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Synthesizing Career Readiness and the Liberal Arts

By: Timothy Quinn

Chief Academic Officer and Dean of Faculty

“When will I ever use this?”  This question is often asked by students about what they are doing in class.  I have always believed they should ask this question, and it is incumbent upon teachers to provide a legitimate answer.  Of course, showing is always better than telling, which is why providing students with experiences that reveal that to them is so important.  This will do a lot more to convince them than a lecture that starts, “when you get older…”

students using scientific equipment

At Miss Porter’s School, where our mission states that we “expect our graduates to shape a changing world,” it is doubly important that we provide students with an education that has real world applicability.  This is why all of our seniors are required to take an interdisciplinary professional experience class. For some schools, experiential education and interdisciplinary studies are just buzzwords that they slap on a class, but here, we really take them seriously. Our Advanced Interdisciplinary Seminar (AIS) Professional Experience courses offer students credit in multiple departments and get them out in the world.  Here is the description of them from our course catalog:

AIS Professional Experience courses include exposure to authentic work in professions related to the fields of study addressed in the course.  These may include job shadow opportunities, site visits, meetings with professionals on and off campus, and other experiences. These courses will likely include travel to nearby cities and overnight stays. In these courses, students will create professional resumes and LinkedIn profiles. They will also learn to effectively communicate in the professional world, including developing practice with networking and interview skills. 

Last year, we launched the first of these courses.  Entitled AIS Professional Experience in Behavioral Science and Entrepreneurial Finance: Money, Consumerism and Human Behavior, the course offered students credit in both science and technology, innovation & entrepreneurship (TIE).  In the class, students examined the following questions: How does understanding the human brain, consumerism, and bias help us build more lucrative businesses? What practices of finance and investment are imperative to our future individual and entrepreneurial success? How do we, as entrepreneurs, move away from the pitfalls of greed and self-interest to move toward more ethical economic decisions while still embracing success and profitability? Students didn’t just read about and discuss these topics; they worked through case studies and engaged with professionals who dealt with similar issues daily. Most importantly, many of the students completed internships as part of the course and experienced these issues firsthand.

This past fall, we ran our second professional experience course. This one, AIS Professional Experience in Science and Technology: Science Fiction and Science Future, was evidence that while career readiness is a part of these courses, we do not leave the liberal arts behind.  Students visited biotechnology companies and learned about how technology is radically changing every industry. Still, they did so in the context of having read and discussed works of literature such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, among others. Their work included a study of anatomy and prosthetics and how changes in medical technology have expanded treatment options for patients while simultaneously stretching the thresholds of human achievement. They addressed psychology, artificial intelligence, and ways of recognizing and measuring self-awareness and consciousness, not only in humans but also in animals and machines. We want our graduates prepared to enter the tech industries, but clearly, we want them to do so with an understanding of their work’s ethical and philosophical implications.  For this course, students earn both an English and a Science credit. 

This spring, we will run our third course in the series: AIS Professional Experience in Art and Culture: The Power of Storytelling. This class, for which students will earn credits in English and art, will have them spend time in New York City learning about what it means to be a professional in the arts as well as how the arts and creativity, more generally, are necessary to all professionals.  Ultimately, they will learn that almost all professional work involves telling stories, and they will engage in projects that require them to tell their own stories in different media.

All of these courses help to show that career readiness and the liberal arts, particularly the humanities, are not at odds with one another, and students do not have to choose between them.  In fact, they inform one another, and the best way for students to understand the latter’s relevance is to put them out in the world and allow them to see just how timeless questions inform work in all industries.  Our AIS Professional Experience courses are the education of the future because they represent an education that truly prepares students for the future.