Making Your Mother Proud: Growing the Oxy Network
When I decided to major in English in college, my mom—and just about everyone else I knew—used to ask me, "What are you going to do with that?" In an era in which the value of the liberal arts and sciences is being questioned, it's worth looking at the college majors of the country's top 1 percent of earners as revealed in the U.S. Census' new American Community Survey. The top 10 majors are, in order: pre-med, economics, biochemistry, zoology, biology, international relations, political science, physiology, art history, and chemistry. Not far behind on this list are history, psychology, philosophy, and religious studies.
Whatever the major, Oxy provides a demanding education that produces students who can analyze and synthesize complex material, develop and communicate new knowledge, take risks, tolerate ambiguity, and embrace difference. As Tibco Software CEO Vivek Ranadive recently told The Wall Street Journal, "If you teach students one trade, that skill might be obsolete in a few years. But if you teach people how to think, look at lots of information, and connect the dots—all skills that a classic liberal arts education gives you—you will thrive."
Our challenge is not that our graduates lack these kinds of skills. What the College has not had are the resources to give our students all of the vocabulary, tools, and experiences they need to leverage these skills in the marketplace. That's why I am heartened by the vision of trustee Joan Payden, who has provided a generous endowment for the Career Development Center to build on the strong programs we already have in place to better prepare our students for the job market.
Joan, who first joined the board in 1995, is the president and CEO of Payden & Rygel, the leading global investment management firm that she founded almost 30 years ago. Acting on a suggestion from managing principal Scott Weiner '80, she has worked closely with the CDC, and over the last decade has hired eight of our top graduates, including former ASOC president Vlad Milev '03.
Vlad, an economics major from Bulgaria, was so impressive that he was hired even though his visa at the time limited him to just 12 months of employment. He's now a senior vice president/emerging markets strategist with the firm, and an active member of the Oxy alumni network that collaborates with the CDC in such programs as Walk In My Shoes, which makes it possible for students to shadow successful alumni during a day on the job. Students like Peter Beer '12, an English major hired last year after his participation in the Walk In My Shoes program, show that one can study Chaucer and find unexpected opportunities. Both Scott and Joan talk about the importance of hiring undergraduates capable of lateral or contextual thinking. Joan continues to be impressed with the competence and character of the Oxy alumni she has hired.
Joan's support provides a cornerstone for our new initiative, spelled out in the College's new strategic plan, to make career discernment and professional development through internships an integral part of an Oxy education. Our goal is ambitious: We want to create one of the best internship programs in the country in one of the best college career centers in the country.
Not only do we have access to the rich resources of the Los Angeles region, we plan to redouble our efforts to tap into the Oxy network that extends far into such fields as entertainment, finance, journalism, health professions, law, business, the arts, science, and technology.
We want more of our students to have an experience like Jason Heidecker '04, who applied for an internship at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena as a freshman. He was hired as a webmaster, a job he kept throughout his four years at Oxy. When he graduated with a physics degree, he stayed on, moving to an engineering position in Mission Assurance. Jason inspected all of the Curiosity spacecraft's digital electronics—about 500 parts in all—to make sure they worked properly and would survive the mission to Mars.
Not every internship will lead directly to a job. But we need to offer more of these kinds of opportunities to our students to help them see how their skills translate on the job, and continue to provide support for our young alumni after they graduate. Both Joan and I believe that building the capacity of the Career Development Center is crucial to the success of our students and to the College's ability to continue to make a compelling case for the long-term value of a liberal arts degree from Occidental. And I finally have an answer for my mother: An English major can go into finance, like Peter Beer, or can even be a college president!
Jonathan Veitch, President