For people who choose the liberal arts, often there are many paths and many opportunities to explore.

students reading in library

It feels inevitable. When you start college, everyone asks what school you chose, whether you are dorming or commuting, and, of course, your major. And if you major in the liberal arts, like English or history, you get the follow up question—“Oh, so you want to teach?”

I personally did want to teach, ever since I was in eighth grade, but to have that assumption made, that inevitable follow-up question, can feel limiting, especially in a world that tends to value the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics over the arts.

Yet, I have always found the liberal arts to be the most applicable to a large variety of career opportunities. When you study specific majors, like nursing or computer science, you have a nice, straight career path; you know where you are going. But for people who choose the liberal arts, often there are many paths, many opportunities to explore.

I have continued pursuing my passion for English and for teaching. In 2018, I graduated from the Mount with my bachelor’s degree in English, which I swiftly followed with a Master of Arts in English from Northern Kentucky University, class of December 2020. While pursuing my master’s degree, I started teaching at the collegiate level, first with a single English 101 class at NKU in the spring of 2020, then two classes in the fall of 2020. Currently, I teach two English 102 classes at NKU and an English 096 class at the Mount.

But I don’t just teach. In between my classes, I am a project coordinator for a small family-owned General Contractor. In the spring of 2021, when I took a semester off from teaching after earning my MAE, when the project coordinator position was my sole job, I remember one of my cousins telling me, “You’re not even using your degree.”

True, I wasn’t pursing my career goals at the time, but after 19+ straight years of schooling, from grades K through my master’s degree, I was tired. And I was never not using my degree. My cousin who made the statement is a nurse. She knows every day that she’s using her degree, but it can be more challenging for bystanders to see how liberal arts majors utilize their degrees, but every day, we use them—when we write emails, when we communicate, when we analyze situations and critically think about the world around us, and how we fit within it. But just because the skills a liberal arts degree instills in students are less tangible, it does not make them less valuable, less prominent within our everyday lives.

This month, I met with a few of my fellow English majors, both of whom graduated from the Mount, and both of whom are librarians. Josh Zeller, ’17, is Head of Access Services at the Mount’s very own Archbishop Alter Library, and Brittany Hennessey, ’18, is a Library Customer Adviser at the Harrison branch of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library.

When asked why he chose to be a librarian, Zeller stated, “It was just my passion, and I couldn’t really imagine doing anything else.” While he “flirted with other career possibilities,” he found librarianship to be one of the more stable options, but his professors in his undergrad career were the most influential in assisting his career path.

Hennessey, on the other hand, did not necessarily enter college knowing she wanted to pursue a Master’s in Library Sciences until around her junior year of college. “For me,” she said, “I liked books.” She went on to talk about how relatable literature can be, how it can foster connections among people. Her experiences in the Mount’s Talent Opportunity Program (TOP), helped solidify her career goals, as she tested out a variety of co-ops—one with the Mount’s School of Business, another with the Sisters of Charity Ministry Foundation, and a final co-op with her local branch of the Hamilton County library system. It was at the final co-op where she found her career

As a collective trio of English majors, we all agreed on two things about being liberal arts majors—an advocate is important, and the liberal arts major is adaptable. Josh found his career path through the support of his undergrad professors, who advocated for his passions and guided him through his college experience. Similarly, Brittany found her advocate through those same professors, that same community of support and encouragement.

And I tend to heartily agree. In the liberal arts, there is a strong sense of community, a strong fostering of empathy and love of learning. Perhaps it is all the books we read, all the stories we consume as we learn to empathize and connect with people. As a result, we find so many advocates in this community.

I could never have imagined the possibilities my MAE would offer at NKU, had I not had the amazing mentor professor I did, who encouraged me as I planned my very first course and learned how to navigate teaching for the very first time in the spring of 2020. And it was a challenging time as a first-time collegiate professor, because just as we were preparing for spring break, the pandemic erupted, and I was forced to shift from fully in-person classes to fully online. While I may have floundered, may have struggled, I found I had a wonderful network of support in my major’s community—I had many advocates.

With that community of support, which is diverse and filled with experience, Josh, Brittany, and I have found a liberal arts major is adaptable. While the three of us did pursue master’s degrees, these were more of career requirements than absolute necessities. For librarianship, one is required to have a master’s, and full-time professors often have Ph.D.s.

But not all liberal arts career opportunities require such lofty degrees. As I mentioned, I also work for a General Contractor. Perhaps, when hiring, employers may not see the value of a liberal arts major, but I guarantee they will in time. My degree has given me heightened communication skills, particularly in writing, but it has also built my interpersonal skills and my ability to empathize and connect with people. I believe a liberal arts degree fosters the soft, less teachable skills many employers seek. Hard skills, like learning the language of the construction industry, my employer could teach me; those are easy. It is the soft skills that are more challenging because they are so much more complex, but so necessary when entering the workforce.

Megan Simmermeyer was a staff member and editor of Dateline from 2016 through 2018. She is an adjunct professor of English at the Mount and Northern Kentucky University, while working part time as a project coordinator for a general contractor. In her spare time, she reads widely, takes part in a book club and “writes what will hopefully someday be an international bestselling fantasy series.”