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College and Careers

College and Careers

In his speech at our fall convocation, Jim Trefil told a great story about two college roommates meeting in reunion in Chicago not too long ago. One had a distinguished career in science and science policy, the other was head of a major literature department. As they greeted and congratulated each other, they also noted that the scientist had majored in English in college, the lit authority in biology.

The story is of course atypical, but it does merit a bit of attention in a period when various authorities are urging a closer relationship between college training and jobs, particularly of course in the STEM fields. I have touched this topic before, I know, and I actually do believe that a measured expansion of STEM programs is quite desirable. (At Mason, we already intended this, even before the current political winds.)

But we do need some realism, about the loose relationship in fact between college training and what people end up doing. Even more, we need — even as we encourage STEM — more active awareness of what college curricula should really aim to do, in encouraging critical thinking and habits of mind that can generate flexible and varied careers.

In this vein, we think it would be interesting to ask several of our alumni/ae to tell their own stories about relationships between college interests and ultimate paths in life. We will surely find some great stories about science majors who have gone on successfully in their original fields, but I hope we’ll have a few stories, as well, similar to the Trefil example. Too much calculation in boosting particular segments of the curriculum probably won’t work or might actually discourage the intellectual capabilities we want over the longer term. There’s no reason to think we won’t continue to need mental agility, and the broader educational qualities that help build it.