Published: Sept. 11, 2016 By

Dean Steven R. Leigh

Dean Steven R. Leigh

A real pleasure in my capacity as dean is to meet leaders from outside the university—including alumni, donors, business people, government officials, nonprofit employees and volunteers and others. In my conversations with these individuals, I'm always sure to ask, "What is it that you look for in a recent college graduate?" 

Virtually without exception, the response among leaders in these areas focuses on two things. First, they point to writing skills as critical to success in today's world. As one business person and alum in Chicago said recently, "Writing is at a premium." Second, I hear more and more that students need high cultural awareness, knowledge about group dynamics, and an awareness of the needs and preferences of people from a wide variety of backgrounds. 

Comments about writing usually apply broadly. For example, further discussion often reveals that what prospective employees need, badly, is deeper training in the humanities. Employers need people who can express ideas in nuanced yet clear ways, reaching broad and diverse audiences. The ability to construct analogies and flesh out allegories seems to be increasingly important in today's complex and fast-paced world. New York Times Columnist David Brooks has eloquently stated this case for some time. 

With respect to cultural awareness, leaders in every field see that the world is becoming more tightly knit, as communication and travel options improve. Interestingly, this has not necessarily resulted in reduced cultural differences. In fact, we've seen increased diversity as groups and individuals borrow and amalgamate ideas and customs globally (syncretism, in anthropological terms). Employers, particularly in nonprofits, worry about reaching markets and people in need of services by understanding, respecting and adapting to differences. 

Fortunately, at CU Boulder in the College of Arts and Sciences, we offer academic training that excels at providing training in all of these areas. Our top-ranked humanities units present a stunning array of opportunities for our students, helping them train in critical areas with rigor and intensity. Similarly, our social-sciences units complement this training, by emphasizing the bases and importance of social, cultural and economic differences. 

The world-class education offered by the College of Arts and Sciences is critical for the future success of our students, the future workforce, and for social, cultural and economic success.

Cross-training opportunities are also readily available for our students. For example, remodeling of the Ketchum Building has resulted in a new configuration of several social-sciences departments, promoting fruitful scholarly interactions. In fact, one of our political science alums, a veteran of the National Security Administration, sees that the co-location of political science and ethnic studies offers dynamic new possibilities for faculty and students, given the increasing interactions between ethnicity and politics, worldwide.  

Our world-class faculty recognize that the path to future success, both for our students and for potential employers, is not simply "more skills." While these are valuable and important, and there are many opportunities at CU to develop skills, most employers see that skills can be developed in the job. On the other hand, employers do not have the capabilities or resources to teach writing and cultural awareness. These attributes must be learned through intense, long-term engagement in an academic context. Our humanities and social-sciences units prepare our students for an even faster pace of change in the world. The world-class education offered by the College of Arts and Sciences is critical for the future success of our students, the future workforce, and for social, cultural and economic success.

Steven R. Leigh is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.