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Career Readiness – The Liberal Arts Graduate

Creative Careers in Languages, Part 1

By Christine S. Maxwell

Throughout history, a strong liberal program of studies has been considered the ideal education.   That is, until the mid-20th century when business specializations replaced liberal arts as a program of studies valued by students and employers.   However, the pendulum is swinging; the merits of a good liberal arts education have been rediscovered.

Many current articles applaud the capabilities of liberal arts graduates as premier 21st century employees.  Why the change?  Businesses want well-rounded employees, those who can think critically and creatively, the hallmark of a good liberal arts education.  

The Liberal Arts Dilemma

Although these articles praise the liberal arts studies, the authors have not acknowledged the major issues faced by graduates of liberal arts programs, particularly those who pursue humanities degrees.   How do liberal arts graduates gain employment in the business world?  How do their skill sets satisfy the demands of 21st century businesses?

Darcy Lear, a university educator and owner of a career counseling service, has addressed the dilemma of the liberal arts graduate throughout her educational and professional career.  She has solved that missing piece of the puzzle for the liberal arts graduate:  workplace readiness and skill set marketability.  Without that essential link, many parents and students do not want to invest at least $20,000 in a liberal arts program that offers no employment prospects, and often, employers are reluctant to hire recent graduates with no concrete business studies.

Finding that Essential Link

Lear graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Hispanic Literature, a Master of Arts degree in Hispanic Literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. in Foreign and Second Language Education from Ohio State University.   As a student, she noted that language studies in higher education focused on literature, providing limited career options for its graduates.  The programs prepared their graduates for work in higher education, but not in the professions.  

Despite the literary emphasis, Lear added a professions perspective to her studies.  In graduate school, she wrote a paper on the medical history of the rest cure as evidenced in Golden Age Spanish literature.   While working on her Ph.D., Lear volunteered in a perinatal clinic serving Hispanic clients.   These clinical experiences served as the basis for her dissertation as she observed the linguistic and cultural needs of English-speaking medical professionals working with Spanish-speaking patients.  

Upon the completion of her studies, Lear added a professional dimension to higher education.  At the University of Illinois, she designed a course for Spanish in the Professions.   She fulfilled this immediate need by interviewing numerous people in a small Illinois town who used Spanish in their work, i.e., medical professionals, social workers, educators, and technology specialists.     

At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Lear oversaw a Spanish for Professions minor.  This specialization concentrated on developing new careers, service learning and securing grants for entrepreneurships.

From the Humanities to the Professions

After moving to Chicago with her family, Lear began career- coaching work.  She developed a website offering her services with the goal to offer career readiness services to humanities students, beyond the scope of traditional university career services.  She provides one-on-one services for students to help them highlight their skills, enhance their marketability, and prepare them for the workplace.

In addition, she implemented workshops at universities for students majoring in the humanities, with topics such as making the case for continuing the studies of Spanish, job search skills, writing effective resumes, interview preparation, preparing for interviews in the target language, and maintaining a professional digital identity.    As she presented her seminars, the demand for these services grew.  Numerous colleges and universities have requested her expertise.  Representative institutions include Brown University, Northwestern University, Dominican University, Valparaiso University, St. Olaf College, Tufts University, and the University of Colorado at Boulder.    In addition, she has prepared workshops for faculty on these campuses.   Educators have learned to weave a professional focus into their course content instruction, to write strong letters of recommendation for students, and to request the necessary information from the students to write these letters at these workshops.

While Lear maintains a private consulting business, she also takes an active role in Spanish education.  Lear is a part-time lecturer in Spanish at the University of Chicago.  Similarly, she has co-authored a Spanish textbook “Conéctate”, now in its second edition, with noted linguist, Grant Goodall.  In addition to the basic language skills, the text contains many valuable professional learning experiences and tips for the Spanish student.   The initial chapters discuss basic conversational skills, while later chapters focus on workplace settings and encourage students to explore international organizations in specific skills.

Lear has provided an invaluable service not only for the liberal arts graduates, but also for 21st century employers who need the critical thinking and creativity skills that these students bring to the professional table.  For more information on Darcy Lear’s career services and workshops, visit

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