September 2014

The Power of The Liberal Arts

At the College’s new Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center, students make connections between their Bryn Mawr education and their future.

By Libby Sander  ’99

LILAC: Jennifer Beale and Mfon Akpan

Mfon-Ido Akpan ’15 meets with Jennifer Beale, assistant director
and pre-law advisor in the Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center.

Rebecca Katz ’96 still remembers how her parents reacted when she told them, nearly two decades ago, that she planned to major in Russian at Bryn Mawr.

“They fell off their chairs,” Katz says now with a laugh. “‘I’ll get a job,’” she reassured them at the time. “But I didn’t have a picture of what that job would be.”

This past spring, Katz returned to campus as one of the College’s first alumnae-in-residence at the new Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center (LILAC). She came to relay an important message: Whether students major in art history, the growth and structure of cities, or—yes—Russian, the critical thinking and intellectual curiosity that are hallmarks of a Bryn Mawr education will serve them well in a far broader array of jobs than they might imagine.

In Katz’s case, she had dreamed of becoming a journalist in Russia. Instead, a bull market prompted her to take a customer-service position up the road at Vanguard, an investment management company that specializes in mutual funds. She didn’t know what a mutual fund was, but the suburban Philadelphia company proved to be a good fit. Katz has been there for nearly 18 years.

Like many of its peer institutions, Bryn Mawr is designing new programs and streamlining existing ones to help students accomplish in an uncertain job market what Rebecca Katz did in a flush one: Use the liberal arts as a training ground for any number of possible careers, and connect what students learn during college with life beyond the campus.

Internships, academic field work, involvement in the community, workshops in finance and management, and visits from alumnae like Katz all are part of LILAC’s mission to prepare Bryn Mawr students “to become self-aware leaders in their chosen life pursuits.”

The timing is critical. A tepid job market and the hefty price tag for a private college education has put institutions like Bryn Mawr under increasing pressure from parents and policy makers to justify the value of a liberal arts degree.

LILAC’s umbrella approach is in line with the newest and best thinking about how to demonstrate the power of a liberal arts education, says Kiki Jamieson ’88, who until 2011 was the director of the Pace Center for Civic Engagement at Princeton University. The challenge, she predicts, will be avoiding pressure to frame the benefits of a college education solely in economic terms, like seeking a return on investment.

“What Bryn Mawr can do is give students opportunities to explore a number of different paths,” says Jamieson, who is now president of the Fund for New Jersey. More important, she continues, Bryn Mawr can provide “the help and support and practice in creating a narrative that ties those things together.”

Alumnae, meanwhile, are playing a central role as real-time links to the very workforce students are poised to enter.

When she met with small groups of students on campus, for instance, Katz talked about the breadth of roles within her company—teachers, technology experts, marketers, communications professionals—and how, like many companies, Vanguard is searching for its next generation of leadership. Brainpower, conceptual thinking, problem-solving skills, and grit are in demand. Not any particular field of study.

Students have the intellect and the energy to excel in a corporate setting, she says. What they need is a clearer picture of what opportunities exist, and how they can apply their skills in pursuing them: “You have to make it real.”

LILAC aims to give students more guidance in making connections between their Bryn Mawr education and their post-graduation pursuits. That means coordinating and streamlining the College’s existing civic engagement, career development, and internship programs, and expanding fledgling efforts that build and refine students’ professional skills.

Ellie Esmond, co-director of the Civic Engagement Office, puts LILAC’s approach this way: “Everything is different and nothing is different.”

Some changes are new tweaks to old tactics. Consider the tried-and-true resume-writing workshop. Instead of instructing students on the do’s and don’ts of resumes, says Katie Krimmel, associate dean of LILAC, why not take a fresh, experiential approach: Have a group of students look through stacks of real resumes, select the ones that are polished and catchy, and talk about why.

Other changes are structural. Two new staff positions focus solely on professional opportunities for students—Jennifer Prudencio, associate director for employer relations and internships, and Sarah Sultzer, assistant director for employer relations. And the internship program is now under LILAC’s purview, with some enhancements. This spring, nearly 100 students who received $4,000 stipends from LILAC for summer internships participated in a pilot orientation program that donor support is making possible. Later, they’ll take part in a reflective component to help them think more deeply about their summer experiences.

The center is also refining the three week long workshops for students interested in finance, management, and effective grantsmanship. Held over spring break every year, these “intensives,” which are not credit-bearing, include guest lectures, plenty of reading and homework, and meetings with alumnae who work in those fields.

Coinciding with the College’s own strategic planning, alumnae have been vocal in advising the College to strengthen and expand its efforts in these areas. Some graduates, including those who sit on the President’s Advisory Council, urged the College to take a more active role in introducing students to the broad array of professional opportunities that exist for them, and to ensure that they are well-prepared for a very competitive job market, says Ruth Lindeborg ’80, secretary of the College.

With financial support from alumnae and others, the College responded quickly. “We were able to launch the center this year because of an extraordinarily generous gift from parents of an alumna,” says President Kim Cassidy. “They immediately embraced the potential for LILAC and provided $5 million for its creation. To ensure the success of LILAC, they pledged another $5 million to match the LILAC gifts of trustees, alumnae, other parents, and friends. We are excited to be very close to meeting their challenge.”

LILAC has also begun tapping into faculty members’ personal and professional networks. Bryn Mawr has talked for years about increasing internship opportunities for students, says David Karen, a professor of sociology who serves as the faculty liaison to LILAC. But “we were doing this in a very haphazard way. It seemed like we were not taking advantage of all the connections that we already had.”

Faculty are well-connected within their respective fields and across the globe, he says. Among faculty in Dalton Hall alone, Karen says, are a former township supervisor; a member of a New Jersey environmental development committee; and three school board members.

So this past winter, he sent out a survey to all full- and part-time faculty: What are your connections in the community, in business, academia, and the nonprofit sector? Do you know of research opportunities for students as interns or employees? Do you have contacts in business, law, medicine, nonprofits, or the arts?

To his surprise, more than a hundred responses poured in, including some with detailed information that could promptly yield internship and job opportunities. “That kind of engagement is what grabs students’ attention and really connects them to a particular aspiration,” Karen says. “This is what we have to do.”

At the heart of LILAC’s strategy are alumnae. They’ve done exactly what the center is preaching: successfully deployed a Bryn Mawr education.

“There’s a lot of potential to strategically tap the alumnae network,” Krimmel says. “And I just don’t think we’ve done it enough.”

The College can turn to alumnae to understand what’s happening in the job market, and to adjust their coaching and counseling of students accordingly, Krimmel says. This means not just creating pipelines in certain organizations or companies, but also staying attuned to nuances within certain sectors—the distinction, say, between working in finance and working in financial services—that make a difference when students are approaching alumnae for advice.

But the most effective way is to get them with students. That’s where the magic happens, Krimmel says. “Students hear things so well from alums,” she says. “They can see themselves in those shoes.”

And sometimes alumnae see themselves in the students, too. That’s how it was for Alexis Baird ’05, a senior product manager at LinkedIn. At Krimmel’s invitation, she returned to campus this spring as an alumna-in-residence. During a Friday in mid-April, she had coffee with students and faculty; met with LILAC staff; had lunch with students (“How to get from here to there: Tips and advice on maximizing your liberal arts education”); attended a computer science class;
and even offered “insider advice” on using LinkedIn.

“It reminded me a lot of my own experiences,” Baird says, recalling her own sense of anxiety when she was preparing to graduate. “I wanted to just give them a hug and be like, ‘It’s going to be okay.’”

Instead, she told them about her own path. After earning a degree in linguistics from Bryn Mawr, Baird pursued a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania, and landed at a startup in the Bay Area that had just been acquired by Microsoft. Before long, she took a job at LinkedIn.

There was an added bonus to spending a day on campus: Being surrounded by “incredibly smart, ambitious, intellectual women,” she says. Working in the technology sector, she says, “About 80 percent of the time when I’m sitting in a meeting, I’m the only woman in the room.”

Few of her colleagues have similar backgrounds, she says. “But I’m a firm believer that being a liberal arts major sets you up for success.”

 

The Alumnae Network in Action

Maureen McGonigle ’98

Subject: Kristen Steiner and Siqi Zhang. Photograph Credit: Joanna Muenz

Lantern Link—and a fellow Mawrter—helped Siqi Zhang ’15 land an internship in New York finance.

Arriving from Beijing and landing in Bryn Mawr only three short years ago, Siqi Zhang ’15 is proof of the power of the alumnae network.

During her time on campus, Zhang has sampled many of Bryn Mawr’s offerings and for a moment even considered majoring in the history of art (a very Mawrter moment). “I really wanted a liberal arts education,” she explains. “I really like small classes, more engagement, discussion, and the professors are approachable.”

Her flirtation with art history aside, Zhang’s heart lies in mathematics and economics. This spring she decided to take those passions and try her hand at business and finance. She applied to many firms, but wasn’t having much luck. As the summer approached, Siqi was a little worried.

Enter Bryn Mawr’s Lantern Link, an online service that helps connect BMC students who need career guidance and internships with alumnae who can offer help or suggestions. Add Kristen Steiner ’85, vice president marketing, Depositary Receipts at BNY Mellon, and suddenly Zhang received the chance she was hoping for.

Steiner posted the summer internship program run by her company and Zhang applied. “After three weeks I followed up with her and asked her about my application,” she says. “Steiner replied to me promptly and gave me good advice about my resume and cover letter.”

Shortly after that, Zhang was chosen to interview for and won an internship position in the BNY Mellon summer internship program.

At BNY Mellon, Zhang spent the summer in New York City doing research, helping to match investors with opportunities, and learning about the world of crisis management. While her research skills served her well, Zhang believes some of the “softer” skills she has been acquiring at BMC (public speaking, giving presentations, keeping the “minutes” for her classes) helped her immensely in her day-to-day work life.

Even so, like many Bryn Mawr women, she is drawn to the numbers, and while her work at BNY was exciting, it was not as quantitative as she had anticipated. Still, Zhang is delighted with the opportunity—and with her colleagues. Working with the BNY Mellon team, she got to see the “big picture on the whole [Depositary Receipt] Division and what they’re up to. There are so many ideas. This work is much more conceptual than I had thought.”

 

Intensive Purpose

Libby Sander ’99

Ivy Gluck '14

Bryn Mawr’s career programs introduced Ivy Gluck ’14 to her future career.

For Ivy Gluck ’14 charting a path toward her first full-time job was an exercise in trial and error.

“I had internships in finance every summer starting my freshman year solely to appease my parents,” she says. “I hated them.”

Through those experiences, Gluck, who majored in math and minored in philosophy, discovered that she loved research and working with numbers. But she also valued working in a collaborative environment.

Bryn Mawr helped Gluck hone her search, and learn more about what sorts of jobs she might enjoy most. During her sophomore year, Gluck took part in one of the College’s week-long business workshops in finance.

“They’re unbelievable—one of the best things Bryn Mawr has ever done,” she says of the courses, known as intensives, which are coordinated by LILAC. “Finance, law, entrepreneurship—these are big words you hear floating around. It was nice to learn about the nitty-gritty of what people are doing in these fields.”

Spending time with alumnae during Bryn Mawr’s three-day Job Market Boot Camp last year was best of all, she says: “Meeting people who have jobs you might want, and talking with them about how they got there.”

Gluck was studying abroad in Budapest during the spring of 2013 when she learned through the College that Brandywine Global Investment Management was looking for an intern. She submitted her resume, and soon had an interview over Skype. Before long, she had a job offer. (Though she didn’t know it at the time, her boss, Patrick Kaser, is married to Catherine Kaser ’95.)

In July, after graduating from Bryn Mawr, she joined the company as a full-time employee, working as an equity analyst. She says she hopes Bryn Mawr will continue to help students make connections between what they learn in class and the many career opportunities that await them.

“When you apply to colleges, you’re thinking about social life and student-to-professor ratio and academics and food,” she says. “What lasts more than four years is the job you get out of college, and the ability to translate what you learned in those four years.”

 A Summer of Service

Nancy Brokaw

Bomi Hong ’17

At Kids Smiles, Bomi Hong ’17 is exploring her dream job.

In high school, Bomi Hong ’17 excelled at both science and art. “I realized that I had good eye-hand coordination,” she explains, “and I wanted to combine my passion for science and my manual dexterity. So I mixed them and got dentistry.”

This summer, with the help of LILAC’s Civic Engagement Office, the rising sophomore got a firsthand look at her chosen profession. “I had a meeting with Ellie [Esmond] and Kelly [Sheard], and they told me where to look for internships,” Hong explains. Esmond and Sheard both work in the Civic Engagement Office (CEO), Esmond as co-director and director of service and activism, and Sheard as an assistant director.

As one of the 10 Summer of Service participants, Hong worked at Kids Smiles, a nonprofit that brings quality dental care and education to underserved children in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Hong’s work week—four days a week, eight busy hours a day—included administrative tasks and shadowing dentists as they did their rounds.

But the heart of her work was teaching good dental care to children. Kids Smiles accepts all children—anyone under the age of 18—but most of Hong’s students were in the under-12 crowd, the ones “most eager to learn.”

Summer of Service provides funded internships at local, community-based organizations. Participants live together on campus and, in addition to their internship work, meet weekly with CEO staff for service-learning programs including training, visits to local organizations, and reflection activities.

Her Summer of Service internship wasn’t Hong’s first interaction with the CEO. As a freshman, she participated in the Leadership Empowerment and Advancement Program (LEAP), co-facilitated by Esmond and Vanessa Christman, assistant dean and director of leadership and community development. That program employs an experiential learning model that helps students develop advanced leadership skills.

Says Hong, “Basically, I learned how to use my skills—my strengths and even my weaknesses—to become a role model for others and to lead a group of students, whether for school projects or a team.”

Those skills—along with her experience working in a real-life dental office—will stand Hong in good stead. For Hong, the Civic Engagement Office has provided just what she was looking for.

“[Summer of Service] has been a great experience, teaching kids about dental care, and learning what it’s like being in the field of dentistry,” she says.

 

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