art supplies (color pencils) in a studio

Crafting a Career

Tulane offers a new take on the liberal arts degree. The School of Liberal Arts offers a Strategy, Leadership and Analytics minor — the most popular one on campus, with about 500 students enrolled — to prepare graduates to be leaders who can manage the dynamics of rapidly changing marketplaces and adapt strategically and creatively for future careers.

A sign in Newcomb Hall poses the question, “Why Major in Philosophy?” A casual observer might assume that college students of today would bypass a Philosophy major in favor of one that screams viral, next-gen or disruptive.

But society still needs Philosophy majors. The world has engaged and employed philosophers in various capacities for thousands of years now. Philosophy students know how to make an argument and how to communicate as effectively as anyone. The philosopher’s job description of 2023 is, of course, radically evolved from one written in 323 B.C., or even 2013, for that matter. Different applications, different practices, different technology.

It was an appreciation for this type of evolution — across disciplines — that prompted Tulane’s School of Liberal Arts (SLA) to create a career-focused complement to its contemporary liberal arts education: the Strategy, Leadership and Analytics Minor, known more simply around campus as SLAM.

Administered by SLA but open to any undergraduate, SLAM is now the largest minor program campuswide, with more than 500 students, and it provides coursework that emphasizes practical skills like financial literacy, analytic decision making, and entrepreneurial leadership, all from a liberal arts approach.

“It’s helped make sense of the liberal arts undergraduate education,” said Dean of the School of Liberal Arts Brian T. Edwards, who reimagined the SLAM program. “There is an anxiety in America among some students and parents about what value a liberal arts education provides and how it can connect with jobs or careers. And this is our answer.”

Grace Browse, a Tulane senior from Massapequa, New York, cited her passions as “art, business and leadership.” A studio art major, Browse said that SLAM brings together all her goals.

“The SLAM program teaches and trains students to become leaders in various types of marketplaces and institutions,” said Browse. “While preparing us for post-college opportunities, SLAM courses educate students on how to be creative, impactful community members within their region and organization.”

Grace Browse poses in front of a mural with flowers
Grace Browse | Major: Studio Art | Interests: Art, leadership, business. Photo by Jennifer Zdon

New Approaches

A collection of 50-plus courses that promote economic planning ability, leadership potential and other career-oriented skills and knowledge, SLAM not only introduces liberal arts students to these topics, but it also helps them consider new ways to approach their careers.

“A fantastic part of this program is that students are gradually introduced to courses that integrate career opportunities and practices. This permits students to learn the necessary concepts and get real practice in their chosen fields,” Browse said.

“A fantastic part of this program is that students are gradually introduced to courses that integrate career opportunities and practices.”

Grace Browse

She said she enjoyed courses such as Financial Analysis and Budgets and Public Relations.

Browse also appreciated the class Ethics in Business “because I thoroughly learned and made presentations about the moral problems that occur in business management. We discussed how popular businesses have come crashing down due to unethical practices.”

SLAM grew from another program that the School of Liberal Arts created in 2015, which was called SLAMM (School of Liberal Arts Management Minor). When Edwards joined the school in 2018, he saw the value of that program, but envisioned a new format that would help students redefine the meaning of a liberal arts education, move beyond “management” and toward a dynamic approach to the careers of the future.

It was also around then that a report issued by Dell Technology and the Institute for the Future asserted that 85% of jobs that will exist in the year 2030 haven’t been invented yet. The magnitude of the prediction spawned some debate, but with the general point in mind, Edwards continued to consider the ways in which SLA could prepare liberal arts students for life after graduation, particularly given the uncertainty inherent in planning for their futures.

“I didn’t want to make a ‘business’ minor,” Edwards said. “We believe that there is a particular approach to thinking about the careers of the future that liberal arts could provide. … The idea was to help train students to be leaders in the fields that they would work in, including ones that don’t exist yet.

“We’re saying, you can be a humanities major or a social sciences major or an arts major and develop the aptitudes and skills to have a great career, and if you pair SLAM with a liberal arts major, you’ll activate aptitudes and ways of thinking designed for the unpredictability of the future. That’s a way of updating the power of a liberal arts education.”

“If you pair SLAM with a liberal arts major, you’ll activate aptitudes and ways of thinking designed for the unpredictability of the future. That’s a way of updating the power of a liberal arts education.”

Brian T. Edwards, Dean of the School of Liberal Arts

Power of Leadership

SLAM students begin with a gateway course called Entrepreneurial Leadership and Problem Solving in a Dynamic Economy. They continue with required or recommended courses such as Microeconomics and Ethics in Business and Management; electives cover much wider ground, including in-demand offerings like sections of world languages geared to business, everyday skills such as Technical Writing, and thought-provoking areas of study like Wealth, Power and Inequality. Some of the courses can also be grouped into learning pathways like Project Management, Arts Administration, and Global Commerce and Trade.

In professor Mallory Monaco Caterine’s Classical Leadership Lab, which she designed for SLAM and also for the Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship minor (offered by the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking), “students learn how to critically analyze historical, literary and documentary evidence from the ancient Mediterranean through a leadership framework, including questions about how one becomes a leader, the role emotional intelligence plays in leadership, and how to navigate transitions in power.”

The lab presents case studies, such as the relationship between young Telemachus and the goddess Athena, who guides him in Homer’s Odyssey.

“What makes someone receptive to being mentored? How does a mentor build trust with their mentee?” asked Monaco Caterine, a senior professor of practice and holder of the Greenberg Family Professorship in Social Entrepreneurship. “I want students to understand that the leadership issues we face today are not new and that looking for leadership in the narratives and artifacts of other cultures and times can provide us with inspiration to creatively meet 21st-century challenges.”

Similarly, Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance Leslie Scott brought her arts administration experience to the Philanthropy and Social Change course, where students lead research on local nonprofits over a semester and eventually award grants to deserving organizations. This past December, the class donated $10,000 to two nonprofit groups that use music and dance to educate and promote cultural awareness.

Data Driven

Three years ago, during the 2019-20 academic year, Edwards charged a task force to determine how best to structure what would become the Strategy, Leadership and Analytics minor, what he called SLAM 2.0.  The group reached out to employers, recent alumni and current students to consider the skills employers look for. How could Tulane present these skills in a useful way? Today’s students need to know how to lead creatively and critically. They should be able to manage a budget. And they almost certainly would have to handle large amounts of data.

“We live in a digital economy, meaning data is one of our most valuable assets,” said business owner and Professor of Practice Allyson Heumann (NC ’96, B ’97). Her course Introduction to Data Analytics helps students gain basic data literacy. “Data comes in many forms; the key to successful analytics is to codify quantitative and qualitative data to tell the end user a compelling story.”

Noting that today’s college students are among the first to grow up in a fully digital generation, she wants them to not only interact with technology but to understand it, as employers will be seeking workers who can provide outcomes based on data analytics problem-solving.

“Students learn how data analysis works in a practical setting throughout the semester. Assignments are primarily pitches for or against the use of technology,” Heumann said of the course, which also teaches skills such as collaboration and persuasive thinking.

“Part of SLAM’s success is its focus on practical data and management skills that have wide application,” said Patrick Button, associate professor of economics and the inaugural executive director of The Data Hub, Tulane’s new campus center for interdisciplinary data literacy and data science programming. Button has taught the popular SLAM course Labor Economics. “How SLAM is incorporating data skills and data-driven decision making into its courses is a clear model for what the Data Hub hopes to build on.”

Lourdes Castillo in the aisle of a theatre
Lourdes Castillo | Double Major: Communication and Theatre | Interests: Performance, promotion and marketing. Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano

Creative Industries

The reframing of business concepts can make a difference to some students.

“Business has a lingo, but it can be translated into a liberal arts language. What’s your ‘pitch deck’? That’s just storytelling — ‘Tell me a story about your business,’” said Vicki Mayer, professor of communication and associate dean for academic initiatives and curriculum.

“Business has a lingo, but it can be translated into a liberal arts language. What’s your ‘pitch deck’? That’s just storytelling — ‘Tell me a story about your business.’”

Vicki Mayer, Professor of Communication and Associate Dean for Academic Initiatives and Curriculum at the School of Liberal Arts

Edwards said he had encountered students who felt that their job prospects would be dim if they followed their passions — studying linguistics, for example, as one student told him in his first weeks on the job — when he knew from countless conversations with employers that liberal arts training was considered valuable in workplaces across a wide range of sectors. “The skills in critical thinking and creative problem solving, the high level of communication and writing skills taught in the liberal arts, come up frequently in my conversations with successful Tulane alumni among values that they got from their own education and that they look for when hiring students,” Edwards said. “How can we help amplify those key liberal arts values while supplementing them with the approach that SLAM foregrounds?”

Enrolled in the SLAM program, Lourdes Castillo, from Los Angeles, is a junior double majoring in Communication and Theatre.

Upon arriving at Tulane, Castillo considered several majors without committing to any. While studying at the A. B. Freeman School of Business, she enrolled in the SLAM course Principles of Marketing on the advice of her academic adviser. It was a pivotal move. Castillo said marketing was the right fit for her, but the wrong major. She switched to the School of Liberal Arts and kept up with SLAM, where she now follows the Promotions and Marketing learning pathway.

“Marketing allows me to reach certain audiences in different ways — not just by performing, but through strategic social media posts, graphic design ... to study how you reach people, stay connected.”

Lourdes Castillo

“Marketing allows me to reach certain audiences in different ways — not just by performing, but through strategic social media posts, graphic design and things like that,” said Castillo, who has completed two marketing internships with theaters. “That’s what initially had interested me — to study how you reach people, stay connected with people and get an audience.”

SLAM may appeal to students like Castillo who want to incorporate additional skills into a career in which, as a creative, they might work on a freelance basis or as an independent contractor.

“There’s a lot of interest in studying what New Orleans is known for: music, film. The creative industries are a large part of our local economy. And students want to come here and tap into that,” Mayer said. “They ask me, ‘How do I get involved with the scene here?’” — meaning, how do they find opportunities on a film set or as a songwriter, for example.

The School of Liberal Arts also offers a new certificate in Creative Industries, which “focuses on the entrepreneurial aspects of making a living as a creative professional.” The courses associated with this certificate are officially part of the SLAM curriculum and an outgrowth directed specifically to careers in the fine and performing arts.

Professor of Practice Bill Taylor teaches in the certificate program. Taylor also runs the Trombone Shorty Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to educate the next generation of musically gifted students in New Orleans, and has worked as a talent buyer for the nightclub and music venue Tipitina’s. This summer he’ll offer Intro to Music Business, co-taught with singer-songwriter Anders Osborne.

“When I teach these classes, I want to make it as real as possible … to demonstrate what it looks like to have a career in these industries, and how you connect with people that are already doing the work and what those jobs look like,” Taylor said.

Andrew Kese stands in front of geometric mural
Andrew Kese | Major: Chemical Engineering | Interests: Energy, engineering, finance. Photo by Jennifer Zdon

Options Open

But for every student who wants to chase down a dream or set career path, there’s another student who is undecided on postgraduate life. Or who simply wants to keep their options open. Having a SLAM education can introduce graduates to the technology and workplace trends that will keep them moving forward but can still be transferable across industries.

Andrew Kese, a senior majoring in Chemical Engineering in the School of Science and Engineering, hails from Berywn, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia. After graduation, he ultimately wanted a job in energy — either in finance or engineering.

Kese enrolled in SLAM to help widen the door of business and consulting. He took advantage of the breadth of courses — including Financial Accounting, Business Ethics and Personal Finance.

“The minor put direction to my core electives, ” said Kese. “I was able to focus them all. And I felt that added value to my experience at Tulane.”

It also opened Kese up to a wider variety of positions, he said, without sacrificing his engineering background. The program “helped me get callbacks, and … gave me credibility when I was applying to jobs that blended engineering and finance.”

“[The program] helped me get callbacks, and … gave me credibility when I was applying to jobs that blended engineering and finance.”

Andrew Kese

He’s now been offered a position in an energy field, and he said the minor has paid off for him already.

Grace Browse, the studio art major, was even emboldened to develop her own business model, all thanks to SLAM.

“A new SLAM topic I was exposed to within the program was entrepreneurship and startup culture,” she said. “This has affected my aspirations greatly. Now, I am not afraid to take my creative business ideas to market.”