For the past five years, I have had the privilege of directing the George F. Baker Scholars Program, geared toward College students pursuing liberal arts degrees with interests in business careers.
George F. Baker, a distinguished financier and philanthropist, believed in cultivating intellectually inspired and socially conscious business leaders. Today, the Baker Program has more than 300 Baker alumni; I am constantly reminded of how their liberal arts foundations have spurred their successes in investment banking, finance, consulting, brand management and advertising, sports marketing and corporate philanthropy, to name a few.
Baker alum and current trustee Michael Scanlon (COL ’86) said he initially chose an economics major to “assuage [his] guilt for being a liberal arts student.” After a junior-year conversation with Fr. Jeff von Arx, S.J., Scanlon decided to switch gears and major in history, a field in which he said he learned “to think, analyze, interpret, infer, imagine and be curious. And most of all … to enjoy what I was doing.”
These skills served him well in his first job after college at MBNA America Bank, a financial services company. Of that job, he said:
“The daily challenges revealed themselves on a moment’s notice. I had to react and think on my feet, often with no one to give me the answer. When it came to solving complex adaptive challenges, I brought a mindset that wasn’t limited to the quantitative analysis. Realizing that I was every bit as competent in business as my peers got me to think about what other fields I might also be able to study and have success.”
Scanlon now runs an inner-city all-boys Catholic high school in Newark, N.J. He calls the role “a liberal arts student’s dream — solving complex challenges the environment produces, then communicating directional changes to varied constituencies of parents, students and faculty who are often viewing an issue from different perspectives.”
Fellow Baker and trustee Meg Gramins (COL ’99), Executive Director at J.P. Morgan was an American studies major, which she calls a “choose -your-own adventure” version of the College curriculum that allowed her to create “a wonderful tapestry of classes from across all disciplines.” After graduation, what was then–Bank One hired her after specifically recruiting liberal arts students. Calling her liberal arts education, “one of the best investments [she] ever made,” Gramins particularly credits Georgetown with honing her writing and analytical skills, which proved invaluable in the business world. She explains:
“Your employer will largely not be equipped to teach you those skills — they assume that you should already have them. If you’re smart, you can learn tactical things like Excel or PowerPoint or how to create a model for a business transaction. However, as an employer, it is much more difficult for me to train my colleagues on effective writing skills or how to crystalize an issue in order to solve it. And if you’re unable to communicate effectively or appropriately analyze issues and solve problems, you will have a much more difficult time increasing your responsibilities and ascending in an organization.”
Our own Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., (COL ’88) is also a Baker alum and former trustee. Before serving as vice president of campus ministry, he worked as a corporate litigator in a private law firm and taught at both the high school and university levels. He shares Gramins and Scanlon’s perspective on the strength and value of a liberal arts degree: “The liberal arts are meant to liberate us from bias, close-mindedness and narrow vision. As an undergraduate, I experienced that freedom. My liberal arts education in the Jesuit tradition enlarged my vision, expanded my heart and livened my spirit. I learned to think more boldly, write more clearly, speak more persuasively and care more deeply about the world beyond myself.”
It is clear that the liberal arts had a profound impact on these Baker alumni. In my 20 years as an adviser of first-and second year students at Georgetown, I have had countless conversations about the value of a liberal arts degree. These conversations have increased in recent years given the national nervousness about the economy, the job market and a growing demand that return on all investments — including college — be clear and quantifiable. I want all Georgetown College students, regardless of the field they may want to pursue, to have faith in their liberal arts education. It is my hope that students realize that coursework in a variety of disciplines will lead to many different paths. It is important to have diversity in one’s schedule in order to be able to move in many directions. Hoyas: Be true to yourself, find what you love and enjoy and dive in. A liberal arts education allows for this — and it’s what your future demands. You will be prepared for whatever is in store. I know Scanlon, Gramins and O’Brien would agree.
Thomas Chiarolanzio is a senior associate dean at Georgetown College. He is one of the alternating writers for The Dean’s Desk, which concludes its run with this article.