By Kate Balzer, 2010 BA Organizational Studies & 2014 Masters of Social Work Candidate
I was never much of a science person. In elementary and high school, you would have found me holed up at the local library or dressed as the dormouse for a community theater production of Alice in Wonderland. Science? Not my thing.
But life has a way of taking us by surprise. When I found a bump on my collarbone during finals last December, I did what any twenty-something would do: I consulted Google. Barely convinced that it warranted a doctor’s visit, but feeling that rare rush of productivity that comes with completing “adult” tasks like paying bills and scheduling appointments, I made a date with my family doctor.
The surprise? Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a type of blood cancer originating in white blood cells. Suddenly, I went from a graduate student immersed in social work theory and policy to a different kind of student: an amateur scientist.
By Emily Wanserski, BA Political Science, BFA Dance
I vividly remember the moment I learned the hustle. Considering I graduated with a BFA in Dance from Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, you might be thinking I’m referring to this (and if you don’t know what that is, watch this and read this). Although I could use disco as a metaphor for the liberal arts in this blog post (thanks to, of course, my liberal arts degree), the hustle I am referring to is the combination of the punch-in-your-gut feeling you get before that “big thing” and your immediate “next right steps.”
Spring Term 2010, I walked into my 9 am French class, looked at my friend Tara Sheena, and said, “I can’t stay for summer term. It would be my eighth semester in a row.” Without missing a beat, Tara responded, “Library. Tonight.” Within 24 hours, we had over ten applications out to dance companies in New York City and California. Three days later, I had a part-time internship secured in NYC, followed by a second part-time internship six days later, and a quickly rearranged fall semester schedule to ensure I would graduate on time with two degrees in different schools (Political Science BA/Dance BFA).
By Neil Tambe, BA 2009 Organizational Studies & Political Science
I’d like to ask you to humor me for just a moment. Let’s put aside the abrasive notion that the express and sole purpose of a college degree (in the liberal arts or otherwise) should be to help you get a job and function as a successful member of the modern workforce.
Don’t worry, I’ll revisit this in a second (I happen to think that a liberal arts degree provides quite a lot of practical skill). But I’d like to turn to an alternative notion: that the greatest value of a liberal arts degree is that it isn’t mostly practical, but rather that it’s mostly exploratory.
One of my favorite lines from performance poetry is that, “I’ve read too many books to believe what I’m told.” To me, that’s the essence of a liberal arts education, it trains you to question the world and not take any truths for granted. It teaches you to look at reality inquisitively and ask a darn lot of questions. It opens your mind to possibilities and pushes the limits of essential human knowledge which other, more “practical,” fields depend on (like Adam Smith’s invisible hand of markets which business depends on or the discovery of how cells work which underpins aspects of medicine). The liberal arts are the fuel for imagining and building a new world.
By Nicole Johnson, BA 2012 Political Science
When I entered the University of Michigan, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in writing or journalism. However, after taking humanities and social sciences courses, I developed a sense of humility, and a desire to serve underprivileged minority students.
While I contemplated the various ways in which I could use my talents and education to help others, I enrolled in a course that allowed me to work with high school students at a Detroit charter school once a week. It was my first experience working with youth. I was given full discretion to implement the curricular project of my choice. In the end, I decided to present a writing workshop. I gave the students an assignment which required them to move past their comfort zones and express themselves in ways previously unfamiliar to them. Initially the students were very apprehensive; but, towards the end, they were delighted by their accomplishments. I was amazed at their hard work and the impact that my diligence and commitment made.
From that point forward, I knew that the education field was where I was headed. Because of my own successful educational experiences, it was a great way for me to serve others and pay it forward.
By Daniel Schweber, 2010 BA Psychology
Growing up, I knew that I wanted to be a “businessman.” I was always reading profiles of successful entrepreneurs or about how businesses began. As a result, I originally applied to the University of Michigan because of the stellar ranking and reviews of the Ross School of Business.
Needless to say, I was auto-enrolled in LSA as a freshman with intentions to apply to the Business School at the end of that school year. Luckily, I never took that route and instead obtained a Psychology degree from LSA, which also has a stellar ranking.
The day I set foot in Ann Arbor, I had plans on entering the business world upon graduation and there is nothing about obtaining a degree in Psychology that prevented me from that goal. In fact, my liberal arts education has only helped me in business because of the foundation for learning that it creates and the unique perspective that it gives.
By Amanda Byrne, BA 2008 History & Political Science
Being a true blue Michigan fan, it’s hard to admit that attending the University of Michigan was not my first choice of the selective colleges to which I applied. Born and raised in Michigan, I knew U-M was a great school, undoubtedly the best in the state for liberal arts; was a great value; and provided the opportunity to be part of a Saturday football tradition that I had observed on television since I can remember. It was the practical choice over smaller, private liberal arts colleges, and so I enrolled, not realizing how much my life was about to change.
I was a big fish in a relatively small pond in high school, so naturally I had a bit of a swollen head about my academic abilities. Much to my dismay, I actually failed my first microeconomics midterm. FAILED! While I considered dropping the class, I decided to persevere. Subsequently, I attended office hours weekly, formed a study group, and lived and breathed econ for the rest of the semester. My final grade of a B- is far from noteworthy on my overall transcript, but it is probably the grade I’m most proud of considering how far I had come in the class. It is that same determination that got me through the bar exam three years later.
By Ben Wolf, BA 2012 International Studies & Certificate in Entrepreneurship
To this day, I can still remember receiving the letter in the mail saying that I, Benjamin A. Wolf, had been admitted to the College of LSA at the University of Michigan; a new journey was about to unfold. A journey that I predicted would involve countless hours of research at the medical school, late night study groups, and the Chem building—just ordinary life for a pre-med undergrad. Fast forward to the fall of my sophomore year…
Pre-medicine was a thing of the past. I wanted to re-open my studies, explore other opportunities, and there was no better place than LSA.
Between sophomore spring and junior fall, I took coursework spanning eight different subjects ranging from philosophy to international studies and more. From there, I stumbled upon the newly minted international studies major. Since declaring my major, I have been able to take my explorations across the globe, both inside and outside the classroom.
By Annette Hauswirth, BA 2011 Spanish & Communication Studies
Right before I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Spanish and Communication Studies, I often faced the question: “And what do you plan to do with that?” At the time, I greatly envied my friends who studied nursing and engineering, as it seemed their education would transition effortlessly into what we call the “real world.”
I started to doubt that my diverse liberal arts education—with classes like Spanish Renaissance Poetry, Coral Reefs, or Music and Identity—would be of any help as I began to look for a job that was right for me.
But now, more than two years after I’ve graduated, I have been able to recognize that these experiences have shaped the way that I think about myself and the way that I interact with others. I have come to embrace the fact that what I have gained from my education may not be translated to a tangible job title, as in other areas, but it has truly given me a new state of mind that will help me in whatever I choose to do next.
By Stefanie Meeks, BA 2009 Political Science & Spanish
I can vividly recall the fall of my senior year when I was deciding where I wanted to live after graduation. What I wanted “to do” and how much I wanted “to make” were obviously important, but in all honesty, it was the environment, the city, the country, that mattered most. Caught up in the midst of the recruiting season, my friends and I applied to jobs across the country and around the world. We interviewed for consulting gigs, start-ups, Fulbright scholarships, you name it, and landed a lot of those in America’s largest cities.
However, I chose a different route. I decided to try Cleveland.
Cleveland is not New York City, not even close. Heck, I’m sure most Clevelanders have never even been to NYC. It is something entirely different. It stands on its own two feet. It is a Rust Belt City – one that thrived in the industrial era and was slated to be one of the most prosperous places in the country. But today’s Cleveland is a very different place. But so are Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati, and Baltimore. These cities are scratching their way out of their old identities in a post-industrial world and have capitalized on a gritty, scrappy, and hard-working mentality. They are authentically cool. They are places where originality is hip and youthfulness is embraced.
By Jenny Howard, BA 2009 English
I have to admit it to you guys, this English major has been in a literary slump for some time now. It’s been tough. It’s been painful. And I can’t exactly remember when it started.
All I know is that suddenly, it seemed, my “inbox” of unread books grew into a tall pile on my nightstand, my monthly book club attendance flagged, and I had abandoned half-read books all over my apartment, despite my reputation of reading multiple books at once and finishing all of them. I was losing myself to podcasts during my commute and Twin Peaks on Netflix when I got home. And it had been going on for months.
You have to understand that reading is central to my identity. I am a Reader; I love to read. One of the top 5 words I would use to describe myself would be “Reader.” Some of my fondest summer memories are from the months spent cleaning out the Young Adult section of our local public library (especially her and her). I have been a reader since the same age as most of you, but it was probably around age ten or eleven that it got to “avid” status. So that’s going on sixteen summers, here!