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When Giselle Blocker, a UW-Madison senior studying history, decided she wanted a career in business consulting, she turned to SuccessWorks, a new UW-Madison College of Letters & Science initiative designed to help liberal arts students find jobs.

Blocker said the business-specific advisers in the program helped her land a job as a business analyst for Accenture after she graduates this May. Advisers helped sharpen math skills she’d need in the business consulting world, job interview responses and her elevator pitch — skills not necessarily learned in history classes.

“When it comes to being an L&S student, there’s not necessarily one clear path, and that unknown is scary for students,” Blocker said. “I’m a big believer that the best jobs out there are the ones you don’t know exist, and this is the place that will help you figure that out.”

SuccessWorks aims to help more liberal arts students find a job by graduation or soon after amid perceptions about the declining value of a four-year college degree — especially in liberal arts.

The initiative also could help students find internships, provide scholarships so students can work unpaid or low-paying internships or help students when finding a job in a desired career field is unclear with their chosen major.

It comes as college costs have soared and students have been saddled with debt.

“This is a national issue for liberal arts colleges across the board,” said Rebekah Pryor Pare, executive director of SuccessWorks. “A lot of it is driven by this question of return on investment. Parents are saying ‘You’re going to be an English major? What are you going to do with that?’”

That’s the question the new initiative is trying to address at UW-Madison, where the median student debt load is $22,250. That doesn’t include debt from private loans and federal ParentPLUS loans, according to a U.S. Department of Education database.

The cost of tuition, fees, housing and books at UW-Madison increased about 39 percent for residents and 48 percent for nonresidents from 2007-2008 to 2016-2017, according to data from UW-Madison’s Academic Planning and Institutional Research office.

New kind of advising

About 4,000 students have used the program’s services since it opened in September. The program eventually hopes to reach 75 percent of the College of Letters & Science’s approximately 16,000 students each year and to have 90 percent of participants placed in a job by the time they graduate.

Letters & Science students who drop by the initiative’s space on the third floor of the University Book Store can meet with an adviser, get resume writing advice, do a mock interview or network with an employee at one of the center’s six business and employer partners — which include Madison-area businesses American Family Insurance, Epic and Altria — to learn about internship or job opportunities.

Other features of the center include eight “career communities” that include an adviser to connect students to alumni working in that area, internships and jobs.

Those eight clusters include health care and wellness, business and entrepreneurship, technology and data, and government and politics, among others.

The space even includes a closet full of business attire that students can pick out to wear for a job interview or for an internship.

Until SuccessWorks opened, students interested in a certain job field may have not had access to advisers that specialized in that area. For example, a philosophy major interested in business or entrepreneurship may have simply had access to a general liberal arts adviser.

Pryor Pare said SuccessWorks allows students to learn about career fields they’re interested in from people who specialize in those areas and can provide more detailed information. This type of specialized and focused advising is something that liberal arts students at UW-Madison haven’t been offered until now, she said.

University officials celebrated the new center at an open house Wednesday.

Benefits of a

liberal arts degree

Despite a possible perception about the challenge liberal arts graduates have in finding employment, a new American Academy of Arts and Sciences study found that liberal arts graduates found jobs and held supervisory positions at rates similar to their business and engineering counterparts.

The study also found that while graduates in humanities, life sciences and the arts make less money than those in the sciences, technology and math, they reported similar well-being.

And liberal arts graduates still earned more than those with a two-year degree or high school diploma, according to the study.

While SuccessWorks — which UW-Madison administrators say is unique among peer institutions — may help businesses find future employees and the university better demonstrate the value of a liberal arts degree to parents and the public, in the end, it’s about helping students, said John Karl Scholz, Letters & Science dean.

“It’s about helping students capitalize on what is a world-class education and to go on to make a good living and lead a good life,” he said at Wednesday’s open house.

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Chris Aadland is a reporting intern for the Wisconsin State Journal.