Preparing students for a meaningful life – and a good job

Rock Jones greets 2019 graduate Lexi Heberle at Commencement. Lexi triple-majored in psychology, neuroscience, and zoology, and she is working as a mental health technician at Sun Behavioral Health in Columbus and is applying to graduate school.

Sometimes in today’s world there seems to be a new parlor game that challenges players to one-up each other claiming that a liberal arts education cannot prepare students for lives of meaningful work and a salary to support a reasonable standard of living. A quick survey of Ohio Wesleyan graduates, both those who graduated half a century or more ago and those who graduated in the past decade, shows this is not the case.

Our alumni, benefitting from the rigor of an education that gives exposure to a wide range of disciplines while also demanding mastery of the content and methods of one or more major disciplines of study, move quickly to the work force and to jobs that are meaningful and rewarding in every way. Surveys of recent graduates have found that within six months of graduation 96 percent of our graduates are in full-time jobs or full-time graduate study, with 85 percent of those in the work force gaining a first job in their expressed field of interest.

These data are consistent with what corporate and nonprofit leaders in the United States indicate they seek when looking for college graduates to employ in their organizations. The Harvard Business Review recently (September 19, 2019) reported the results of the Association of American Colleges and Universities survey of 501 executives and 500 hiring managers at private sector and hiring organizations, noting, “employers overwhelmingly endorse broad learning and cross-cutting skills as the best preparation for long-term career success. The college learning outcomes they rate as most important are oral communication, critical thinking, ethical judgment, working effectively in teams, written communication, and the real-world application of skills and knowledge.

“Internships and apprenticeships were deemed particularly valuable, with 93% of executives and 94% of hiring managers indicating that they would be more likely to hire a recent graduate who has held an internship or apprenticeship with a company or organization.”

Broad learning, cross-cutting skills, internships and apprenticeships.

It is no wonder that Ohio Wesleyan students are so well prepared for the workplace. Our curriculum has long valued learning that blends theory and practice, giving students the opportunity to complement meticulous work in the classrooms, laboratories, and performance halls with practical, real-world experiences. While these experiences are increasingly commonplace among the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, Ohio Wesleyan was a pioneer in offering academic credit for internships and apprenticeships.

In the middle of the last century, the Institute for Practical Government and Public Affairs at OWU developed the Wesleyan in Washington program to give students the opportunity to spend a semester in our nation’s capital, completing both internships and independent studies. This is the work that happens at the intersection of theory and practice, and it is the ideal way to bring practical learning to a liberal arts education. For decades, OWU students have benefitted from internships in government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, think tanks, media outlets, museums, and other settings in Washington, D.C.

It is no wonder that Ohio Wesleyan students are so well prepared for the workplace.

Rock Jones

President, Ohio Wesleyan University

In November of this year, the Ohio Wesleyan New York Arts Program will celebrate 50 years of continuous opportunity for students from OWU and other colleges and universities to spend a semester in New York City. The semester includes an internship and seminars in writing and publishing; visual arts and art history; music, sound and film; and theatre and dance.

While the connection of theory and practice is longstanding at Ohio Wesleyan, in the past two years we have made a major commitment to enhance our work with students in preparation for careers that will be rewarding and fulfilling.

The OWU Career Connection works closely with other aspects of The OWU Connection signature program to engage students from their first days on campus to the early years beyond their graduation in thinking about the career paths that will be most meaningful for each individual student. Internships are central to the Career Connection, but the services provided to students are far more comprehensive.

The Career Connection builds on our longstanding commitment to support students in connecting their passions and intellectual capacities with careers that make a difference in the larger world. Indeed, the charter of Ohio Wesleyan written in 1842 indicated that our education was “to be designed for the benefit of citizens in general.” We fulfill this historic commitment when our students are prepared to be entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, corporate leaders, public servants, educators, and humanitarians whose careers are both personally fulfilling and of service to the greater humankind.

This is the essence of an OWU education.

In this issue of OWU Magazine, you will read in particular about the Career Connection and Wesleyan in Washington programs and the life of our graduates in the nation’s capital. I invite you to think about the ways Ohio Wesleyan prepared you to find meaning and purpose in your careers as you read how this continues to happen on our campus today.

That’s a parlor game of a different sort; but then OWU is an institution of a different sort, as well.

Rock Jones
President, Ohio Wesleyan University
Twitter: @owu_rockjones

Return to the Winter 2020 OWU Magazine