Liberal Arts Advance the Creative Class | submitted by Trina Van Mell

What is the purpose of a liberal arts education? How does it apply to the business world?

As a liberal arts student, I hear these types of questions often from my friends, my parents, and co-workers. My answer to the question is not borne of experience, just perspective: Liberal arts students are the type of people many companies and businesses need to hire.

This might sound ridiculous, for why would an accounting firm hire a liberal arts student rather than an accountant? But it stems from the root of a common start-up business problem. This common mistake is the assumption that skills in one field will automatically translate into running a successful business in that field, but just because you can cook doesn’t mean you can run a restaurant business. Of course a restaurant needs cooks, but a restaurant (and many other businesses) runs on many factors besides its product.

As Edie N. Goldenberg, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, says in her essay titled "Teaching Key Competencies in Liberal Arts Education," "Problem solvers who are too specialized cannot be effective. They need to understand links across fields and they need to be able to cooperate with others who bring needed complementary expertise to the problem-solving mix."

A well-rounded, if not specifically on-task education comes in handy in many business situations. It is common knowledge that liberal arts schools attract and encourage students who use such critical-thinking skills and believe in social responsibility. In other words, they are taught to be aware of their community, and to react critically to their environment.

While a liberal arts student might not be able to make your clientele dinner, they have been taught to identify the demographic groups in your area and what type of dinner they might prefer, look at a the history of the area, design a relevant theme for the restaurant, and figure out the best time to promote sales.

This passion for social responsibility and critical thinking is prevalent in each liberal arts student. Rachel Brenner-Golstein of Clark University, a small liberal arts school in Boston, says, "It’s not just that liberal arts schools make well-rounded, socially aware students. Well-rounded, socially aware students go to liberal arts schools."

We go into our degree programs knowing that jobs will be hard to come by, but find the need to analyze, and improve our community. Not only are liberal arts students educated specifically in critical thinking and social responsibility, they are naturally passionate about them. Many studies have shown that personal characteristics and emotional intelligence, not simply intelligence or talent, lead to success in business.

Liberal arts students want to make the world a better place! Sounds like a great business slogan to me.

Trina Van Mell attends UW-Madison.

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