MAPH graduates: Healthy dose of humanities prescription for successBy Shula Neuman
Who says you have to be a computer wizard to get a good job today?
Graduates of the Masters of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH) are finding that a healthy dose of the humanities provides the background to attain jobs in a wide variety of areas.
Although the program is only in its second year, MAPH graduates are consistently launching careers based on their skills as writers, critical thinkers and learners -- skills they fostered and honed during their year as MAPH students.
"We try to emphasize to our students that when you write or speak, you are not doing so in a vacuum," said MAPH Director Gerald Graff, the George M. Pullman Professor in English Language & Literature. "We stress that when you state ideas, you need to relate them to the conversations of scholars, critics, public intellectuals and journalists."
As a result of their ability to navigate between the academic realm and the public, MAPH graduates have landed jobs in widely diverse fields. One graduate is a speech writer for the CEO of Enron Corporation, an energy company based in Houston, while another is a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Other graduates include a staff writer for the Chicago investment reporting firm Morningstar and a legal assistant at Aon Insurance Corporation, plus secondary-school and college teachers, fundraisers, and editors of major publications.
The graduates of MAPH all cite their ability to write and analyze critically as defining factors in their success.
Malissa Bennett (A.M.'97) currently works as the program assistant at the Center for Arts and Culture, a research policy group in Washington, D.C. that promotes responsive and inclusive cultural policy. After receiving a bachelor's degree in biology, she soon realized that she wasn't committed to the sciences. Attaining the MAPH degree seemed the perfect means for making a transition from the sciences into other fields.
"I was looking for something with more of a big picture and more purpose. I wanted to get out of the lab and into the world," Bennett said. "Many people thought I was nuts for leaving something stable and potentially lucrative for a graduate degree in humanities."
Bennett feels the commonly held belief that the humanities is a vague, impractical field is completely erroneous.
"The humanities are very rigorous," Bennett asserted. "They require real analytical and critical thinking skills. You have to be able to understand a larger argument, see the holes in it and decide whether the argument is valid. I was surprised at how many people I had to convince of the relevance of the humanities."
Jordan Silvergleid, who is graduating this weekend, spent two years at a for-profit research firm, analyzing "best demonstated management practices" at Fortune 500 corporations. The year in MAPH affirmed his belief that the humanities have much to offer business and the broader public sphere.
"Corporations are increasingly realizing that intangible assets, such as the culture of an enterprise, have much to do with their success, " Silvergleid explained. "It seems to me that their development of methodologies for tracking these assets, many of which lie within the domain of the humanities, can only benefit from more humanistic perspectives. Moreover, these trends certainly bode well for a field that has traditionally struggled to demonstrate its value."
Silvergleid is eager to refine and apply his ponderings within the policy arena when he begins an internship this summer with the Center for Arts and Culture.
MAPH graduates in all fields are finding that such critical thinking is invaluable in their careers.
Tim Stoltzfus (A.M.'97), a marketer for Monsanto Corporation, said, "There is a need for people to think morally, ethically and philosophically."
After graduating from the University, Stoltzfus attained an internship at Monsanto, which he parlayed into a permanent position.
"MAPH opened the entire University to me," he added. "I didn't want to purely study philosophy, as I did as an undergraduate. While I was in the MAPH program, I spent most of my time in the Medical School and Divinity School. I had access to stellar professors. It was an extremely stimulating environment, both academically and personally."
Stoltzfus also emphasized the benefits derived from the discipline of the core class, Contested Issues in the Humanities.
"The emphasis on the study of culture is so important," he said. "Of course, the ideal is that the humanities teach you to think about everything. Rather than being a specialist in one tiny little area, we should be able to look at the world from 20,000 feet and fit all the pieces together. That is a really important skill.
"I think there is a backlash against people who have an M.B.A. or who have studied finance, but lack a well-rounded background," he added. "Those people may be good at what they do, but they may be perceived as lacking creativity. It is the capacity to think that corporations are really looking for today."