What started as a simple conversation between friends has grown into something much larger. At a University of Lethbridge student and alumni meet-and-greet organized by the history department in 2017, Mathew (BA ’97, MA ’00) and Penny (BA/BEd ’97) Stone were shocked to learn many students were in the dark about their career opportunities. “Not a single student spoke about careers or ambitions outside of government jobs, teaching or maybe law,” Mathew recalls.
Mathew and Penny quickly looped in long-time friend, fellow history graduate and current uLethbridge history professor, Dr. Janay Nugent (BA ’95), who shared her insight on this perplexing disconnect. “When you go into a professional program, you know what your end job will be. But when you’re doing a social sciences or humanities degree, it’s less clear,” Janay explains. “So, Mathew and Penny said, ‘let’s figure out how we can help students feel more confident about their job prospects.’”
From there, a multi-year action plan transpired, beginning with the decision to hire a uLethbridge applied studies student to conduct research into the students themselves. What the research found was that humanities students lacked an understanding of potential careers and the resources available to help them along their career path. Students also did not see how their skill sets made them a flexible fit for a rapidly changing workforce.
However, focus groups held with business leaders in Calgary and across southern Alberta revealed a crystal-clear message: although the degree behind the person is important, the skills behind the degree are even more valuable. With a significant number of humanities graduates finding themselves in fields related to business, preparing students earlier for unconventional career paths is one way to ensure their success.
“There are some really important skills young people have for being critical thinkers in our community, but they struggle to see the value of their education,” Penny notes. “We need to recognize that and do something about it. They need to know the possibilities.”
Implementing the data into programming, Mathew, Penny and Janay are collaborating to expand professional development opportunities for humanities students. In the longer term, they plan to work with students to develop a suite of online resources. Their research has also inspired a new course to be offered in Fall 2020 by the School of Liberal Education. The curriculum from this course, “Early Career Success: Humanities and Social Sciences,” is built directly from the advice given by southern Alberta business leaders about what our undergraduate students need to know to prepare for the world of work.
Another exciting initiative to emerge from this project is a work-integrated internship program for students in the humanities and social sciences. Alumnus and long-time donor Bruce McKillop (BASc (BA) ’70) has provided the financial support to pilot this program and to begin building partnerships with southern Alberta businesses and organizations. The funding will allow the University to contribute up to 50 per cent of a Bachelor of Arts student’s wage to intern in a job that they would not traditionally see themselves working in.
“By providing students with early training opportunities, they will be well positioned to contribute to the success of local business and Alberta’s economic future,” says McKillop. “I am pleased to support this initiative because it will inspire humanities and social science students to explore exciting employment opportunities.”
Beyond their investment of time, Mathew and Penny funded initiatives that support students. “Our goal is to see our investment be a seed – one that attracts others to invest as well, either in time or money,” says Mathew. “The Student Success Fund is used to support future student events, student-led online resources as well as the internship program, which is the key to the overall project.”
For the Stones, their decision to give back is rooted in a belief that communities thrive when supported. “Whether that’s by building relationships with the people who live on the block with you or the people that you work with, thinking a bit bigger than yourself and that connection to what’s important is how we can give back,” says Penny.
- 40,000 Canadians hold a history degree
- 41% of history grads work in the fields of business, finance, administration and management
Universities Canada (2016)
SHINE: The Campaign for the University of Lethbridge launched in 2018 with two main goals: to significantly increase engagement opportunities for alumni and community members and to raise $100 million to propel the entire region forward. Thanks to your support, we have surpassed these goals. More than 20,000 alumni are now actively engaged with the University and, thanks to the incredible generosity of 11,000 donors who made 33,000 gifts, we have raised more than $103 million.
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