Despite concerns about the popularity of the humanities at Stanford, University administrators say they are not worried about enrollment in the humanities or the post-graduation career opportunities for students in these departments, in part because of the introduction of more resources.
According to Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Harry Elam, the number of undergraduates majoring in the humanities over the past 10 years has remained relatively stable.
Data from the Office of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies within the School of Humanities and Sciences shows that last academic year, the University had 253 bachelor’s conferrals for humanities and arts majors. There were 265 for the 2011-12 academic year, 254 for 2010-11 and 262 for 2009-10.
Elam stated that two priorities the University must consider when promoting the humanities at Stanford are publicizing the top-level quality of the humanities departments on campus and dealing with student and parent concerns about the economic stability of a humanities degree.
“I’ve seen history majors who have gone to work for Google because Google wants people who can synthesize information,” Elam said. “Parents should understand that their child is not going to suffer [with a humanities degree] and will probably be better off doing something they really want to do rather than a means to an end.”
Existing career resources for humanities students
In alignment with the priorities that Elam outlined, the University provides support for humanities students within the departments as well as at the administrative level.
Katie McDonough, humanities and arts initiatives coordinator for the School of Humanities and Sciences, said that her position was created to help increase the visibility and accessibility of courses, faculty research and programs within the humanities.
McDonough stated that elite universities around the country, including Stanford, are seeking to collect more data about what alumni who graduated with degrees in the humanities have done after graduation in order to educate humanities students about employment possibilities.
Richard Saller, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, has expressed the same confidence about the futures of humanities majors.
“The truth is that we don’t have very detailed data on the careers of our humanities graduates, but we do know that they have done very well, and we are gathering systematic data about their careers and admittance to professional school,” Saller said.
Individual humanities departments provide job-oriented resources for their students, McDonough said. She added that departments help connect students with internships for career experience and even offer funding for unpaid internships.
Katie Dooling, undergraduate student services coordinator for the English Department, said that in the past three years the department has provided grants to students for summer internships, including the Kaplan Endowment which awards grants of $1,000 to help subsidize all or part of an internship at an organization that allows students to use their academic experience as English majors at work.
“We don’t want students to feel like they can’t participate in internships that are unpaid because they have to make money during the summer,” Dooling said. “Then later it’s great to hear back from them about what they found interesting and how they applied their English knowledge in this field.”
The department also puts on two panels with alumni who speak about their careers, whether as writers or in other fields, such as business.
“For English students, it’s not a limitation on what you can do, but you have so many options that you need to figure out what you want to do,” Dooling said.
Increasing career opportunities for humanities majors
Departments and organizations across campus are developing new programs and resources in order to help introduce those in the humanities to opportunities beyond Stanford and inspire confidence in their choice of major.
One new course, Music 6P: Art Is My Occupation: Professional Development for Creatives, offered through the Arts Institute will launch in winter quarter, featuring guest speakers with careers in arts administration and practicing art.
Paula Salazar ’13, arts in student life coordinator for the Arts Institute, believes that the arts are thriving at Stanford and that the best way for students to orient themselves toward a career is to first discover their passions.
Salazar talked about her own personal experience as an art history major, stating that being part of the founding team of The Stanford Arts Review–a publication featuring original work and commentary–expanded her thinking about her major in a way that helped her reach out to a larger community.
“Stanford humanities majors have the opportunity to develop a skill set beyond knowledge that may fade away over time,” Salazar said. “Being able to write a really good essay translates into being able to write a really great report for your supervisors.” “It’s important especially for humanities majors to think about their skill set in this way, and a lot of different fields and jobs will suddenly seem open,” she added.
The Career Development Center (CDC) is also working to help students in the humanities and arts by offering more career counseling, according to Margot Gilliland, CDC assistant director for students in the humanities and sciences.
The CDC is making efforts to work closely with individual departments, and Gilliland herself also holds office hours in the English and history departments. Additionally, the CDC is offering Career Meetups this year as a casual way for students to talk about job search strategies.
Humanities majors often have strong communication and analytical skills as well as a developed ability to work on teams, according to Gilliland, and the CDC’s new efforts aim to teach students how to market those strengths.
Gilliland also noted that in February there will be a humanities and sciences career fair featuring employers specifically looking for the skills that come with these types of majors.
Another new resource for humanities majors is the opportunity to participate in the Summer Institute for General Management (SIGM) at the Graduate School of Business. SIGM is a four-week full-time summer program aimed at providing business knowledge and improving career-oriented skills for non-business majors.
Stanford humanities and arts majors accepted to SIGM are eligible for funding offered by the Office of the President. This funding—up to SIGM’s full tuition cost of $10,750—will be distributed by the School of Humanities and Sciences based on students’ financial aid profiles.
“We hope that a funded opportunity like this will be an encouragement to students who feel like otherwise they might need to major in something that does have more of a business focus,” McDonough said.
Despite existing and future resources available to undergraduate majors in the humanities and arts, McDonough expressed concern that many of these opportunities are not well known around campus.
“[These opportunities] are things that potentially could attract students to the humanities and the arts if they knew they existed before they declare,” McDonough said.
Contact Sarah Moore at smoore6 ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.