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Speeches & Media

Careers By Design

New 4-year approach builds students’ skills in preparing for and gaining employment

Kathleen McCartney, Smith Alumnae Quarterly, Fall 2018

A Smith education has long been distinguished by its connection to real-world experience. While many in higher education perceive a divide between the liberal arts and “applied” learning, Smith recognizes the power of enabling students to connect their classroom learning to creative and practical opportunities. 

Even amid the rise of technology and specialization, Smith’s identity as a liberal arts college is a distinct asset in today’s employment market. What employers seek—and what Smith provides—is preparation not only for the first job but for the full arc of a many-chaptered career. A recent report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities concluded that “work is now shifting to two kinds of tasks: solving problems for which standard operating procedures do not currently exist, and working with new information—acquiring it, making sense of it, communicating it to others.” 

Whether students major in engineering or English, computer science or classics, their education confers the habits of mind and critical thinking skills that will serve them well regardless of where the employment market goes. Sarah Linden ’98, a supervising special agent for the FBI in Washington, DC, majored in comparative linguistics at Smith. While studying what she loved, she gained the critical and analytical capacities that made her attractive to an organization looking to hire, as she says, “people who have skills in a lot of different dimensions.” Alexandra Botti ‘08, a producer at National Public Radio, defied the career stereotype for English majors. “People say English majors are going to have the worst time after college,” she says. “Not true!” She credits the communication skills she learned at Smith, as well as the “respect for research” that her education instilled, with her career launch and success. 

Stories such as these attest to the power of the liberal arts for career success, especially when the curriculum and co-curriculum are aligned in innovative ways. For example, in addition to our renowned paid internship program, we offer concentrated study in such topics as global financial institutions, museum studies, and climate change, enabling students to combine coursework and practical experiences around an area of interest. 

Our centers, such as the Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, help students explore their passions in real-world pursuits via such opportunities as the Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs, and the University Innovation Fellowship, a collaboration with the design schoolat Stanford University. 

And, you, our 48,000 magnificent alumnae, open doors for Smithies around the world every day, with a commitment and reach that few other networks can match. For example, over spring break, alumnae involved in our new Smith College Business Network hosted students at their Silicon Valley tech firms, including Hewlett-Packard, IDEO, Salesforce, and True Ventures, to give them exposure to business career paths in innovation.

Building on these strengths, Smith is launching a new approach to career development. We are calling it By Design, reflecting the principles of design thinking—ideation, prototyping, testing—on which it is based. In keeping with the best career preparation programs, it will be 

  • Universal and sustained, engaging every student, from the earliest days on campus through and beyond graduation
  • Capacities-based, giving every student, regardless of major, the opportunity to develop key skills like problem-solving, public speaking, negotiation, entrepreneurship, leadership and the ability to work in diverse teams
  • Strongly connected to recruiters and employers. 

We are already seeing increased interest from employers. Currently, some 175 companies recruit at Smith every year, an increase of 75 percent from just five years ago. By investing further in employer relations, and by leveraging alumnae connectors more purposefully, we hope to position Smith as the go-to place for organizations and businesses to find the talent they need to thrive and grow. 

Smith graduates will be ready to succeed in—and transform—their chosen fields. They will do so by virtue of their liberal arts education, strongly developed personal capacities and Smith’s exceptional career advising and remarkable alumnae network. Across the campus and beyond, Smith is redoubling its commitment to preparing its graduates for rich and rewarding lives—lives of distinction and purpose, a core commitment of our mission.