The New Face of Liberal Arts: Yesterday's Success & Tomorrow's Students

By Jann Holland
Executive Director of Marketing & Communications

The Faces of Liberal Art:
Dr. Greg Farwell

Associate Director of Hammons School of Architecture Bruce Moore remembers Chris Swan as a student and collaborator: "I'm impressed with how well he communicates with the client and how well he understands a building's purpose. Architecture is about understanding how people function. Chris is able to make those connections."

Joetta sits on the couch in the lobby of Bay Hall with her daughter Molly, having just returned from their personal Drury campus tour. Despite the gray day and the forecast of snow, their collective dispositions appear sunny and content.

"This feels like home," says Joetta."When I was in high school here in Springfield, Drury was the college everyone wanted to go to. I know Molly will have a bright future if she goes here."

One family with thirty years of admiration and respect for the Drury experience: Drury's enduring relevance gives one pause. While the job market outlook for recent college graduates was slightly rosier in 2010 (up 5.3 percent from 2009), experts say students need to work hard to set themselves apart.

As competition accelerates, it is imperative that graduates leave campus with real world experience on their resumes.

Honoring the traditions upon which Drury was founded while integrating contemporary, professional experiences that graduates need to succeed has always been, and continues to be, paramount.

President Parnell speaks of the "new face of liberal arts." What is the new face of liberal arts, and how is Drury effectively preparing students to succeed in the professional world?

Transferable Skills

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers look for candidates who demonstrate problem solving, analytical and communication skills in addition to qualities of leadership and self-confidence — all hallmarks of the liberal arts education. Drury students are equipped with transferable skills that can be applied to many careers.

Tim Rosenbury, Executive Vice President and COO of Butler Rosenbury & Partners, Inc., has hired a number of Drury graduates. Christopher Swan, AIA, a 1998 graduate of Drury's Hammons School of Architecture is one example."Architects often have to work outside their comfort zone on projects," says Swan. "In creative industries like architecture you must be able to synthesize disparate subject matter into one central concept to solve real-world problems. I feel that is a particular strength of the Drury experience."

Rosenbury appreciates the resilience of Drury graduates. "Technical skills are obviously very important and that is the goal of professional schools," says Rosenbury. "Those who have a liberal arts background seem to embody more flexibility and perceptibility. That kind of awareness, discernment and capability for change is critical in these times. Liberal arts students are exposed to this way of thinking and take it for granted. They comprehend the undercurrents and causes and are better equipped to think through how to respond to change."

A 2005 graduate, Laine Blackwell Scholz feels that her liberal arts background and Global Studies minor gave her a competitive edge and allowed her to explore a variety of careers. Graduating with a degree in chemistry and biology, Scholz originally had her eye on medical school. However, after graduating Scholz took an interest in business and accepted a position with Enterprise Rent-A-Car. While she found the job interesting, it was missing the outreach component. Scholz moved into pharmaceutical sales and ultimately landed a job with the American Red Cross in their Blood Services division. "After graduation, I would contact faculty to get perspectives and guidance. I am still connected to the campus today and I'm very proud of my education at Drury," says Scholz, now mother to two-year-old Dane. "I feel like my education definitely prepared me for the different facets of my life."

Engaged Learning

A member of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), Drury participates in Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP), a national initiative dedicated to "making 'excellence inclusive' so that all students receive the best and most powerful preparation for work, life and citizenship."

In 2002, Laine Blackwell Scholz presented undergraduate research with her peers at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society. In a news story about the trip, Laine said, "science is not just about what one person discovered. It's a chain of events when something comes out because one person has shared their information with others."

As part of their LEAP commitment, Drury launched a pilot program for first-year students that explicitly incorporated integrative and applied learning in community settings. Utilizing the IDEA system for Student Ratings of Instruction in 11 Alpha Seminar sections, freshmen gave their classroom experiences high ratings, with Drury results ranking at or above the IDEA database average.

Ashley Holst, a junior at Drury, and an international political science and sociology double major, participated in the pilot program her freshman year as part of her Living Learning Community. Her team elected to write a mock grant for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks (CFO) focused on reducing substance abuse among young people. The five-student group developed a mentorship program where Drury students would adopt an area junior high. "We took our work very seriously and really felt ownership of the project," says Holst.

To the team's credit, CFO was very pleased with the concept and plans to consider implementing it in the future. Holst feels the real world experience was invaluable. "We were only freshmen and we were already meeting with community leaders to create a program that would address a real community need."

Professional Experience

Drury receives high marks in effectively preparing students for success in the professional world, both inside and outside the classroom setting.

As an example, the spring 2010 IDEA Summary Reports, which analyze course evaluation data compared to peer institutions, reveal that almost all of the Breech School of Business classes state that "Developing specific skills, competencies, and points of view needed by professionals in the field most closely related to this course" is a central goal for that course. And 85 percent of those classes rate their learning on that objective at 4 out of 5 or higher compared to only 58 percent of classes in the IDEA system.

Students are encouraged — and in some cases required — to participate in an internship. In 2010, over 57 percent of Drury students participated in an internship for credit. Drury offers abundant opportunities for students to gain real-world experience through job shadowing, service learning, work study, study abroad, and faculty-student research. Opportunities continue to grow as faculty and staff make connections across the country and around the globe.

"We are transcending the mindset of thinking locally as we move our graduates into global positions," says Dr. Krystal Compas '82, M.Ed. '90, vice president of Alumni and Development. "Our alums reach back to Drury and provide internships and study abroad experiences to provide global context to their studies."

The 2011 Job Outlook Report published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers states that relevant work experience is a key factor in an employer's hiring preferences, with the majority viewing internships as the way for college graduate candidates to acquire that experience.

Director of Human Resources Scotti Siebert recalls Nicole Ray's time as a student staff member in Drury's HR office: "Nicole did a great job and was always interested in working on special projects and expanding her knowledge in areas outside the scope of her normal responsibilities. We are now happy and proud to call her an HR colleague."

Committed to personalized education, Drury encourages students to engage in a wide variety of co-curricular activities. These experiences not only aid in students' individual and social development, but they are also viewed positively by prospective employers. Attributes such as leadership positions held, participation in extracurricular activities and volunteer work serve as influencers when employers are deciding between two equally qualified candidates.

Entrepreneurial thinking is fostered throughout the Drury community. Students from a wide variety of majors are pursuing the new minor in entrepreneurship, knowing it will prepare them to think creatively and initiate new, innovative solutions to problems they encounter in the professional world and within their communities. The Edward Jones Center for Entrepreneurship, under the leadership of Executive Director Dr. Kelley Still '92 MBA, organizes cross-campus activities that provide relevant, professional hands-on experience. From the Entrepreneurship Club to guest speakers to annual conferences, there are myriad ways for students to get involved.

Statistics show that undergraduate students will change their major an average of three times and that only 30 percent will graduate with the major they originally declared.

Jill Wiggins '94, Director of Career Planning and Development, says, "Career Planning & Development isn't just a place to go when it is time to get a job. In actuality, we help many students throughout their entire career at Drury." Offering skills and interests assessments, one-on-one appointments, in-class presentations, and even a for-credit Career/Life Planning course, Drury promotes exploration and discovery to help students match their passions and interests to a major and a career choice.

Nicole Ray, PHR, Senior Employment Specialist in Human Resources at City Utilities of Springfield and 2005 Drury graduate, is grateful for the support she received through Career Planning and Development. "The Career/Life Planning class helped me identify my core strengths and provided the direction I needed to pursue my career goals." As part of her class curriculum, Ray went through an informational interview that helped her secure an internship in the Human Resources Department at Drury.

"Through my internship experience I not only was able to assess if HR was a good career fit for me, but I also gained invaluable work experience," says Ray.

Global Perspective

Drury knows that to succeed in the 21st century global economy, students should personally experience and engage with other cultures around the world. In 2009, fifty-one percent of the graduating class studied abroad. Many students will tell you that the experience was transformational; others will tell you it influenced their career path. Drury continues to innovate in the area of study abroad programs.

Studying at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, helped Nilay Gandhi see both how big and how small the world can be. Friends he'd met at Drury as Australian exchange students became hosts in their home country during Nilay's semester abroad. "I took them in, and they took me in," he remembers.

New for fall 2012 is a freshman semester in Aigina, Greece.

"This is a unique offering geared toward students who have had extensive travel experience," says Michael Thomas, associate dean, Study Abroad and International Programs. "Rather than taking a gap year, students can begin their freshman year in Greece and still graduate in four years."

Dr. Nilay Gandhi, class of 2004, says he appreciated his liberal arts foundation and global studies minor all the more during his senior year trip to Australia.

"The curricular diversity that Drury stressed served me well during my travels," says Gandhi. "I felt well-prepared to engage in topics of conversation with people from around the world." Gandhi says the trip gave him a new appreciation for global cultures. "As soon as I complete my residency, I'd definitely consider moving to Australia."

Originally from Memphis, he is halfway though a six-year urology residency at St. Louis University.

Impressive Results

As the job market stiffens, graduates and their families are increasingly concerned about outcomes. Though there is no single standard of measurement for placement, Drury follows NACE member protocols. In 2009, Drury received a 79 percent response rate to their post-baccalaureate survey. Of those who responded, 97.7 percent were placed within six months of graduation, with 32 percent of those respondents attending graduate school exclusively.

Enduring Relevance

Through the blending of academic and professional knowledge, Drury graduates are effectively prepared for success.

From generation to generation, Drury continues to open minds, inspire curiosity and help create bright futures.