MALS Just Might Mean Business
By David Rohr, M.A. 2005
Now that I am a number of years past receiving my Masters in Liberal Studies, I have to say that investing my time and money into the program turned out to be a pretty good business decision.
Yes, business decision.
When I enrolled in the program, business was the furthest in my mind. I was well established in my professional field, advertising. So, unlike many of my classmates who were pursuing their degrees to meet an employer's "Masters requirement," I was in it purely for what is often defined as "personal enrichment." And those riches came in droves through Being Human, The History of Science and Medicine, Knowledge and Culture, Visions of Hell and other deep, wonderfully taught courses.
Whether you become driven by the sheer challenge of the coursework or the enthusiasm of professors from disciplines as diverse as religious studies, English literature, biology, statistics and history, MALS will ignite passion. This program is, as we MALSters like to say, a dance or a safari for the mind. You have to investigate, analyze, debate and present successfully in this program. And all of these are skills which can also translate to business success.
Free Thinking Pays Off
This fact is not new to me, but well proven by the larger business world. Top executives at companies like FedEx, M&T Bank, Nike, and Time Warner come from liberal art educations. As many as 20 percent of top CEOs have liberal arts degrees, at least at the undergraduate level.
Liberal Studies tend also to require significant amounts of reading and writing. The MALS program at Nazareth "amped" my reading to higher levels. I was not only reading more because courses required complete reading of up to six different books, but because my curiosity about other subjects outside the classroom was energized as well. Although everyone pursues their MALS degree differently and with a "personalized" academic focus, I wrote at least 60 papers ranging from two to 70 pages. Many of these might seem totally unrelated to business—a review contrasting Apocalypse Now with Heart of Darkness or a study of the 1930's version of King Kong—while others like "Environmental Marketing" or studies of predictability and forecasting had at least a leaning toward business-related learning. But my larger point is that a liberal studies curriculum by its very nature embraces all of the human experience. As does business.
The ability to communicate fluently about a variety of topics is also vital in any profitable enterprise (or non-profit career). My business PowerPoints improved significantly because of my desire to make my academic presentations better. The notion of providing summary information to classmates works well with client presentations, too, as I have discovered.
Project Management Taken to a Higher Level
The best graduate education makes students part of the teaching equation. I don't recall a single MALS course where there wasn't at least one large-scale project, which would also require presentation to the entire class. Whether group or individual efforts, the large "projects" force students to not only plunge into unfamiliar areas, but also become "experts" in the subject. And on top of that, you are required to organize and present the material in a way that ties into the larger purpose of the course.
Project management skills naturally evolve through the process of research, aligning information with course objectives and (in group projects) assigning duties to team members. It goes without saying that the management of a timeline or project calendar is critical here, too, as you work to meet all important deadlines and submission or presentation requirements.
Big Picture Thinking
The very concept of MALS is based around allowing participants to create an education based on individual interests. It is as close as you can come to a Masters Degree built around you. But that all requires discipline, self-awareness and planning. My Capstone project—a study of America's two dominant political parties—tapped into lifelong enthusiasms for history and politics. However, you cannot get into a subject like this without discovering the implications of our country's passion for market economics. And pulling together a 70 page "micro book" over the course of a single semester is no small feat.
There is a business person's way of looking at this, too. The work required for the capstone project is in essence the delivery of a product that you conceive, develop, and produce. I saw classmates create plays, works of fiction or develop new education programs. And many of my classmates' products were ultimately presented to their employers, local school systems, and potential publishers all with a possible business interest in their work. As for my MALS project, it is the nucleus of a full-scale book that I intend to develop further for future publication.
Of course, MALS is not a business education per se, but it requires discipline and communication skills, which can broaden participants significantly. Personally, MALS has been good for business. Since completing the program I have expanded my work beyond advertising to include not only a book publishing interest but also a small manufacturing operation. The program gives you an intellectual fearlessness that almost always pays off in the business world—a fringe benefit I was glad to discover.