associated with his major. Greg will be interning this summer with the Washington seminar, working with in the judicial branch of government.

“I realized the world needs people that can think comprehensively and use storytelling skills [and] graphic design skills,” said Williams. “I’ve realized that you just major in what you care about, and you can use those skill sets in so many different ways.”

The value of liberal arts and humanities majors is becoming more and more apparent to business owners; for one, because of the valuable creative problem solving skills developed as an undergraduate.

“Precisely the kinds of skills that erroneously have been considered soft skills that come from a study of the liberal arts are now many of the hard skills … employers are seeking for,” said John R. Rosenberg, dean of the College of Humanities.

Dave Waddell, associate dean of the College of Humanities, advises students seeking employment after graduating with a humanities major. Sometimes he meets students concerned that their major cannot lead to gainful employment.

“I think most important is that you give students something actionable to go and start researching and finding out what they can do,” Waddell said. “Then you facilitate experiences that will help students not just understand that they can do other things, but also how they can articulate it, and how they apply that humanities background in a real world environment.”

Waddell teaches students that the level of writing and oral communication they attain in a humanities major is more in-depth and contextual than other majors. He said it provides a context for understanding humanity and complex cultural, social and interpersonal communication. For those who are in a humanities or liberal arts major and want to expand their options, Waddell advises them to begin early.

“First and foremost, start getting experience,” Waddell said. “Internships, a part-time job … That’s a lot of what my job is, is to help students not just understand that’s what they have to do, but help them plan it and get connected to opportunities.”

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