The Market Value of a Liberal Arts Education

Spring 2009

The Market Value of a Liberal Arts Education

By Scot Erin Briggs

Einstein said a liberal arts college education trains “the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” This is a maxim Saint Mary’s alumnae take to heart and put into practice. Courier caught up with four alumnae recently—a wordsmith for number crunchers, a policy planner/philanthropist/artist, a world traveler, and a market guru—to ask them about their lives and their careers, to see where their liberal arts backgrounds had taken them.

Katy Karr ’06

Katy Karr ’06

Katy Karr graduated summa cum laude from Saint Mary’s with a double major in humanistic studies and English literature. After taking a literature/philosophy tandem course her first semester, and an introductory humanistic studies course her second semester, Karr was hooked.

“I was instantly addicted to the subject matter and the unique outline of each course of study,” says Karr. “I really wanted to study what I loved and, as I loved both, I could not bring myself to choose between the two.”

Karr now works for Bank of America as a communications assistant. Karr’s addiction to the world of abstract ideas resulted in a very practical skill set, one that made her confident about going toe-to-toe with applicants from left-brain fields. “Literature and humanistic studies helped me to develop a sound set of communications skills,” says Karr. “Writing, presentation, articulation, and critical thinking…I felt very confident that I could successfully portray and promote these skills in any interview and have an edge over candidates with business degrees.”

The diverse interests that motivated Karr’s double major are at play in her career as well. Project management, event planning, speech editing, letter writing, market data and metrics analysis, and research are all part of an average day. “What I like about my job is that I am sort of a jack of all trades. I get my hands on a variety of projects which allows me to discover what interests me and what doesn’t…so there is a lot of room for growth and development on a personal level, which is something that is very important to me.”

To Karr, the future looks bright. Long-term, she says, she wants to maintain a healthy work-life balance. She is confident her liberal arts education will help her navigate both priorities, her family and the always-changing, fluid market. “There are numerous employers out there like mine seeking well-rounded candidates who can offer that same broad-based perspective,” says Karr.

Anne Hesslau Dondanville ’82
Policy Planner, Philanthropist, Artist

Anne Dondanville ’82 with her family, Patrick, Tim, Brian ND ’12, Dan, Roger, and Adrian

One of the hallmarks of a liberal arts education is the ease with which graduates can transition from one career path to another. “I graduated in 1982 when the economy was in a similar cycle that this year’s graduates may encounter,” says Anne Hesslau Dondanville. “The summer after graduation I accepted an entry level job at a Japanese bank, worked as an international flight attendant based at O’Hare, and applied to graduate school all in the first year out of Saint Mary’s!”

After graduating with a degree in political science, Dondanville earned her Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Illinois at Springfield and went on to work as a policy planner for the Illinois Department on Aging. From there, she took a position as the executive director of the Springfield Alzheimer’s Association. For Dondanville, her liberal arts background prepared her to pursue her passions. “I was trained to write, to speak publicly and passionately, and to believe in my abilities and in God’s plan for my life,” says Dondanville.

Dondanville’s passions reached beyond her work week and, ultimately, brought her back to Saint Mary’s. She has been an integral donor and devotee to the College. “My motivation to give to Saint Mary’s was simply one of gratitude,” says Dondanville. “Soon after graduation my father and I were talking about his volunteer involvement with the high school seminary he attended. When he spoke of his gratitude for the dedication of the priests who made that type of education possible, I realized that I felt the same way about those who had preceded me at Saint Mary’s College.”

A six-year member of the Alumnae Board, Dondanville served another six years on the Madeleva Steering Committee, Saint Mary’s premier gift society, which takes a leadership role in fundraising for financial aid and scholarships for Saint Mary’s students. Dondanville also chaired her Reunion Gift Campaign and volunteered during the Sesquicentennial Campaign. These are just a few of the roles to which she’s lent her time, talent, and treasure.

“Twenty-one years ago I attended my first Alumnae Board meeting with an infant son in tow—he is now a sophomore at Notre Dame,” says Dondanville. “Women who shared that Board table with me remain friends and resources to me today. They were ten, twenty, and thirty years older than me and shared their wisdom—regarding parenting, careers, and spiritual decisions. They were company presidents, attorneys, teachers, musicians, artists—but what we had in common was a desire to assure that Saint Mary’s College was positioned to cherish her heritage and at the same time, positioned to meet the financial challenges that could jeopardize her future.”

Dondanville says she’s seen first-hand the difference financial aid and scholarships have made to Saint Mary’s students. “I have read articles in the Courier about the accomplishments of women who were student government commissioners who would address us at Board meetings. My alumnae-endorsed applications have been submitted by young women who are now graduates. I have received notes and calls from students and I am more convinced than ever that a Saint Mary’s College education is an even greater gift in today’s world than it was in mine,” says Dondanville.

Dondanville’s passions and pursuits continue to reach far and wide. She currently runs her own business, creating artisan jewelry including the French Cross necklace, worn by many alumnae, and remains an active member of the Madeleva Society Steering Committee. Dondanville attributes her devotion to the College to the education it provides, an education she believes to be unique. “Students are exposed to the classics, to current political debates, to the arts and sciences in a beautiful, intimate environment where they are safe to explore their intellectual leanings with other young women from all over the world,” says Dondanville. “They are taught and mentored by talented faculty members who are committed to their academic growth and professional preparation. It is an environment of excellence where faculty, administration, staff, and alumnae are committed to their success.”

Lisa Coury ’98
World Traveler

Lisa Coury ’98

Lisa Coury found her passion, one that would translate into a career, while studying abroad her sophomore year. Since then, she has co-founded and manages Grazie Italia, a travel agency that coordinates custom travel to Italy.

“The Saint Mary’s Rome Program is the reason I fell in love, not only with Italy, but with travel, in general,” says Coury. “It was unbelievable to me how art and history came alive in front of me in the Eternal City…. It gave birth to my love for cultural exchange. Through contact with another culture, through the experience of being a foreigner, you learn about others and about yourself. Most importantly, you come to know that similarities far outweigh the differences between people, regardless of nationality or language. And when you understand this lesson, the differences between people become fun!”

Coury graduated cum laude with a B.A. in humanistic studies and a minor in Italian. In 2001, she traveled back to Italy to St. John’s University in Rome, where she got her MBA. Then, she returned to Phoenix, her hometown, where she earned a Master’s in International Management from Thunderbird School of Global Management.

According to Coury, humanistic studies prepared her for the world of business. The major, unique to Saint Mary’s, looks through the lenses of many disciplines to understand Western culture. “Humanistic Studies taught me how to study a culture…to understand its current political, social, religious, scientific, and artistic environment, and to understand how all of these elements combine to shape the way people think and act,” Coury explains. “This type of analysis is the identical thought process used in business school and in business in general. To analyze any market, you have to use this type of analysis to know if a product should be introduced, how to introduce it, and then how to market it.”

Now, Coury spends her days helping others see the best of the place she loves. “I prepare custom itineraries for travel throughout Italy. We’ve prepared all types of itineraries, from very simple to very extravagant. I enjoy what I do because it takes the ‘work’ out of my clients’ vacation, thus they are better able to enjoy the richness of the Italian experience.”

For Coury, sharing what she loves is often it’s own reward. “We love it when our clients come back and we can tell that they ‘get it,’ that they understand the meaning of la dolce vita in Italia (the sweet life in Italy). We even had a couple come back once and tell us that we ‘saved their marriage,’ but really it was just Italy. It’s a great gift to share with others!”

Coury credits the broad-based education she received at Saint Mary’s with preparing her for the career she invented for herself. “My liberal arts education, in general, made me a well-rounded person,” says Coury. “It is only my mom and I running Grazie Italia, so our job functions run the gamut! It is equally important for me to know how to do accounting, as it is for me to be able to write effectively and to create marketing campaigns. The key to small business is well-roundedness, I believe.”

Kathleen Kelly Hartman ’94
Market Guru

Kathleen Kelly Hartman ’94

“I think my liberal arts education gave me many career options,” says Kathleen Kelly Hartman, manager of investor relations at CME Group (formerly the Chicago Mercantile Exchange).

“To me, the essence of a liberal arts education, no matter what field one studies, is the ability to take in information and synthesize it meaningfully.” That ability to synthesize information is one that Hartman uses daily. “Investor relations is a field that combines finance, marketing, and communications,” says Hartman. “My company is publicly traded, and in my role I work as part of a team to provide current and potential investors in our stock with information regarding the firm’s historical performance and potential going forward.”

After graduating from Saint Mary’s with a double major in English and philosophy, Hartman taught high school English to inner city girls, which she says she loved. She has also worked as an operations manager and a business analyst. The flexibility with which Hartman has been able to navigate the corporate world, she attributes to the nature of her education. “I think that I developed two key skills at Saint Mary’s that have made it possible for me to work in such a variety of different fields,” says Hartman. “Those skills are communications and analysis. Different jobs I’ve had have emphasized one skill or the other to a greater extent, but I can’t think of any field where those skills aren’t critical. In my current role, I use the two fairly equally.”

Hartman went on to earn an M.B.A. in Finance and Strategy from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 2007. How does one find their way from English and philosophy to an MBA? “I credit my philosophy studies with developing the analytical side of my brain,” says Hartland. “Once you’ve dissected Kant and Heidegger with Ann [Clark, professor of philosophy], understanding a financial statement seems easy!”

Part of a liberal arts education is learning how to learn, how to educate yourself. This often develops into a love of learning for its own sake. For Hartman, this transferable skill pays dividends. “I like working with people, and it gives me a chance to work with people across a variety of roles throughout my company and with investors and analysts outside my company,” she says. “Also, I am really interested in capital markets and economics. My company is a derivatives exchange, so most of the economic news that you hear about impacts our business and our customers. It is a constant learning experience and I love to learn new things.”

Hartman says the writing that was required of her as an undergraduate has served her well in her numbers-based industry. “It’s more than just an emphasis on writing. It’s teaching an analytical thought process where you are constantly taking in information, distilling it down to the critical parts, and then communicating it in a clear, meaningful way,” says Hartman. “Whether I am putting together a PowerPoint presentation or writing an e-mail, I am constantly reminded of those freshman year W classes: what is your thesis, and why is it true? Once you’d gotten the core ideas together, the focus on polishing the mechanics and style of one’s writing was invaluable.”

Ultimately, a liberal arts education liberates, both within the sphere of work and without. “The ability to see the patterns and interconnections amongst information has been a great asset in all the fields I’ve worked,” says Hartman. “And it goes beyond my career…I love movies and music and books and theater, and being able to apply these skills to my leisure pursuits gives me a great deal of enjoyment in my personal life.”