Jim Amidon — Not long ago in an alumni survey, about 12 percent of Wabash College alumni told us they held the title of owner, president, or CEO. That’s a pretty remarkable figure, especially for a liberal arts college like Wabash that offers no business major or minor.
The undergraduate courses students take a liberal arts colleges provide the broad base from which success evolves. Wabash’s alumni say that courses in English, classics, rhetoric, and the sciences, when combined with work in economics, help them communicate effectively, learn from mistakes, solve problems, and see the big picture.
Our economy today, however, suggests that students should go to college to learn something practical so that four years hence, they emerge with skills that will lead to a job.
A.G. Lafley, who was president, chairman, and CEO of Procter and Gamble, thinks differently. Writing in the Huffington Post, Lafley heralded the work of our nation’s liberal arts colleges.
“As someone who spent many years assessing the skills and talents of management prospects for a wide range of disciplines and industries, I know that the candidates who were the most attractive manager prospects were those with a well-exercised mind, leadership potential, and the passion to make a difference,” Lafley wrote. “These success factors can be cultivated in many ways, but all are best developed by taking courses in the liberal arts and sciences.
“By studying art, science, the humanities, social science, and languages, the mind develops the mental dexterity that opens a person to new ideas, which is the currency for success in a constantly changing environment.”
When Wabash College recruits potential students, nearly half tell us they’re interested in a career in business. At 17 or 18 years old, most don’t have a clue what that means — management, accounting, manufacturing, taxes, HR, or finance — but they have a hunch that they can make money in business.
But for those who have the longer view — who wish to move up the corporate ladder or develop the entrepreneurial skills to create a start-up — an undergraduate curriculum limited to business will be too narrow.
Wabash’s track record speaks for itself. But over the last decade or so, the College has invested enormous resources into co-curricular and extra-curricular programs to help Wabash graduates compete right out of the gate with students who have attended business programs.
Through the Schroeder Center for Career Development, the staff, headed by Scott Crawford, starts working with students from the moment they arrive on campus. Whether they want a career in business, the arts, or the sciences, students are best served when they show up at the Schroeder Center as freshmen.
They’ll learn how to discern their true vocation. They’ll get help with writing effective cover letters and resumes. They can attend “boot camps” to prepare them for graduate school exams or interviews. So that they look their best at an interview, students can check out suits from a large collection stored at the Schroeder Center. There are also dozens of job fairs, networking events, externships, and internships that round out a student’s experience in class.
Betsy Knott heads up the Business Leaders Program, which involves a set of courses from across the curriculum and immersion experiences that further develop students. Some participate in a paid, eight-week summer business immersion in which they spend half their time in class and half learning from business leaders and developing business plans.
There are also short-term immersions into marketing and, beginning this week, finance. These four- or five-day programs allow students to focus on key components of business through both classroom learning and hands-on experiences.
In the coming week, one group of students will travel to New York City to network with and learn from Wabash alumni in several areas of business. Another group will spend four days in Indianapolis learning about finance, investment, and taxes in the corporate setting
An immersion experience in healthcare management will be offered in the spring semester.
All of these co- and extra-curricular opportunities are there for the taking. The wise student who thinks seriously about his long-term future, gets started early in his time at Wabash. That allows him access to the full range of programs — from on-campus research with faculty to internships with some of the great companies in America.
Students who can incorporate those pieces into the liberal arts puzzle — along with sports, arts, student government, and journalism — become exactly the kind of graduate who can succeed in any business environment.
Lafley summed it up nicely: “The formula for businesses trying to compete in today’s economy is simple: hire employees with the mental agility, leadership and passion to navigate constant change — in other words, hire those who are liberally educated.”
And at Wabash, that’s a winning formula, indeed.