The liberal arts can take you anywhere—a fact that is borne out in the results of a recent survey that examined how alumnae are using their Smith degrees.

The poll, which was sent to alumnae who graduated two, five, 10, 15 and 20 years ago, found tremendous diversity in career outcomes across majors. Alumnae who graduated with degrees in the natural sciences, history, humanities and the social sciences, for example, found professional success in fields ranging from agriculture to biotechnology to education.

In the face of national discussions about the relevance of the liberal arts today, the survey results underscore the real-world value of the academic depth and breadth of a Smith education.

“Smith provides an excellent foundation upon which an alumna can build a successful career in any industry,” said Stacie Hagenbaugh, director of Smith’s Lazarus Center for Career Development. “I know of so many alumnae who graduate with a degree in French, for example, who have gone on to work in engineering or medicine. Alumnae career paths by and large do not follow a linear path.”

To underscore that point, we asked some Smith alumnae to tell their stories here:

Shannon Cogan

Year of Graduation: 1998
Major: Computer Science
Current Job: Nonprofit Administrator

Why did you choose to major in computer science? I came to Smith intending to major in Government.  A computer literacy course I took during my first semester changed my mind.  The World Wide Web was a relatively new medium, and I became hooked on programming. Computer science was a very challenging course of study for me and choosing to major in it was a big leap.

What is unique about your job history since graduation? Over the past 16 years I have attended law school, practiced intellectual property law and civil litigation, been a government lawyer, and am now a nonprofit administrator.  I was the only person I knew in my law school class who majored in computer science, and that background was incredibly useful during the years I spent with an intellectual property law firm.

How have your studies at Smith informed or influenced your current work? I am the sole employee and administrator for a small nonprofit organization, AbleCloset, which provides no-cost loans of pediatric special needs equipment to disabled children in northern California.  I do everything: strategic planning, human resources, information technology, fundraising, client relations, etc.  Smith prepared me to be flexible in ways that are essential to my current role.

What advice would you give to a student trying to choose a major now? Know that your choice will not dictate the direction of your life, but can enhance possibilities.  Choose something that truly interests you now.

Susie Parke-Sutherland

Grad Year: 2007
Major: Psychology
Current Job: co-owner and farmer, Wingate Farm, Hinsdale NH.

spsholdschickWhy did you choose to major in Psychology? I waited until the last minute to declare my major. Geology was a much-needed respite from abstract loftiness of the social sciences, but ultimately the social sciences won out. I have always been interested in the internal forces that shape our interactions with the world. At 19, my post-graduation career plans were vague to say the least, and I thought a degree in psychology would serve me well in a variety of settings.

What is unique about your job history since graduation? I’ve worked on commercial farms since graduation. Small-scale farming is a vast enterprise comprising intricate, interwoven systems that require thoughtful development, implementation and care. The combination of puzzle-solving and the
innate satisfaction of working with your hands in the sunshine would
put a smile on anyone’s face. Providing high-quality sustenance for my community while participating in a national movement to revolutionize our food system makes the struggle worth it.
How have your studies at Smith informed or influenced your current work? In guiding me toward farming, I have to credit my Praxis internship at Intervale Compost in Burlington, Vermont. I met some amazing farmers and was exposed to the local agriculture movement for the first time. It was inspiring and educational, and I began to consider small-scale farming as a career and lifestyle.

What advice would you give to a student trying to choose a major now? Take classes in subjects that truly interest you. Of course, employment preparedness and graduate program requirements are also important factors when planning your education. Your college years go by in a flash, and I would encourage Smithies to pursue any and all interests they can squeeze in. You never know where they may lead!

Martha Grace

Year of Graduation: 1961
Major: Biological Sciences
Current Job: Chief Justice of Massachusetts’ juvenile court system (retired)

marthagraceWhy did you choose to major in Biology? I wanted to be a veterinarian and thought that zoology would prepare me, and I loved science and I loved the labs at Smith.

What is unique about your job history since graduation? I started with an entry-level position at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, then got a master’s degree in history at Clark University in 1971. When Tufts University opened a school of veterinary medicine in 1976 I went to talk with them and was discouraged from applying because they “preferred” younger students. So I applied and went to law school the next year. My first job after getting my J.D. degree was in a small law firm, I then became a clerk-magistrate in a local district court, and subsequently was named as a juvenile judge in Massachusetts, retiring in 2009 as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Juvenile Court. I applied to the Master of Science in Animals and Public Policy program at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and got my MS degree in May 2012. I have been teaching online and have been a consultant and speaker on the topic of the links between animal cruelty and human violence since then.

How have your studies at Smith informed or influenced your work? What Smith gave me above all else was a sense of confidence—a knowledge that I could indeed—and should—challenge myself. Understanding how knowledge is acquired, how research is based, and how to tackle a major project all had its roots in the work I did at Smith.

What advice would you give to a student trying to choose a major now? I am concerned about the increasing focus on what kind of jobs colleges prepare you for or what kind of money will you make after graduation. This is of course directly related to the staggering costs of college itself. But I have always thought that young women should follow their passion and their dreams. No matter what they major in, they will learn how to learn about it, how to find the knowledge. That is the great joy of a liberal arts education and should be embraced wherever possible. Of course, the idea of using alumnae as resources is a great one because young people are so often unsure about what direction in life they want to take.

Martha Southgate

Year of Graduation: 1982
Major: Anthropology
Current Job: Novelist

marthasouthgateWhy did you choose to major in anthropology? I took a class taught by Gerald Hyman and there was just something about the study of different lives that interested me. I was not writing fiction seriously at this point or I might have opted to be an English major. I still kind of wish I had sometimes. That said, I think that coming to think about other cultures in a formal way has been indirectly useful in my career as a journalist and fiction writer.

What is unique about your job history since graduation?  I think the most unusual thing is that I didn’t write fiction or work as a journalist at all during college. They are both things that I moved slowly and somewhat unexpectedly into after I graduated. I wasn’t at all sure what I wanted to do after I graduated so I went back to Cleveland and did a number of different jobs. Where I am now is a testament to staying open to possibilities. You are not locked into what you think you want to do now or what your major is.

How have your studies at Smith informed or influenced your current work? I can’t point to a specific influence but I think generally my time at Smith gave me a sense of possibility that might only have been achieved on a campus full of women and women only.  Sisterhood is indeed powerful!

What advice would you give to a student trying to choose a major now? Don’t get too freaked out. You really don’t know where life will lead you and I have never once been asked what my college major was in a job interview. Pursue what interests you now. Yes, you may say “why’d I do that?” when you get older and don’t have a direct connection to your major, but you will have more and broader knowledge in your head, which is never a bad thing.