Oh, the humanities!

- November 27, 2008

Globe and Mail bureau chief and author Sinclair Stewart says his arts degree taught him how to think critically. (Nick Pearce Photo)

Are you enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts program? Have you ever been told that a BA is “fluff”? Or how about, “you’ll need more of an education than just a BA.”

No wonder arts students are afraid they’re destined to live out of their parents’ basements after graduation. Unlike science degrees, which are more directed in study, art degrees leave the career field wide open.

On Friday, Nov. 21, Dalhousie’s Career Services Centre took aim at dispelling the myths surrounding the BA by hosting four dynamic Dalhousie alumni.

Dalhousie law instructor Shawna Hoyte, who has a BA in English, was the first African Nova Scotian woman to successfully argue a case in front of the Canadian Supreme Court. She recalled when she first enrolled into the BA program that her friends couldn’t understand why she didn’t go into nursing.

Having an arts degree has given Ms. Hoyte many opportunities, she says. She relies on the skills she learned during her undergraduate degree, including effective communication, writing, and assertiveness.

When Sinclair Stewart entered the English program at Dal he says he had no sense of direction and, after graduation, had to figure out a way to pay the bills. After receiving a call from a friend about working in trade publications—described by Mr. Stewart as sweatshops for journalists—he packed up for Toronto. With no experience in journalism, he relied on the skills from his arts degree to help him think critically. He added the broad knowledge a BA gave him has helped him succeed. Today, Mr. Stewart is a published author (The Wrong Way: The Fall of Conrad Black) and the New York bureau chief for The Globe and Mail.

Mike Savage, Member of Parliament of Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, says “semi-purposeful meandering” and friends in the program lured him to the Dal’s history department. He says an arts degree helped him hone his communication skills and gain general knowledge on issues which has benefited him as an MP.

Entrepreneur Tanya Shaw Weeks registered her company, Unique Solutions, one week after finishing Dal’s Costume Studies Program in 1991, at the time a certificate program.

Despite her parents’ wishes for her to get a degree, Ms. Shaw Weeks wanted to master technical skills and open her own business. After graduating, she collaborated with engineers and computer scientists to develop software to measure one’s body size. The software has become useful now that online shopping has become popular.

In collaborating with engineers, she had to rely on communication skills she developed while working on her studies. “It’s not about the degree I have, it’s about what I do.” says Ms. Shaw Weeks. She has gone on to win numerous awards, including Women of Excellence, Top 40 under 40 award, and Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award.  

So, the next time someone asks, “What are you going to do with your arts degree?” mention that Dal alumni have become highly successful politicians, entrepreneurs, lawyers and journalists. Or you can casually mention that the President of Dalhousie University has a BA in history. 


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