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Alumni Spotlight: Liberal Arts Success Stories

At a time when STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields seem to dominate the national spotlight, pursuing a major in the liberal arts can get a bum rap. While it’s true that science and engineering top PayScale’s list of highest-earning bachelor degrees, we recently caught up with two of the many successful Fairfield alumni who are living proof that a liberal arts education can, and does, open doors for long-term professional success.

Terry Barthel ‘91

Then: English Major / Writing Concentration
Now: Supervising Producer, WGN-TV Morning News, Chicago

How did you come to work in your current field?
I took a short time off after graduation… but I knew I wanted to work in TV. I got an entry-level job at the NBC station in Savannah, GA, and from there, I worked in sports at CNN in Atlanta. A short time later, I moved to Chicago for a sports producing job that grew into a role working on the #1 morning show in Chicago at WGN-TV. As supervising producer, I oversee the 9 a.m. hour of our show, which is more feature-oriented and showcases a good mix of celebrity, comedy and lifestyle segments that touch on a parenting, financial and health issues. We have the freedom to do a lot of fun things, and when we can do something creative in an efficient way, it's really exciting.

How did a liberal arts education prepare you for your career?
It was my father who encouraged me to major in English. I write almost all day at my job, so the correlation to my major is very direct. All those papers at Fairfield really helped.

What advice would you give to current students pursuing a liberal arts degree?
There seems to be more pressure on incoming freshman to know what field they want to go into right off the bat. I know that many companies are looking for graduates who specialize in a particular field, but I still think a broad-based, liberal-arts major is one of the best ways to grow at college. I would encourage students considering a liberal arts major to go for it and to sprinkle in some business classes.

Matt Ryder ‘07

Then: Chinese Studies and Philosophy Major / Religious Studies Minor
Now: Managing Strategist Consultant, IBM

How did you come to work in your current field?
Supported by Dr. Davidson and Dr. Li, I took a lesser-known direction of study by designing my own major in Chinese Studies. To me, China was overwhelming, exciting, limitless in complexity and in a worldly sense, important. With a one-way ticket and only $500 in my pocket, I headed to China for four years after graduation where I mapped correlations between Chinese migration patterns and socio-economic mobility. From there, I ran a non-profit in Chinatown in New York City, received a Gates Foundation Grant to teach financial literacy and earned two master's degrees in international business and developmental economics. Now, as a managing strategy consultant for IBM, I support public sector agencies as they adopt transformative digital technologies. I work with healthcare, education and defense clients and lead project teams through technology planning, design, development and implementation. 

How did a liberal arts education prepare you for your career?
My liberal arts based education has paid dividends throughout my early career, especially during my 20s and early 30s. During my time at Fairfield, I was blessed with the opportunity to take courses in a wide variety of disciplines, including art, biology, chemistry, Chinese, economics, English, history, Italian, mathematics, music, philosophy, physics, poetry, politics and sociology. These courses taught me how to learn and how to adapt to new environments and obstacles. They also taught me how to communicate effectively, write effectively and think strategically. 

What advice would you give to current students pursuing a liberal arts degree?
Go to as many office hours as you can and spend as much time with your professors as you can. More than once, I remember trying to justify a bad assignment or test to my professors, but none of them accepted my excuses or comforted me with lowered expectations. I learned to own my endeavors, relish in intellectual and personal challenges and love the act of learning. Over the next 10 years, countless personal and professional challenges knocked me down time and time again, but thanks to the liberal arts model, I have always gotten back up, dusted myself off and pushed harder with an oversized confidence and spark of tenacity.

Last modified: Tue, 25 Apr 2017 13:17:10 EDT

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