Liberal arts education in high demand

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Much debate is currently in the media about the value of a liberal arts education. One often hears that the “typical” paths available for students of liberal arts programs lead to community service and work in the public sector — advocacy and outreach.

The reality is, however, that liberal arts training is invaluable and in high demand as businesses evolve and grow in today’s complex and challenging economy. To underscore this connection, Whitman recently brought me onboard as the director for business engagement.

There is a growing movement in the private sector to balance the existing talent pool of individuals highly skilled in specific areas, such as business or technology, with individuals who possess the skills that a liberal arts education imparts.

According to a recent study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, employers want more colleges to emphasize four key areas: critical thinking, complex problem solving, written and oral communication skills, and applied knowledge in real-world settings. These areas form the foundation of a Whitman education. Whitman students possess the kinds of skills employers are seeking, and I am eager to connect students with these employers. Whitman also offers — and continues to develop — programs that build connections with the Walla Walla community and beyond.

Last year, we established Real Talk, a series of small-group discussions in which Whitman students speak with local community members about their areas of expertise. These informal meetings offer students an opportunity to interact with community members in an intimate setting, allowing for real discussions about current events, career topics and shared interests. We look forward to continuing this program in the coming school year and are excited about the evolution of this key community connection.

We are also expanding our extensive internship program centered on work in the local, national and global for-profit sectors. Whitman provides funding for internships in a variety of industries. This program increases the opportunities for Whitman students to gain valuable workplace experience and benefits the business community with students who are well-equipped to succeed in this global economy.

Locally, one of the projects we are working on involves students, community leaders, entrepreneurs, artists and all three of our local institutions of higher learning. It is centered on Global Entrepreneurship Week, an international initiative that introduces entrepreneurship to young people.

In collaboration with our colleagues at the Chamber of Commerce, Walla Walla University, Walla Walla Community College and the Small Business Development Center, we are planning a series of community programs in November that will connect local students to local entrepreneurs. There will be discussion panels, workshops, an art exhibition and a competition. The program will culminate with a reception to share the fruits of the week’s programs.

In my new role, I look forward to building our programs to support the growing needs of this community, the local economy and the interests of our ever-evolving student body, and I invite you to share ideas about how we might be able to do this. To hear more about our programs, we invite the business community to join us Oct. 8, when we host the Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours. Details will be available on the Chamber’s website.

Kim Rolfe is Whitman College’s director for business engagement.

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