Innovative Career Course Features Cross-Cultural Studies, Importance of Humanities
From left, first-year students Caitlyn Beals, Sabirah Haque, and Juliet Orth, present their Humanities in the Field project as part of the Career Design for Global Citizenship class on April 17, 2019. For their project, the students, who are residents of the Global Leadership Living Learning Community, researched companies that work to create increased access to education for underrepresented and disadvantaged communities, in Atlanta and nationally.
By Michael Pearson
Learning the nuances of workplace culture is a bit like exploring another country, says Jenny Strakovsky, assistant director of career education and graduate programs in the School of Modern Languages.
Each field has a vernacular and tempo of its own. Values, goals, and cultures differ from field to field.
This is why Strakovsky and the School of Modern Languages at the Georgia Institute of Technology are pioneering the use of “culture-driven career design.” Using the study-abroad model as a metaphor for career exploration, Strakovsky and Anna Westerstahl Stenport, chair and professor in the school, teach a class called Career Design for Global Citizenship.
The class seeks to inspire both undergraduate and graduate students to consider how humanities-based skills can be central to their careers and give them tools to design “meaningful, fulfilling, and impactful careers.”
‘Real-World Scenarios for How to Collaborate’
“This innovative course brings together undergraduate and graduate students from fields as diverse as computer science and international affairs, math and city and regional planning, and public policy and applied languages and intercultural studies,” Stenport said. “It provides real-world scenarios for how to collaborate in multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural professional environments, while applying project management and communication strategies.”
The class is attracting attention nationally. Strakovsky has presented the work to the Modern Language Association (MLA), among others. The Association of Departments of Foreign Languages and English also has invited Strakovsky and Stenport to present the work at the annual ADFL/ADE Summer Seminar for department chairs this summer.
The career education programs at the School of Modern Languages are part of an effort to change the direction of liberal arts education in the United States.
“It’s an approach to teaching humanities at the intersection of cultural studies and career education, which are two different fields,” Strakovsky said of the class.
“It’s unique and at the cutting edge of what is happening in both fields," said Stenport.
The Value of Humanities in the Workplace
Ryan Gemilere, a second-year physics major from Saint Louis Park, Minnesota, took the class in 2018. He is now a research assistant in the career design studio at the School of Modern Languages, working with Strakovsky and Stenport on the intersection of humanities and STEM.
“A strong understanding of many subjects that fall under the umbrella of the humanities, especially philosophy and management, is fundamental for a successful career based in physics,” he said.
The course includes lecture and project components. Students learn about the changing world of work and the role of liberal arts skills in professional life. They also learn how to hone in on their own career goals and create long-term plans for their lives.
The students are then sent out to create case studies examining how humanities skills, such as well-developed communications abilities and a focus on human-centered problem solving, are crucial in helping solve intractable social and policy challenges.
Students have examined issues such as energy consumption and conservation, the impact of space policy on humanity, how to keep equity issues in the forefront of the sustainability debate, and water security.
Different Perspectives Are Crucial
This exploration also helps students learn the value of applying humanities-based skills, especially intercultural studies, to the field of work they want to pursue.
“In the process of doing science, or designing a product, you need to have the ability to design questions and think about other people’s perspectives,” Strakovsky said. “Having the ability to think from the perspective of a different culture allows you to tap into new markets and discover new questions that you might not even realize are questions if you’re only looking at it from your own cultural perspective.”
Career exploration as a form of cultural studies also helps students overcome a pervasive unease with the process that will get them their first job.
“In career education, we talk about networking and the importance of tailoring resumes and writing cover letters a certain way,” Strakovsky said. “There’s a place for that, but students will often talk about how they hate it because it feels artificial and manipulative."
“But when you bring the cultural studies framework to it, and you explain that this is a community and you are learning about it, that you’re on a study abroad in this community, it changes their perspective. If you were living in another country and trying to learn the language and the culture, of course you would connect with as many people as possible to ask questions and do justice to understanding that community,” Strakovsky said.
For Gemilere, who wants to work in the space sector after he graduates in 2021, the class proved invaluable.
“To do something other than university research with a physics degree, I believe an understanding of many humanities topics is essential,” he said, “I would even say that the humanities enriches the research process in which many physicists take part."
A Leader in Empowering Liberal Arts Graduates
The School of Modern Languages, a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, is quickly enlarging its reputation as a national leader in empowering liberal arts graduates to pursue successful careers in many sectors.
The School’s new Master of Science in Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies and the Master of Science in Global Media and Cultures, which is offered in conjunction with the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, were recently mentioned in the New York Times as an example of innovative curriculum for the future of language study.
Strakovsky and Stenport are next teaching the class in Spring 2019. That semester, Strakovsky also will expand offerings of the class with a master’s level version, part of the new Global Media and Cultures program.
“The humanities, particularly cultural studies, teach us how to create meaning out of facts, mobilize stories to shape our future, and connect with people who are very different from us,” Strakovsky said. “These skills are crucial for the kinds of leadership and innovation-oriented roles that Georgia Tech alumni pursue.”