What Can I Do with a Degree in . . . ?

New College and Careers Building will help students find the answer
Interim Dean Andrew Marcus photo

The most common question I hear from prospective students visiting the College of Arts and Sciences is “What can I do with a degree in (fill in the blank)?”—with the blank representing a name of a major in the humanities or social sciences.

My answer is always the same: “You can do whatever you want. Our liberal arts degrees don’t train you for a single vocation. Rather, they provide you the skills to pursue an almost infinite number of career paths.”

But this answer—once widely accepted in America—now is frequently challenged in a postrecession world acutely aware of an ever-unstable employment landscape and mounting student debt. I hear this challenge in many forms, ranging from media debates to the pointed rejoinders I hear in parent Q & A sessions. “My daughter wants to major in philosophy,” one parent retorted. “Well, I don’t see any want ads for philosophers.”

For this parent, my comment about training students for an open-ended multitude of careers rather than a specific vocation simply did not compute.

By now, I am used to skepticism . . . and eager to respond. I make the case that liberal arts train us to think logically, question critically, communicate clearly, act creatively, and live ethically—exactly the training that employers want. I emphasize how this is supported, time after time, by many surveys of employers across the nation. Finally, I always point out that education at a public research university isn’t just about career training, but also about creating well-rounded citizens who lead vibrant lives and contribute to society.

These types of parent conversations—and untold interactions with students themselves—have helped shape the idea for a new College and Careers Building.

This 50,000-square-foot building, located in the very heart of campus, will serve as a home for both the College of Arts and Sciences and the UO Career Center—creating a centralized hub where students can make a direct connection between their academic interests and their future careers.

This one-of-a-kind facility will be dedicated to long-term success for students majoring in the arts and sciences—whether they choose comparative literature, geography, history, marine biology or any of our 46 majors.

This building will also help us recruit top students, as it underscores our commitment to helping them pursue degrees that fit their passions and also prepare for future career success. Our promise is to launch them with a practical sense of purpose as they leave the university.

The College and Careers Building will, to our knowledge, be the only university building in the nation that locates career services with the arts and sciences. I’m pleased to report that, with the remarkable philanthropy of Don and Willie Tykeson, this building will become a reality. Their $10 million gift, and the support of other generous donors for $1 million, has launched our campaign to fully fund the building and guarantee that this concrete symbol of the value of an arts and sciences degree will open its doors to students in just a few years. I could not be more excited about this opportunity to help our students succeed. I hope you will join me in this effort.

W. Andrew Marcus is interim Donald and Willie Tykeson Dean of Arts and Sciences. He is a professor of geography and proud parent of two UO graduates and three current UO students, all of whom have majored or are majoring in the arts and sciences.

Photo: Kelly James