Castonguay: Liberal Arts “Can Lead to Very Successful Career Outcomes”

Sharon Belden Castonguay

Sharon Belden Castonguay

Sharon Belden Castonguay will become director of the Wesleyan Career Center in late May. An expert in career development and strategic planning, Castonguay comes to Wesleyan from Baruch College where she was director of the Graduate Career Management Center for the Zicklin School of Business. Previously, she was an independent career consultant and worked at Harvard University’s Office of Career Services.

A 1993 graduate of Smith College, Castonguay  earned her MA in education from the University of Michigan and her Ed.D. in human development and psychology from Harvard.

 

Q: What’s the biggest priority for the Career Center, in terms of strategy or policy?

A: I’m the product of a liberal arts education. It never occurred to me to do anything else as an undergraduate … I’m passionate about that educational model. But it’s been under fire lately. There is some kind of tension between how people who are in that world know it, and how people perceive it to be (in terms of producing employable graduates). It’s an unnecessary tension. My background in mostly professional schools may help to reconcile those two worlds; the liberal arts can lead to very successful career outcomes; on the other hand there has to be some accountability. How are we recording the employment incomes of students, for example?

Q: So real data is important.

A: It’s not a matter of measuring whether we are “beating” other schools, but rather knowing for ourselves where our students go after graduation. It’s important for us to have that data.

Q: Why is there such a hot controversy over whether liberal arts diplomas are worth anything in terms of employment?

A: There are a lot of factors. Most recently, when you have this turbulence in the employment market, the rate at which tuition has gone up – it’s outpaced inflation – and many students are graduating with this huge debt load. Triangulate those factors, and you see where the concern comes from. And, employers are starting to look earlier down the pipeline. Your traditional liberal arts student isn’t thinking, “what is my career path.” It’s not where they are and not really where they should be. And it used to be employers would hire raw talent and then train them. As company budgets and resources around training are going down, they want to hire people who can hit the ground running. If you decide too late in the game you want something you should have prepared for three internships ago, you’re in trouble. So maybe some goals (the Career Center can help establish) should help students determine not what I should study for a major, but what do I want to do over the summer? How do my interests and skills all come together?

Q: What’s the outlook for a liberal arts BA in the business world?

A: It’s interesting. Having been in the MBA world for a while, where I see employers hiring graduate business students, what affects success? It’s all about the types of skills liberal arts educations give you. The ability to persuade, to analyze data.

Q. Any priorities for the first few months on the job?

A: We need to take a hard look at resources and how they’re being used. I am going to ask for numbers, every number. And I’ll be looking at how we can work into the Wesleyan experience more formalized career development programming. Perhaps some kind of January program that would help students get thinking about their own career development.