This past month saw the launch of a helpful new resource for articulating the practical value of undergraduate humanities education and addressing student concerns about career prospects: Arts and Humanities: Don’t Leave College Without Them. The image-rich, 350-page e-book is chock full of essays from students, recent graduates, and mid-career professionals that articulate opportunities for applying humanities knowledge and skills in today’s workforce.
This resource, five years in the making, was undertaken by Union College Professor of Spanish and Hispanic Studies Christine Henseler. It builds on previous efforts undertaken by Henseler and her colleagues at 4Humanities, including Humanities, Plain & Simple and WhatEvery1Says. “I saw a need, a gap. I felt that students were going into STEM without knowing and considering the avenues available through the arts and humanities,” said Henseler. “I want students to be able to make decisions about their learning and their careers in ways that are based on solid understanding, not on stereotypes and stigmas.”
The approach of the guidebook is carefully designed to meet students where they are. “I felt that the format—the look and feel—of this project was very important. Which student would actually pick up a book to read about the arts and humanities? I know my 18-year old daughter wouldn’t,” said Henseler. “I would pull her into my office and ask, ‘what do you think about this page?’ I remember her reaction to one of the first pages: ‘This photo looks too much like a stock photo!’ Her reaction then led me to scour free image websites for hours and hours and hours, trying to find photos that were more authentic, fun, unusual, with attention to showing a large diversity of students.”
“Because I wanted the guidebook to reach as many students as humanly possible, after much consultation and researching, I found a flipbook format that rendered the images and the reading experience nicely.” The format also makes it easy to share via a link or QR code.
The guidebook is organized into chapters that take a deeper look at the practical value of a specific cluster of arts and humanities disciplines while answering broader questions (“But, Can I Make a Living?”) and highlighting overarching themes (“Become a Global Thinker”). These chapters include portraits of young professionals putting these disciplines to work, essays by students and alums on all that they have taken from their studies (including one by yours truly entitled, “Why Study Religion?”, pages 186-189), topical reflections on the value of arts and humanities tackling contemporary issues like climate change, detailed lists of arts and humanities “gigs,” interviews, and relevant information like career outcome data. “Research shows that peer to peer communication is much more effective,” said Henseler, “which is why this guidebook is mainly written by students and for students.”
An additional chapter entitled “Beat Out the Competition, Double Major” articulates the value of combining humanities with medicine, business, and technical training, as well as the broader value of making connections across disparate fields of study. These essays illustrate how a humanities background equips students for success in the tech industry, entrepreneurship, non-profit leadership, and digital production.
“What I want to show other academics through the guidebook is that this is our time; the arts and humanities are relevant, impactful, and adaptable. But we need to reframe and refocus our efforts.” said Henseler. “If we want to see change in ten years, we must start now, and we have to work together, sharing resources, building archives, empowering new voices and visions, and speaking in unison.”