story | Ng Yunn Jia, contributing reporter and Jasmine Gan, contributing reporter
photo | Rachel Juay
Spring Semester has arrived, and for the Class of 2017, it marks the beginning of the end. With graduation inching ever closer and capstone projects at full throttle, the prospect of employment looms. Like the pioneers they were in building this college from the ground up, now they will be Yale-NUS pioneers entering the workforce. With the obvious pressure on the seniors, a big question remains: has Yale-NUS, and more broadly, a liberal arts education, adequately prepared students for the workforce and beyond?
There is optimism in the air, as expressed by those The Octant interviewed. When asked about her hopes for the Class of 2017, Dean of the Centre for International and Professional Experience (CIPE), Trisha Craig, said she hoped that students would eventually find employment that was “meaningful to them [and] takes advantage of their skills and interests”.
Seniors echoed such hopes. Rohan Naidu ’17, a Physical Sciences major, said he wanted “to create new knowledge and build useful tools in his future career.”
Some seniors also expressed confidence in the curriculum’s ability to prepare them to contribute effectively in the workplace. In Naidu’s case, insights from the Common Curriculum, including subtle uses of sophisticated rhetoric and ways to build an elegant argument, had influenced his approach towards science. He said, “[Current scientists] know what they are doing very well, but [are] not trained in conveying it to others outside the field.” He added that because the argumentational skills developed by the Curriculum are essential for the communication of scientific ideas, Yale-NUS’s budding scientists would be better equipped to avoid this difficulty.
Not everyone agreed that the Yale-NUS academic experience had adequately prepared students for the competitive job market. Literature major Althea Tan ’17 spoke of the difficulties that some Yale-NUS students face. Students from other universities may be armed with technical skills that have been glossed over or even excluded from the College’s Common Curriculum-dominated studies. For example, aspiring journalists do not learn how to write a press release at Yale-NUS. They are thus disadvantaged in the job market competition against students from other institutions who have received this training. Some students even regretted attending Yale-NUS because of the lower emphasis its curriculum places on these technical skills. Tan said, “I have some friends who still wish they had not come here.” A Yale-NUS education might not have been for everyone.
Whether the Curriculum’s lack of vocational training diminishes job prospects is unclear. In the US, Ms. Craig said, companies hire top graduates regardless of their major and equip them with the necessary vocational skills on the job. A recently compiled Yale University report corroborated her observations: 31.8% of Yale’s 2016 undergraduate class were employed in a field either entirely or mostly unrelated to their fields of study.
Inasmuch as this knowledge is good news for Yale-NUS students, some suggest that optimism should be tempered. “[Employment practices] might be a little different for some countries,” Ms. Craig said. These sentiments were echoed by Tan, who said that many employers in the Singapore market don’t understand the value of a liberal arts education.
Practical value aside, the fundamental ideal of a liberal arts education is to tutor its students to become active participants of civic life. A liberal arts education would therefore emphasize the development of habits of mind and a certain way of thinking, according to Yale-NUS College President Pericles Lewis. With regards to these aspects, he said that Yale-NUS students are “doing idealism well”.
Still, whether these ideals are important to students depends on how free students are to follow where their intellectual curiosity leads. Of students’ decision-making process in selecting their majors, Tan said, “It’s a privilege…if you have the opportunity to choose what you want to study and not worry about the future.”
A freshman, who wished to remain anonymous, described how practical concerns would influence her choice of study over a desire to follow her interests. She said, “For some families, going to college is a kind of leisure. You don’t expect money out of leisure, only happiness and fulfilment. But for some families, going to college is an investment—and when you invest in something, you expect money back.”
While these concerns are not unique to Yale-NUS, the College’s unique position as a nascent liberal arts college in Asia lends a sense of gravity to these coming months. The tension is palpable as students begin to see their vision of the future focus and sharpen, but any discussion about the advantages of a Yale-NUS liberal arts education at the workplace remains speculation. As the Class of 2017 drags their luggage out of campus for the final time this May, all eyes are on them as they make their entrance into the world and prepare to lead the way.