By Sidney Dills, Diversions Editor
Being told by a Malone Career Center employee that my career prospects were black and white at the Career Fair after working on my degree for nearly four years made me question the value placed on liberal arts at Furman. According to Admissions, a liberal arts education was supposed to equip me with a rounded resume and a rich experience that make me appeal to prospective employers. However, the feedback I received at the Career Fair – that as a Physics major, what I could do with my major was “pretty black and white” – stands as a critique to what the university claims to value and prioritize.
Held Wed. Oct. 17, the Furman Career Fair hosted 43 companies, 36 of which were looking to fill positions primarily related to the fields of accounting, business, customer service, retail, and management. While only 17 percent of the student population are communications, accounting, and business majors – the three main majors to whom such jobs would appeal – the fact that over eight out of 10 companies represented at the Career Fair were specifically offering accounting, business, customer service, retail, and management positions seems problematic. Additionally, none of the five major STEM companies with a strong presence in the Upstate were represented.
This is not to say that there were not other companies at the Fair. Representatives from the FBI and Teach for America were present, as they have been in past years. However, the Career Fair has not expanded to showcase many prospective careers outside the business and accounting fields. The Career Services Office needs to diversify the kinds of companies represented at the Career Fair. The Career Fair should include more fields and job types and move beyond local and state communities to feature companies from other states and countries.
Furman prides itself in offering a liberal arts education that creates well-rounded students. Any current Furman student can speak to the emphasis Furman places on allowing students to think outside the box and fashion a unique educational and personal identity. There is no denying that Furman does provide its students with an exemplary liberal arts education. Students take courses in numerous departments, a requirement that fosters critical and diverse thinking. Any student can easily take a philosophy course concerning the matters of existence and a physics course concerning what matter is within the same semester. If Furman does not work to apply this unique way of thinking and living outside the academy, however, perhaps that liberal arts education lacks the value it may appear to have on campus and in the classroom.
If companies and employers are not convinced that a liberal arts education – especially a Furman liberal arts education – is worth investing in, then the time and money we spend here is not an investment, but a payment to have a good time at college.
Let us not go down that road. I, like many students and parents, believe that my time, energy and money spent at Furman was and is a worthy investment. What is the difference between whether a cumulative check of $200,000 was a wise investment or a stress-filled payment? Jobs. It is not, however, the Career Service Office’s job to employ students or to finalize the next steps of their lives after graduating. It is, in fact, the Career Service Office’s job to open doors to different fields and areas by guiding soon-to-be graduates and selling the liberal arts education we toiled over for the past four years to potential employers.
When Career Center employees turn a student away by telling her that she has limited job options, they seem to be very uninformed about the options that are available. Even the Graduate School Fair, which is basically a parallel to to the Career Fair, has extremely limited field representation. Although the Career Center’s efforts to help students with interview and application tips are laudable, they are in no way unique to Furman students.
Here are a few things Career Services could consider adding to assist a wider variety of students. A Curriculum Vitae (CV) assistance program would help students applying for jobs or programs that require more than a general resume. Contacts with more employees who have experience hiring in fields other than business or the humanities would increase the percentage of students the Career Services can substantially aid.
Furman rightly prides itself in offering a rigorous education and a graduating Furman student is a quality product of liberal arts education. The Career Office needs to find new and innovative ways to promote their graduates in a diverse and ever-changing marketplace.