Monday, March 14, 2016

All publicity is good publicity (even when it's incomplete)

So my school was in the news over the weekend, and the results are about what you'd expect: pleasant but incomplete. NPR reporters may be thorough, but they don't talk fast enough to squeeze the whole story into a brief report.
A few weeks ago Noah Adams spent a day on campus interviewing a whole mess of people and on Saturday his report aired on All Things Considered (click here). A few of our students said intelligent things about the challenges of pursuing a Petroleum Engineering degree when the oil industry is not hiring, and some faculty members suggested that the decline in the petroleum industry is not the end of the world. However, a casual reader or listener could easily fall into the misconception that the Petro program defines Marietta College, especially since the only nod to the rest of the school is this brief statement: "The petro students are required to take history, philosophy, writing and communication courses, which may give them a leg up in shifting career choices."

Three cheers for the humanities! We exist to help Petro students remain employable in difficult times! (What's wrong with this picture?)

I suppose we're not the only campus on which one big flashy major overshadows other valuable programs, and I certainly appreciate the Petro program's ability to bring in talented students to fill general education classes. We've benefited during the Petro program's boom times, and we stand with them during the inevitable busts

Also, I can't blame NPR for assuming that the impact of oil prices on education would be interesting to listeners. It doesn't make national news when an English or history major has trouble finding a job, but Petro majors are doing exactly what the zeitgeist demands--pursuing a vocational program in a STEM field--but suddenly find doors to employment closing in their faces. That's a story! 

Once in a while, though, it would be nice to be known for something more than the Petro program. Year after year, decade after decade, we crank out students who pursue meaningful careers as doctors, lawyers, librarians, journalists, teachers, actors, accountants, entrepreneurs, and even the occasional academic, but what gets national coverage? Petro majors who fear that they won't find jobs.

But at least they have that liberal arts foundation to fall back on! Petroleum engineers who can write ought to be more employable than those who can't. (And if they want some advice on how to parlay their writing skill into a meaningful career, they ought to get advice from an English major.) 


Bardiac said...

Interesting! I saw this article as an interesting counterpoint to the usual articles about how students should focus on job training. The problem is, the jobs we seem to have in abundance at point A aren't necessarily the jobs that will be available 5, 10, or 20 years on. And as we liberal arts types know, a liberal arts education (including for petroleum engineers) will prepare people to be critical thinking citizens and capable of learning new stuff for changing times.

Bev said...

Yes, that's an important lesson. It's not always easy to get students (or parents) to believe that, though.