Whitman must do more to offer pre-professional opportunities

Alex Brott

During a recent networking trip to New York City to meet Whitman alumni in finance, law, media and other highly professional careers, I was struck by a duality on the Whitman campus. On one hand, Whitties are fun, free-spirited, and––broadly––critical of American standards of material success. However, Whitties are highly intelligent, capable, involved, and, I argue, have a strong urge to forge personal success in whatever form it might take.

These two mindsets are not mutually exclusive, but Whitman as an institution tends to favor the former while overlooking the latter. That is, there are ample avenues to promote highly professional career opportunities that the Student Engagement Center and Whitman as a whole would be wise to capitalize on.

Students seem to agree that there is a general dearth of such opportunities. A lack of pre-med or pre-law opportunities are the most commonly cited examples, but I would take that argument one further. Whitman students lack not only access to, but information about more professionally oriented careers in business that they may be deeply interested in.

Whitman should work hard to gain soon-to-be graduates access to as wide a variety of career options as possible, including corporate work. Silicon Valley tech firms––Google, Apple, Facebook, etc.––crawl over themselves to recruit from high-profile California colleges, so why shouldn’t Starbucks, Microsoft and Boeing (to name a few) be crawling over themselves to recruit Whitties for summer internships and post-grad employment?

I value the liberal arts education model and the experience Whitman has provided me thus far. I think the policy of not transferring vocational credits is sound. Yet, I encourage decision-making parties to consider the negative effects of going too far in discouraging a pre-professional mindset for three main reasons: student interest, students’ job prospects and the long-term success of the college.

Many students are interested in pre-professional experience. I personally have been able to take advantage of resources set aside specifically to support environmental studies majors in environmental career development, but why should my interest in environmental studies be privileged? For what we pay to attend Whitman, I do not believe that students’ interest in professional career opportunities should go overlooked.

Second, Whitman should encourage the development of marketable skills and experience in what is a difficult job climate. Many Whitman students get excited about opportunities with Teach For America, the Peace Corps or fellowships, but will likely find their way into more traditional careers at some point. As such, the building of marketable experience is paramount in terms of preparing Whitties to be successful.

Lastly, and in a cynical and pragmatic way, it behooves the administration to produce alumni who will be successful and wealthy, and can thus donate back to the college and improve the caliber and quality of a Whitman education. This is something that will benefit Whitman’s reputation and countless students for years to come.

Undoubtedly, many Whitman students are not interested in the life of a corporate stiff; I understand that we are not at Whitman because we want to make as much money as possible. But I contend that there are many students who are deeply interested in some sort of career offered by the types of companies listed above, and that these companies can offer students much more than just a large paycheck.

I appreciate the variety of resources Whitman provides, the diversity of lifestyles it supports and the level of involvement that is possible here. However––be it support for internships and recruiting efforts from regional Fortune-500 companies, better advertisement of networking workshops or similar opportunities for younger students, organizing meetings and academic-year internships with local business leaders, or any number of creative ideas––Whitman must do what it can to support pre-professional development among the many students who have such interests.