Can We Rebrand the Humanities? (Spoiler: Yes. We need to.)

As someone who studied both marketing and history (and who finds her history degree a super valuable part of that mix) the question often crosses my mind: “How can I sell my history degree?”

It shouldn’t be that hard, really. As a history undergraduate student, I just came out of a program with intensive research and written/oral communication training. I can mine through data about almost any topic, large or small. I can draw conclusions. I can organize the information. The list goes on and on.

When I see the words “B.A. in History,” I see all that.

I just don’t think employers always do. That’s a problem.

Employers often have no understanding of the transferable skills embedded in a liberal arts education. It’s like they see my degree and the only thing that comes to mind is their boring high school history teacher from 1971 droning on about the pyramids.

(…I mean, I do also know a whole bunch about the pyramids, but that is beside the point.)

So, here I am. Here we are. Looking at a job market which increasingly demands innovative, engaged, realistic, and skilled employees who can work with people and technology. Wanting to raise our hands and yell “THAT’S ME!” because really, it is. Our degrees should communicate all these competencies to employers. We just spent years building an understanding of processes, politics, humanity itself.

So how do we fix this perception?

It won’t happen right away. But I think there are a few subtle changes that institutions, professors, students, and graduates can make to help us rebrand some of these so-called useless degrees.

Here’s a start:

  • People who studied the humanities and are using skills from those degrees in their jobs should make the value of their education known in the workplace. When someone compliments your writing style, your note taking ability, or your problem-solving skills at work, do not shy away from giving honourable mention to the fact that you honed those skills through a liberal arts education. All the humanities grads making things happen in the world should be walking examples of the value of these degrees.
  • We need to create more portfolio-oriented curriculum. Many of the educational paths which are considered more “valuable” in workland get that reputation because their graduates have something tangible to show employers. Encourage students to research and/or present their research in a way that is accessible to those outside of the discipline. Give them something to show at a job interview.
  • Change the concept of specialization to include methodology and skillsets. Very few employers care that I “specialized” in 20th century North American cultural history…but a lot of employers care that I specialized in using digital tools and blogging to share information, or that I understand how communications and business have evolved over the past century. Did you become an expert in writing, in using a particular primary source, in different types of research or analysis? Consider recognizing these things as your area of “expertise” when speaking with employers.
  • Academic institutions need to realize that not every student wants to continue in academia and that’s okay. Professors automatically assume that their brightest scholars are immediately destined for academic greatness. But what if they are more interested in business, entrepreneurship, or the public sector? If every professor said to themselves “My students are going to come out of this class with one tangible thing to add to their resume” (it could just be introducing students to one new technology or method or communication skill) they would be preparing their students for success wherever they choose to go. Which is very good news, because if we lock all good humanities scholars up in Universities, they will have less of an impact on the world. Who wants that?
  • Speaking of entrepreneurship…we also need to encourage students to create their own projects and jobs. A liberal arts education helps us understand the culture, economics, and needs in our communities. These are certainly the kinds of people who are equipped to see the direction people are going in (and to make money on that direction). Let’s make sure are given the resources to make that happen!
  • We need to encourage interdisciplinary models in our academic institutions. One of my professors recently suggested putting spaces/resources frequented by engineering students (such as 3D printing labs) in liberal arts buildings on campus to encourage interaction. I think he is onto something. I would love to work with software engineering students to develop an educational app, or a design student to create a better website to showcase research. Fostering mutual respect and collaboration between fields should be a priority.
  • We need to connect students with the community. There are so many organizations who could use the skills humanities scholars have, or who could offer unique resources and projects to students. Working with organizations outside of their school helps students establish networks, explore their own career paths, and build their portfolios/resumes (see point #2). It also allows the community recognize the value that these students have, which can translate into a change in perspective for potential employers.

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We have the resources and technology to rebrand the humanities. Through the internet, we have the ability to connect with each other like never before. We can talk about the value of our humanities degrees online. We can teach students to recognize exactly why their degree is valuable, and prepare them to sell it to an employer (or to create their own business). We can develop interdisciplinary courses and programs which will encourage collaboration and help a humanities student’s degree appeal to a wider audience after they are done.

We can rebrand the humanities. We need to. Because it’s not just our students who are missing out on jobs…it’s our employers who are missing out on awesome workers who can take businesses (and society) to the next level.

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On Work, Play, and Goin’ Professional

“What would you like to do if money were no object?” is our most cliched career advice. In some ways, I get it. I do. I’m a shameless member of generation “follow your passion.”

But I have abandoned that particular question.

– – –

I was sitting in the back seat with a friend.

It must have been 2005, I guess. I was young. She had just shared the new Black Eyed Peas album with me, and we disagreed on the quality of the song “My Humps.”

(Yeah, we were really hip to the important issues.)

I digress.
I digress.

This friend and I had become close through the local little kid theatre scene.  We had both been through summer camps, community productions, that kind of thing.  She declared that she was going to be an actress when she grew up.  I asked her why. She recited, “Because when you have a job you love, you never have to work a day in your life.”

And I was horrified.

Obviously, I couldn’t speak for her–but in that moment, I knew that my enjoyment of little kid theatre would be destroyed if it were forced upon me.  Even as a child, the things I did purely for capital-F Fun were precious. And so, instead of being nice and supportive, I argued back (which I’m sure was super annoying): “Wouldn’t turning it into work make it not Fun anymore, though? What would you do for Fun if you made that a job?”

I wasn’t suggesting that Work had to be unenjoyable–at least, I don’t think I was.  There were a lot of things I liked doing in a “potential career” way.  I signed books out of my little-kid  bookshelf, organized by author’s last name (not because I was organized–I wasn’t. I just wanted to be a librarian). I regularly turned the basement into a carnival, a stage, a restaurant–anything where I could charge admission. I painted rocks and sold them. I rocked the lemonade stand. At halloween, I even turned my parents’ bedroom into a “mall” and charged my brothers for space and hand-drawn business cards.  

This, to me, was what “work” would look like someday. I created something, or did something. It helped or entertained someone, who then decided it was worth signing up for. If I was lucky, they might even decide it’s worth paying for.

I loved it. But the idea of those considerations tainting something I did purely for Fun was terrifying.

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– – –

The idea of being forced to do my little hobbies for hours and hours every day is not a comfortable one–it wasn’t comfortable in 2005, and it isn’t now. Work means being accountable to other people. It means meeting quotas, training, building, attaining results, providing something to someone. And it means doing all that OR ELSE.

With some things, that would excite me–but with others, it would be draining.  I love doing puzzles in my spare time, but I would be miserable if you made me jigsaw through my 9 to 5. I like playing guitar, watching sports, scrapbooking, cooking new food–but I also like that those things are not obligitory. That they ultimately belong to me, just me.

“What would you like to do if money were no object?” is our most cliched career advice. And I get it, I do. I’m a shameless member of generation “follow your passion.”

But I have abandoned that particular question.  Instead, I ask this one:

What would you enjoy doing even if you were getting paid for it? Even if you had to. What would you love even if it became a Job?

Work-style accountability can take the enjoyment out of a light hobby or interest.  It’s why readers often resent the books English teachers assign.  Or why people edit Wikipedia…while procrastinating from writing a report. It’s what makes some students realize that  they really picked the wrong major, because being interested in something and wanting to do it full-time are two very different things.

Work-style accountability is not totally unmotivating in and of itself.  It’s just different. It changes the reason you do something, the way you do it. If you’re truly passionate about something in a Work way, it can be incredibly rewarding and awesome to go professional. I think everyone has something (maybe a whole lot of somethings) that they would enjoy even if they were getting paid.

Even if they had to show up.

Even if they had quotas to fill, and people to please.

Even if it became a Job.

Right now, we just have to figure out what that is.

7 More Reasons WestJet is Basically the Mr. Rogers of Canadian Airlines

I’m a total fangirl for great marketing campaigns and above-and-beyond customer service.

(Yes, actually.)

So, no surprise, I was really into it when this video of WestJet’s epic Christmas miracle went viral.


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(If that made you shed a holiday tear or two, it’s cool. The internet feels the same way.)

Part of the appeal of this video was how genuine it was. This was a good company doing a good thing, and it got peoples’ attention…including mine.

But WestJet should have had our attention a long time ago. Why? Because they’re basically the Mr. Rogers of Canadian airlines. Seriously.

Here are 7 stories/facts to back that up.  (Note: I have no affiliation with WestJet. Or with Mr. Rogers, for that matter. Zero. I’m just being a total fangirl here.)

1) WestJet employees helped a customer grieve the loss of his family dog.

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If you’ve ever lost a pet, you can relate to the heartbreak this blogger felt when his 7 year old family dog, Hunter, passed away unexpectedly last month. He bought a ticket for the first flight he could find–a 10 am West Jet departure–and headed to the airport. When he got there at 7:55 am, he realized there was an 8:15 flight about to leave. Twenty minutes. Never gonna happen, right?

That’s when things got amazing.

One of the WestJet check-in people must have spotted me. She immediately came from behind the counter and asked if I’m OK or needed help. I told her my dog had just died and I needed to just get home as soon as possible. I remember I had tears at this point. She then did the one thing for me I needed most at this point.  She gave me a big hug of support. She then told me I will be on the 8:15 flight. She called the gate and told them to hold the flight as they had a family emergency coming, rebooked me onto the flight seating me in the front row, and escorted me to the front of the security line. With a final hug she wished me well and sent me towards the flight.

You guys. You guys. I’m melting right now. How sweet is that?

Oh, and this wasn’t just one nice lady. It gets better.

During the flight I was trying to hold myself together as I had a bit of travel to do as yet.  One of the flight attendants noticed my tears, offered me some kleenex and asked if it was allergies. Again I explained my dog had just died. Immediately he stopped what he was doing and spent the next 10  minutes with me (it was only a 40 minute flight so that’s a lot of time!) The flight attendant and I shared stories and pictures. It was nice to be able to talk about Hunter with someone.

He goes on to say that  it only took him only 3 hours to get from that first Ottawa airport encounter to his doorstep in Kitchener. I live in Ottawa, and my family (including our dog, Ella) lives in Kitchener, so I know how fast that kind of travel time is. It’s fast.

I can only imagine how devestating and “I NEED TO GET HOME NOW NOW NOW” it would be if Ella passed away suddenly. I’m sure that compassion and solid service meant the world to this guy.

2) WestJet found a customer’s lost cat…then took her to a vet and flew her home for free.

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When WestJet employees found Willow, a customer’s missing cat, her grieving owner had already left the airport with a heavy heart.  The WestJet response? Totally spot on.

1) They contacted the owner, and gave her updates every step of the way.
2) They brought the cat to a vet immediately to make sure she was okay.
3) They flew the cat home free of charge.
4) When the story got press, they made sure to send out a tweet acknowledging an Air Canada agent who helped to coax the cat out.

The lost cat was not WestJet’s fault.  The kennel was not properly secured, and two cats escaped “after ground handlers picked up their kennel and the bottom fell out of it.” They had no obligation here, not really.  But they did everything they could anyways. Why? Because they’re awesome.

3) Not a cat person? Don’t worry. WestJet helps find missing kids, too.

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WestJet has a partnership with the Missing Children Society of Canada. That means they cover the flights of investigators traveling to find lost kids. It means they reunite families free of charge. It means they help with fundraising events.

And, it means that (like many MCSC partners) they have their employees out in the field looking for missing children. WestJet employees are active users of the CodeSearch app:

[Codesearch] allows MCSC the ability, with the help of local law enforcement, to send out geo-targeted alerts to individuals in the area where a child has gone missing or is expected to be located. Along with notifications, CodeSearch participants can also provide local expertise and resources.

Since abductors are likely to come to airports after taking a child, this kind of front line action is a big deal. They even had a month long campaign in 2011 called Give hope. Take action. where they “invited guests to write messages of hope to families of missing children.” Gold star, WestJet, gold star.

4) WestJet has a partnership with Disney Vacations. That means they have a freakin’ Mickey Mouse plane. Yeah.

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Just last week, WestJet released its new Disney plane, which features a handpainted Mickey Mouse on either side.

As an Ottawa tour guide, my bosses constantly reference Disney Vacations for its f’amazing customer service and general attitude…so the fact they’re trusting the airline to deliver the magic of Disney is serious business. WestJet even had a Mickey Mouse themed unvieling for staff, which is about the coolest internal marketing event I’ve seen ever.


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Also, they serve Disney-shaped cookies on board, so you’re welcome.

5) WestJet provides free flights for sick kids and families in need.

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From donating flights to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, to providing the David Foster Foundation with transportation to offsite medical care, WestJet is there for sick families and kids.

To me, this is not just solid corporate philanthropy–it’s also knowing and understanding customer values.  In Canada, where we so value our universal healthcare, it’s amazing to see a company like this stepping in and doing their part to make sure that a sick kid never, ever means unecessary family expenses.

6) What, an airline with an environmental commitment? Really?

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Yep. Obviously, transportation and environmentalism are never going to be best friends, but WestJet is certainly doing what it can. Specifically:

  • They invest in fuel-efficient jet aircraft.
  • They invest in technology and procedures that enable us to maximize operating efficiency and safety.
  • They invest in infrastructure to mitigate the environmental footprint of their ground operations.
  • They work in good faith with government agencies and regulators to develop rules and policies that further drive our operating efficiency and our ability to grow sustainably.

If that sounds vague, check out the technlogy they’re rocking: a lithium polymer-powered baggage tug, blended winglets, and one of the continent’s youngest and most fuel-efficient fleets.  Their Corporate offices in Calgary are even designed with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System in mind. If you want to fly green(er), this is probably your best bet.

7) They treat their employees right.

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As this Toronto Star article details, WestJet’s great customer treatment can be traced back to great employee treatment.  Some highlights?

  • They call their employees “Westjetters.” Their HR department is referred to as “People.” (You know who else talks to/about their workers that way? Google. And who doesn’t want to work for Google?)
  • Employees are also called “owners,” thanks to WestJet’s generous profit-sharing program. Over 85% of employees own shares in the company, and WestJet matches employee stock one for one.
  • Front liners are given the freedom and trust to go the extra mile (according to one employee: “If there’s a guest coming in on a flight, and I see that we have an earlier flight going through, I can use my empowerment to see if I can find them something earlier.”)

Also…I mentioned the Mickey Mouse plane launch party, right? #swag

– –  – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – –

So, yeah. That viral video is pretty great. But consistently awesome corporate ethics are even better.

Looks like we could all learn a thing or two…from both Mr. Rogers and WestJet.

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30 Reasons it’s Smart to Hire a History Student

When my co-op advisor asked how my current job relates to my History degree, I didn’t know what to tell her. Not because the job doesn’t relate to my studies–it does. Almost everything does, if you ask me. On the transferable skill side, there is just so, so much.

As I sit at the tail end of my History and Communications double major, resume full of business-friendly internships and experiences, I can’t help but notice how underrated the History half of my education seems to be. It has helped me thrive in so many work worlds–from the public service, to high tech marketing, to education and tourism. It’s time we stopped overlooking the History degree.

Here are 30 reasons why.

  1. History students are experts at tracking trends. They know how people, strategies, and time-stamped statistics work (or don’t work).
  2.  …and, yes, they know how to communicate that information back.
  3. When presented with a whole bunch of information, History students are trained to be able to quickly judge what is relevant, and why it is relevant.
  4. History students need to pick up on the jargon, locations, and terms associated with different historical periods and disciplines.  If there’s unique lingo, acronyms, or language that your team/organization uses, they will be quick to understand and adopt it.
  5. These kids know how to write.
  6. Oh, and they know how to summarize. Throw them a hodgepodge of random information, and they’ll turn it into a concise, focused, and coherent package (hey, maybe they’ll even make you a list! Eh? Eh?)
  7. They can recognize long term effects.
  8. …which means they can help develop long term solutions.
  9. And they’re aware that the world changes constantly, so those solutions (and their attitudes) will likely stay flexible.
  10. They recognize the need for a plan B (and C…and D…)
  11. History scholars tend to be naturally interested people. Interested people are the best employees.
  12. They know how to back up their points, and are champions of logical argumentation.
  13. They understand how individuals affect situations and organizations.
  14. They understand how the environment affects situations and organizations.
  15. They understand how internal culture affects situations and organizations.
  16. …basically, History students understand stuff. Or they can figure it out pretty quickly, after years of studying how things play out and why.
  17. Chances are they have an awareness of international relations and the history/culture of different countries. With our increasingly global economy, this shouldn’t be underestimated.
  18. They do their research.
  19. And they do that research well.  They know how to confirm data, to critically evaluate sources, and to filter out irrelevant information.
  20. History majors know how to make connections. They can learn how a system works (or how it doesn’t work) incredibly quickly.
  21. They are open to abstract thinking and ideas.
  22. These are critically thinking storytellers. They can make almost anything look and feel interesting.
  23. History degrees involve seminars and discussions, so a History student will have refined oral communication skills.
  24. History scholars genuinely enjoy learning, and they’re quick to do it. Throw them information, and they’ll catch it.
  25. They know how to use media and technology as a research and a communication tool.
  26. They work freakin’ hard. (I know multiple very smart people who tried taking a first year history class as a “bird course” and either dropped it or called me crying “What why is this is so hard?!”)
  27. They know what kind of innovative, thoughtful ideas have influenced the world in the past. This means that their ideas are usually pretty innovative and thoughtful.
  28. Most History students understand economics—they get how money works, moves, and influences things.
  29. They are trained on how to observe human behavior. Like, say, a client or customer’s behavior.
  30. They can organize ideas into tables and timelines like you would not believe.

Basically, studying History helps you develop key skills like critical thinking, communication, research, and writing.  History students can pick up on patterns and systems quickly, think in big picture/abstract ways…and still rock that always important attention to detail.

I’m biased, I’m biased, I’m biased (so biased, I said it three times). But, hey, at least I recognize that bias, and mention it when presenting a listed-out argument, right?

(History degree, yo.)

Had to. Okay. I'm done geeking out now.
Had to. Okay. I’m done now.