The Power of A Liberal Arts Degree

On Wednesday Nov. 18, there was a public discussion entitled “From Classroom to Career: The Value of a Liberal Arts Degree.” Several alumni from New Paltz sat poised before a group of students and faculty, explaining how their degrees translated into jobs or internships after undergrad or grad school. The five alumni offered tips and inside information on how to prepare for a job that may not seem remotely related to a liberal arts degree, but has value across the job market.

Finding any job, affixed to a degree or not, may prove a painstaking process with stiff competition and companies that look for years of experience. Therefore, the interview process is important to show employers your potential skill sets and competence.

If she were in a position to hire someone, alum Claudette Aldebot said, “I’m looking for confidence and mindset. Attitude is everything [and] effective communication.”

Arber Cobaj, director of program development for Skylop Strategies, agreed.

“Someone positive and energetic,” he said. “What is your reason for being here … and I need to know what type of role I can build around this person.”

Heather Graham, digital director for The Daily Gazette said, “Be enthusiastic, be confident, come with questions.”

Kathleen Tobin, associate director at the Benjamin Center at New Paltz, finished with a piece of advice.

“Be creative, be thoughtful,” she said. “I will hire a student of any major if I know they are bright and nimble.”

Emily Quinn, a third-year business major, found their recommendations helpful and their information useful. She found the most insightful statements related to “knowing that not everything is set in stone.”

“A liberal arts degree for me is not as stressful as one of the more narrow degrees,” she said.

Some of the alumni were surprised at the jobs they landed after receiving degrees that weren’t focused on a narrow study.

“My philosophy major helped with day to day life,” said Abe Uchitelle, senior vice president of business development for DragonSearch. “The flexibility that my degree offers helps me a lot. I have no background in financial experience, from day one.”

He was hired at a financial institution with hopes that critical thinking skills and questioning policies would aid in his new role.

Graham has years of experience behind her, and has recently switched her area of work.

“I’m really just finding my way, like the new kid on the block, like going from high school to college,” she said. “With a general degree, I have the skills to do it.”

Graham didn’t intend to study at graduate school. In fact, her idea of graduate school was ambiguous until a friend asked her during a lull in her career.

Tobin relayed her opinions concerning graduate school.

“The longer you wait, the less likely you’ll go to graduate school,” she said. “It’s a really personal choice, there is no blanket statement for it … the pattern we are seeing at this table is that yes, you want a few years to wait and pay for an expensive grad school education. So it’s really hard — you have to talk to your mentors and talk to people in the field.”

Uchitelle offered a slightly different view.

“If you have a prerequisite established, then go for it,” he said. “It might mean landing an internship or taking a year off. Don’t feel compelled to go into grad school.”

All five alumni couldn’t stress enough the importance of having a mentor during college years and beyond. Often, students are unsure how to go about finding a mentor and establishing a relationship.

“Go to any events remotely related to your field and talk to people,” Uchitelle said. “Not only is having a mentor important for growth, but being a mentor too. It’s a huge opportunity to be a mentor. Just find people in your life you can talk to and have a conversation with. Don’t worry about who’s the mentor and who’s the mentee.”