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April 25, 2006

Student leaders thrive at Case

Last night, I attended Case's annual student leadership awards ceremony. It was an event that recognized outstanding undergraduate student leaders and organizations.

I sat with a group of students from The Observer, the campus newspaper that I co-advise. These students are an amazingly talented bunch: Rob is a biology major active in Spectrum, Megen is a pre-med music major, Rick is an accounting major who recently won a prestigious sports journalism scholarship, Liz (the new editor-in-chief) is a pre-med biology major, and Laura is a chemistry major finishing up her second year as the editor-in-chief.

This is the first year that I'm advising the group, and I've already become very attached to the students. It fills me with pride seeing them achieve their goals. I don't know if it's the strong maternal instinct I've got going on or what, but I'm so proud and protective of these guys!

Overall, several Observer staffers and reporters were honored yesterday, but for their accomplishments outside of the newspaper - Brian for Outstanding Member of the Undergraduate Student Government, Jeff for Outstanding Student Club/Organization member (Footlighters) and Rob for Drag Ball.

Best of all, Laura won Outstanding Senior. I was thrilled that she won! But still, I have to admit that I was disappointed that the Observer staffers didn't pick up even more awards. Call me greedy, but even though there are a zillion student leaders on campus, I happen to think that the Observer kids deserve more accolades.

In any case, it was really cool to be surrounded by so many outstanding student leaders in the Thwing Ballroom. It was inspiring to learn about the accomplishments of so many Case students and student organizations and to witness the campus community celebrating them.

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April 11, 2006

Liberal Arts Weekend

Spring time is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year to work in Tomlinson Hall here at Case. The gallery and hallways are always jumping and filled with visiting students and their families, which is great for those of us who do more behind-the-scenes work in the Office of Undergraduate Admission (and not just because sometimes there are extra snacks around we can munch on).

Spring time gives us a chance to finally see the students we’ve worked hard all year recruiting, and sometimes a chance to meet students and families in person who we had previously only met via e-mail or the phone. All of Case’s spring programs are great, and like Bob has already mentioned, visiting campus is a great way to really see which of your many college options is truly the best fit.

69348857808_0_BG.jpgWhat I really want to talk about though, is a program this year for admitted liberal arts students (coinciding with Case’s Humanities Week 2006 the theme of which was “Childhoods.” Check out this lineup!) called… wait for it… Liberal Arts Weekend! I had the privilege of helping out with the program this year, and it was a complete blast from beginning to end. What I like about the program is that it really highlights what it is like to be a humanities major here at Case and the nowhere-else-in-the-world opportunities that our liberal arts majors get to take advantage of all the time. Lemme hit some of the highlights:

Students each had a SAGES-style seminar taught by some of our outstanding faculty members, Jonathan Sadowsky from the history department, John Orlock from the theater department, Darci Brandel from the English department and Alan Rocke from the history department.)

Students and their families (and some UGA staffers) had a great lunch with some of Case’s humanities faculty members (complete with delicious asparagus and great conversation, especially at my table!). Mark Turner, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, spoke during dessert about the history of liberal arts at Case and the SAGES program.

89778857808_0_BG.jpgOur student tour guides and some faculty braved the rain to show off our beautiful campus. (To the left, check out tour guide Sean giving a tour to some parents along with History Professor Ken Ledford.)

Probably the highlight of the day was the reading by author Anne Lamott and follow-up discussion moderated by Florence Harkness Professor of Religion and Director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities Tim Beal. Anne Lamott’s reading was laugh-out-loud funny and her conversation with Prof. Beal, as well as her answers to questions from the audience revealed (if you’ll pardon the cheese) the humanity that makes her such an amazing author. For anyone interested in any type of writing (or as Anne pointed out, any creative endeavor) let me recommend Anne’s book, Bird by Bird, which is full of insight into the creative process as well as some hilarious anecdotes from Anne’s life. (The pictures are of visiting students waiting for the lecture to start, as well as Tim and Anne’s discussion. Quality isn’t the greatest, darn flash!)

I could go on with highlights and tell all about what a great time the UGA staff had hosting the event, as well as what a great time our current students, faculty, prospective students and their families had, but let me cut to the chase: While this schedule seems almost too cool to be true - days chock full of invigorating seminars, opportunities to meet with faculty outside of class, and lectures by world-renowned authors, musicians, scientists, researchers, politicians and civic leaders - days full of chances to extend learning outside the classroom are every day for students of the liberal arts at Case! Don’t believe me? Check out some of our students’ blogs, or slap this puppy on the portable listening device of your choice. Case Western Reserve University offers students the chance to create their own curriculum by building their own major, traveling abroad, and spending time at some of the coolest cultural institutions in the world like the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Playhouse Square, Severance Hall, the Museum of Contemporary Art, all with mentorship from our top notch faculty.

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April 05, 2006

What can I do with a history major?

Ken Ledford, a professor in our history department, recently responded to an email from a prospective student with some terrific information about what history majors do post graduation. We thought it was such good stuff that we needed to share it on the blog. Thinking about a major in a liberal arts field, but worried about your future prospects? Read on for Prof. Ledford's words of wisdom!

Alex Xue responded to my email from last week by asking a very reasonable question:

I just have a couple of questions about history majors in general. Throughout high school, history and social studies have always been my favorite classes and there's no doubt in my mind that it can me considered what I want to do, but recently, i've heard from many peers of mine that the major is a not practical. I do intend to hopefully attend law school or business school, but for you as a teacher who has seen so many students come and go, what path will most students take after graduating with a bachelor in history? Also, will most students minor in a specific area that is rather more prevelant for the history majors? I've considered a career in law or business, but what route should I take as an undergraduate interested in history? I would greatly appreciate it if you could answer these questions for me.

I was very grateful that Alex posed the question, and I was so sure that the same question was in the minds of many of the rest of you that I asked him whether I could share the question with you all and send my answer to you all. He graciously agreed, so here is my answer (I get this question all the time)!

There is the short answer and the long answer, sort of like the whole genre of "good news-bad news" jokes. The short, and honest, answer is this: Unlike engineering, education, accounting, management, journalism, nursing, or other undergraduate professional degrees, there is no single, clear career track into which most graduating history majors go and find employment after receiving their bachelor's degree. Unlike economics or some other liberal arts degrees, not as many employers come to the Career Center and list interviews as "History majors only" or "History majors preferred" (although that can be changing; see below).

Indeed, since the 1960s, this has been the case. In the 1960s, many businesses, such as banks, hired recent-graduate history majors to become trainee bank officers; my brother-in-law followed this career path and just retired from J.P. Morgan Chase after a 40 year career. Some time in the 1970s, certainly by the time I graduated from college with a history degree in 1975, that career path came to an end, as undergraduate programs in management or business administration came to occupy those business jobs (but again, times may be changing again, see below).

But do you see vast numbers of homeless former history majors huddling around heating grates in your hometowns every winter? I think not. So history majors DO get jobs; the question is more accurately: What jobs?

That is the long answer, and it is pretty diverse. Traditionally, probably the single biggest post-graduation destination for history majors is law school. This is what I did when I graduated from college; I applied to law schools my senior year and went straight to law school the fall after commencement (only later, after 4 years practicing law, did I go to graduate school in history). At Case, about 25 percent of history majors go to law school. Many think that to go to law school you major in something called "pre-law," but there IS no such major (as contrasted to "pre-med," which is a pretty well-described curriculum in math, biology, chemistry, and physics). They go to all kinds of great law schools: In the past decade Case history majors have gone to law school at Columbia, NYU, Stanford, Harvard, University of Virginia, Georgetown, Duke, but also to Case, Ohio State, Cleveland-Marshall here in Cleveland, and the University of Cincinnati.

But you don't have to do that. Another 10 percent of history majors at Case pursue the "Teacher Licensure Track," which qualifies them for teacher licensure in Ohio for secondary school social studies instruction. Every year, about 10 percent of the history majors are in fact pre-meds, whether majoring only in history or doubling with biology or chemistry or even biochemistry.

Other options are more diverse. History majors sometimes go to professional school in library science, international relations, archives management, or museum studies. Others seek jobs. In fact, this is becoming easier, as increasingly businesses realize that the strengths in which history majors abound (the ability to read, write, and think critically) are helpful to their businesses.

One senior history major this year already has a job in Madison, Wisconsin, for which he interviewed through the Career Center, with a computer software firm that markets patient-record management software to healthcare providers (hospitals, doctors' practices, nursing homes, etc.). He will be a "project manager" on site at customers' locations, helping to troubleshoot the needs of the customers and interpret customers' interventions and suggestions to the technical computer programmers who will then implement the changes needed. He also had a "flyback" interview at an investment banking/financial services firm in Philadelphia; he didn't get the job, but he got that important second interview, and if you get that interview, you might get that job!

Beyond this concrete example, history is an excellent major to prepare you for a career in journalism. You can major in history, work on the Observer, work or intern with newspapers during the summers, and then either get a reporting job after graduation or go to graduate school in journalism at Columbia, Northwestern, North Carolina, or Missouri.

At least half of history majors at Case double major; sometimes they study history because they love it and another field in which they are more secure in the conviction that they can find a job (economics, or biology for a pre-med). It's easy to double major at Case, and that means that students don't have to abandon one interest for the sake of another, and that's a really good thing.

Finally, some few history majors do decide to go to graduate school in history and are very successful. Faculty try to warn these students that this is an arduous and uncertain path, but once students decide to follow it, we try to make sure that they are very successful. This year, there has been a visiting professor in Classics who was a History and Classics double major in the early 1990s and who has finished a Ph.D. in ancient and medieval history at Harvard. And a more recent graduate won a national competition for a Mellon Fellowship in Humanistic Study and is studying for a Ph.D. in British history at the University of Pennsylvania.

Alex correctly identifies a social prejudice that majoring in history, or in any of the liberal arts for that matter, is an "impractical" major choice that "won't get you a job." Tom and Ray Maliozzi joke on "Car Talk" every Saturday about "art history" as a "worthless" degree! But the reality is: What undergraduate major guarantees any college graduate a clear, guaranteed career track? Physics? Mathematics? Biology? Psychology? Everybody who majors in these fields either plans to go on to graduate or professional school of some sort, or s/he looks for the same kind of jobs that History majors look for. And History, I would argue, prepares you for disparate careers better than almost any other field (although those fields are great too, and anyone who loves them should major in them and work out the job-thing later!).

So that's a very long answer to a seemingly simple question, which turned out not to be so simple at all. Case is a great place to study history, and history is a great major to study; you just have to take the longer view of what is valuable in your life. You have to ask yourself what will serve you best in the rapidly changing world and economy in which you're going to work for 40 years after graduation: A fixed body of facts, or the ability to think for yourself critically, to write about what you think clearly, to read with a critical eye, and to express yourself orally very well. If you tend toward the latter answer, History, and Case, is the subject and place for you!

Kenneth F. Ledford
Associate Professor of History and Law
Editor, Central European History
Case Western Reserve University

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April 03, 2006

Seeing is believing

On Saturday, Case hosted its annual Saturday Sampler, our gala spring open house. We had about 300 students registered for the program. Roughly two thirds were admitted students looking to make their final decisions, and the remaining third were underclassmen just getting started on the process. It was a high-energy day, and thankfully--no snow/rain/sleet/flying housepets.

Saturday Sampler is especially meaningful for me. Not only was this my 10th Sampler as a member of the admission staff (Sadly, Liz, our admission director, did not greet me with something made of tin or aluminum,) but when I was an admitted senior looking at colleges, it was my visit during Saturday Sampler that helped make up my mind, and sealed the deal for Case.

In all truthfulness, however, "seal the deal" doesn't quite capture what happened for me during my visit. See, I actually never thought I'd end up at Case. I went to high school in a small town in northern Michigan, and I was convinced that I was going to attend the University of Michigan. Of course, it's an excellent school, with state tuition, why wouldn't I? Plus my girlfriend at the time had it all mapped out--how I'd go there, then she'd go there a year later, yada yada yada. Mind you, I had my doubts about this plan, not to mention this girlfriend, but despite that I figured Michigan was a big enough school that it wouldn't matter so much.

I applied to Case because a) it came up in a search of colleges that had what i was looking for, and B) because there was no application fee. But honestly, I knew very little about the school. So when the admission letter came, along with financial aid info and an invitation to visit for Sampler, I tossed the whole kit and caboodle into the trash.

To my horror, my mom fished all the paperwork out of my bedroom garbage can and signed me up for Sampler. Her point was that I should just give it a shot, that it was only one weekend out of my life, and if I hated it, I could still go to Michigan, no biggie. So, reluctantly, we piled in the family truckster and headed for Cleveland. We got there late on a Friday night... In an unfamiliar city... At a college that has sort of a rough neighborhood nearby... And at that point even my ever-optimistic mom thought that maybe we had made a mistake.

But the next morning, it was literally night-and-day. The sun came out, the grass was green, the program was good, and I got to meet the track coach, the legendary Bill Sudeck. Suddenly the landscape of the next four--and more--years of my life started to look quite a bit different...

I won't bore with the rest of the details, but the moral of the story is this: the visit is key, whether you're like one of those underclassmen who's just getting the lay of the land, or if you're a senior wracking your brain to make up your mind. It might seem easy to just make the choice, if for no other reason than that you've simply had enough of people asking where you're going to college, and you just want a solid answer to give them so they'll quit bothering you. But you owe it to yourself to truly consider all options, even if that means giving up a couple days of school or a cherished weekend.

And if you missed Sampler, there's still lots of Experience Case days!

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