Human Nature: USCA humanities majors are finding jobs, success as they build their careers

Tyler Stephan once imagined his view at work would look a little something like this: Standing ready on the pitcher’s mound, ball in glove, and looking up into a blur of color and noise.

Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Stephan was recruited to the University of South Carolina Aiken to play baseball with the Pacers. But then he tore his throwing shoulder sophomore year. After surgery, his velocity was gone, and with it, his dream of professional baseball. 

But Stephan wasn’t crushed by it. He pivoted, thanks to his decision to major in the humanities. “I was always realistic,” he says. “Baseball was my goal, but I always knew that if it didn’t happen, I needed to have an education and a career path. I just hit reality a little faster.” 

A communication and English major with a minor in writing, Stephan interned briefly at The Aiken Standard as a sportswriter and general reporter. Waiting until 3 a.m. for a high school coach to call him back for an interview after a game told him that career wasn’t for him. But he still had his sights set on sports. He pursued a master’s in communication studies at the University of Miami, where an internship in sales administration with the Miami Heat basketball team led to a permanent job in corporate partnership marketing. He loved it. Then, five years ago, he was recruited back to baseball—to the Texas Rangers in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Now, as the Rangers’ director of corporate partnerships, Stephan manages millions of dollars in accounts for advertisers looking for creative ways for their brand to be aligned with the Rangers, everything from the rights to be named the team’s official beer to sponsorship of suites and signage. “I’m working on custom proposals all day,” says Stephan. “Where I use the degree is how to tell a story of why it’s important to partner with the Texas Rangers for your brand.”

And Stephan isn’t an outlier. A humanities degree may get a bad rap in some circles, but he is just one of many USCA humanities majors who say that their time in the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences has given them a leg up in whichever career they choose.

‘Ready for Any Job’

According to USCA’s Career Services, humanities alumni enjoy job titles like video game designer, environmental resources manager, appraiser, social services specialist, director of medical oncology operations, graphic designer, deputy political director, field agent, newscast director, and many more—for companies such as Coca Cola, ADP, the U.S. Department of Defense and other federal agencies, Gulfstream, and Amazon.

“There is a myth in our culture that if you major in the arts or humanities or social sciences, you’re going to be unemployed or working a minimum-wage job,” says Forrest Anderson, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at USCA. “We know that’s not true. The neat thing about a liberal arts degree is when you graduate, you’re ready for pretty much any job. A humanities degree and professional preparation—these things go hand in hand.” 

That preparation, says Anderson, includes opportunities to explore complex issues and ideas that help future workers think critically and broadly and write cogently, along with tools to help them navigate these issues in the real world. Future workers also learn to ask what problems need to be solved and why they need to be solved—which prepares them both for leadership positions and lives of service. 

In 2018, the American Association of Colleges and Universities surveyed business executives and hiring managers to discover the learning priorities they value most. Topping the list was the ability to effectively communicate orally, think critically and analytically, be ethical in judgment and decision-making, work effectively in teams, work independently and be self-motivated, communicate effectively in writing, and apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings. 

In other words, everything that a humanities degree can provide. 

At USCA, that degree has evolved—and continues to evolve—to meet the needs of a 21st-century workforce. Most recently, the CAHSS has added a new digital humanities minor, where students gain experience researching and building digitally housed projects. There’s a new Media Learning and Research Lab housed in the Department of Communication and Emerging Media, allowing students to create their own podcasts and videos, conduct market research, and more. With most states reporting that Spanish is the most common language spoken other than English, the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures has created tracks in Spanish for business, health care, education, and social services. Visual and Performing Arts also built tracks in graphic design and more to teach the skills required for in-demand jobs. Similar to those offered in STEM fields, the CAHSS is also launching certificate programs in strategic communication, professional writing, and more—all valuable credentials for resumes. 

“College is a pretty expensive proposition for students and families,” says Anderson. “So, when they think about college, they want to get a good return on their investment. And that return on investment is a meaningful career.”

Good Preparation 

Grace Fulton, who graduated from USCA with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, originally planned to pursue a business degree. An avid rider who captained women’s polo and was president of the eventing team for USCA, Fulton thought she’d work for her family’s Maryland horse farm after graduation. But college is a time to rethink what you really want to do in life. 

The business major that she thought would help her run her family’s farm felt too narrow. “There was a heavy focus on accounting and things I was not passionate about,” says Fulton. So, she turned to humanities. “I didn’t want to be boxed in,” she added. “I wanted to have some freedom and be able to figure out what interested me and what I was good at other than riding, and in an academic and professional sense, that was a way to do it.” 

Then her horse was injured during her sophomore year. Without the pressure of just being able to think ahead to the next show, she could press pause and really consider her long-term life goals. To her surprise and with the full support of her family, she discovered it wasn’t horses. Fulton decided to pursue her interest in political science—yet she didn’t want a political science degree. However, how the humanities degree is structured at USCA gave her the freedom of electives to add in some political science classes and further hone her writing skills. She topped that off with a capstone project her senior year focusing on analyzing differing advertising and communications strategies during the South Carolina U.S. Senate race between Lindsay Graham and hopeful Jaime Harrison. 

After graduation, she decided to go big or go home. “I wanted to get some experience where more action is politically, so I went to DC for graduate school.” 

At the same time, she pursued internships at communications and public relations agencies. Her lack of DC experience didn’t hurt her chances. “While other people who were undergrads in DC spent their summers interning at government agencies, I was teaching polo lessons in Aiken,” she says. Still, she found that among her peers, even those with DC connections, she ended up in the same place at the same timeline. 

She says that a humanities major is good preparation for where she is now, a senior account executive at Bully Pulpit International, an integrated communications agency. Here, she juggles strategic communications, marketing, and public relations for a wide-ranging client list that spans corporate, political, and progressive advocacy sectors. Every day is different, and “the best part of a humanities education—in general, and to me uniquely in communication—is that it just gives you such a broad range of classes,” she says. “You can really tailor it to what you want to do. 

“I am grateful I did not solely take writing classes, and I did not get a marketing degree…My class load every semester changed so much, I was constantly changing gears and finetuning different parts of my education. Now, day to day, I feel my attention is constantly changing between clients and tasks and everyone’s different goals, and I think that would have been a lot harder if I had had a more narrow and focused major if I hadn’t had so much freedom.” 

 ‘I Like to Hire Humanities Majors’  

USCA Chancellor Daniel Heimmermann, Ph.D., is a former humanities professor who taught Renaissance literature. So, he might seem a bit biased regarding the degree’s value in bridging graduates to good careers, just as more typical career-focused degrees like business, education, or health care tend to do. But when Eric Jenkins, CEO of SRP Federal Credit Union, made the off-hand comment to him, “I like to hire humanities majors,” it caught his attention.

Jenkins, who has worked in the credit union industry for three decades, is a business economics major himself. He says he very quickly came to the realization of the value of a liberal arts degree early on in his career when he began hiring. “There’s no specific degree that leads into most retail banking careers,” he says; in fact, few of the entry-level management positions at SRP Federal Credit Union require a specific degree. “People think there’s going to be a math or accounting focus, but the reality is that it’s very much a relationship career. You must be able to communicate well both verbally and in writing…I’m not downplaying technical skills, but a well-rounded, articulate team member tends to be more successful than someone who simply knows how to run the software.” 

Now, when he looks at resumes and sees a candidate has a humanities degree, he says he has greater confidence that they will be able to collaborate effectively with team members, write a cohesive report and speak persuasively in public. “The push for STEM education—as important as it is—I think in many ways has caused us to downplay the importance of a well-rounded liberal arts degree where you just can function better. You communicate better, you collaborate better.” 

The credit union works closely with USCA through its internship program; in the first semester of 2024, the credit union had three interns on its rolls—two of which are humanities majors and all of whom, says Jenkins, would have a “leg up” in applying for full-time roles.  

“Gen Z students and their parents pragmatically and understandably want to know what job is at the other end of the liberal arts degree,” adds Heimmermann. “We all know that STEM, business, education, and health fields all get a pass on this question. STEM, in particular, gets all of the attention in our area. But the public often cannot see what we know to be true: the liberal arts and social sciences prepare well students for most present and future careers.”

Another Perspective 

Downtown Aiken’s Savannah River Site Museum is another local employer that has partnered with USCA’s internship program. While the name “Savannah River Site” immediately conjures up images of science and engineering, Ches Matthis is a senior history major who is completing his second internship with New South Associates, which operates the museum. But after graduation, he’ll turn in his intern badge for a more permanent one, as the museum’s curatorial assistant. 

Originally Matthis thought he’d teach college history and planned to earn a teaching degree—until a professor suggested it might be more helpful to major in the field he wanted to teach in. Now, becoming a professor is still a possible career goal, but his humanities major is also opening other opportunities beyond teaching, like continuing in museum work. Linda Lindler is director of the SRS Museum and a history and anthropology major. “It’s all about that attention to detail,” she says, “and being able to take a complicated story and give it back in a way the public can understand…that’s the benefit of a history major.”

Adds Susie Ferrara, SRS Cold War Historic Preservation Program manager, “A huge part of museum work is being an ambassador. While we’re very, very technical, we’ve got to be able to communicate. A person with a history background can turn that around and be a storyteller. And a student with a humanities background has those strong writing skills and communication skills.” 

During his time as a curatorial assistant intern, Matthis has assisted with the museum’s annual fall festival, including securing and working with volunteers; co-manages its social media platforms; leads tours for both adults and schoolchildren; supports collection management, including archiving; and tracks museum visits, a key metric for grants and sponsorships. 

Known for always wearing a suit and looking professional, Matthis has also set the bar high for future interns, says Lindler: “Ches rises to the occasion and handles each situation presented to him. He has a different perspective, a commodity that humanities majors bring to the workplace. They seem to be adaptable, showing that humanities is a very flexible major.”

Growing Demand 

As new technologies like artificial intelligence are becoming imbued into operations within many different industries, humanities majors should be in growing demand, says USCA’s Anderson.

“In a world where many careers are being automated or accomplished with AI, graduates with arts, humanities, and social sciences degrees are proving indispensable,” he says. “Joseph E. Aoun, president of Boston’s Northeastern University, wrote a book called, Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, and he said:

"It’s safe to say that the only jobs not susceptible to automation are those that require crosscutting skills of human discernment and creativity that no robot can approximate. It’s impossible to imagine that AI-powered robots could displace workers in professions that require human judgement, talent, empathy, persuasive power, leadership, or even basic human touch… Subjective, affective human qualities cannot be replaced by machines."

Within the humanities, a music major practicing and playing their instrument as part of an ensemble learns discipline and teamwork. A fine arts major composing a new work learns the art of problem-solving. An English major learns how to think critically and write persuasively, with impeccable grammar and punctuation. Sociology teaches you to understand social dynamics and consequences better. And on and on. 

“The reality is that for Fortune 500 companies, the vast majority of those employees and the people who run them have a background in the liberal arts,” says Anderson. “The reason they have that background is that places like Oberlin, Kenyon, and Harvard are known for being liberal arts-based institutions. For students, I think it’s a great disservice to only focus on the job at the end. By only giving them professional and technical training, they’re not getting the soft skills, the critical thinking skills, the communication skills—the entrĂ©e into that professional world—so to deny them a liberal arts education is to deny them a really good future.” 

As for Stephan, who still gets a pretty sweet view of the ballpark every day at work, he can affirm that. “From a parent’s perspective, what a humanities degree does is open a lot of doors instead of you being stuck in one bucket. Being able to present well and to articulate and to answer questions on the fly and look the part—when I’m a parent, I’m going to recommend to my child that they take a hard look at a humanities degree.” 

New Humanities Workforce Certificates to Meet Workforce Needs

USCA’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences offers eight undergraduate programs leading to degrees in Communication, English, Spanish, Fine Arts, Music Education, History, Political Science, and Sociology. A wide variety of academic minors is also available. “And, in consultation with local employers, we plan to expand our certification offerings in the liberal arts and humanities, whose imparted transferable skills not only prepare students to be career-ready upon graduation but make them highly adaptable, employable, and indeed ‘future proof’ in the ever-changing job world,” says USCA Chancellor Daniel Heimmermann, Ph.D.

The CAHSS is in the early stages of launching new certificate programs available to any student at USCA: 

  • Certificate in Strategic Communication
  • Certificate in Professional Writing
  • Certificate for Spanish for the Clinical Encounter

“We’re thinking very hard about who our students are and what our students need,” says CAHSS Dean Forrest Anderson. “We want these certificates to help our students demonstrate with claims and evidence that our graduates are good communicators, critical thinkers, and open to adapting to new ideas as new information emerges. In other words, we want to give students transferable skills to help them be highly adaptable and employable in an ever-changing job world.

“On the flip side of that, too, we’re thinking about students across the campus—our students in nursing, business, or engineering. These certificates can offer them a background in the humanities and a deeper understanding of themselves and others.”

Strategic Communication is on track to launch in the fall of 2024. Spanish for the Clinical Encounter and Professional and Technical Writing are in the early stages of development.

Career Help for Humanities Majors

·      Advising and professor mentorships

·      The opportunity to be published in Broken Ink, USCA's award-winning literary magazine, or the Oswald Review, USCA’s international journal of undergraduate research and criticism in the discipline of English

·      Emerging Media Lab (see below)

·      Internships, both internal and external, including organizations such as MAU Workforce Solutions, Aiken Land Conservancy, Aiken Solicitor’s Office and private law firms, Aiken Youth Empowerment, South Carolina Department of Social Services, legislative offices, City of Aiken Parks and Recreation, and many more 

·      USCA Career Services, with resources for job shadowing and internships as well as advice about resumes and cover letters and links to a variety of online job boards 

Changing Workforce Needs = Major Changes

Digital Humanities Minor. Designed for both humanities and STEM majors, the Digital Humanities minor allows students to explore and use computer-based tools and methods to conduct research and analysis, such as coding, geographic information system (GIS) mapping, data modeling/mining, and more. Students are makers too, creating public-facing digital projects from the content they have been studying to engage viewers in new and innovative ways. 

Media Learning and Research Lab. This lab provides any USCA student with access to equipment and mentors for content creation and research—and potentially with local and national business opportunities. Specifically, the MLRL provides a dedicated space for media innovations and research, including digital/visual recording, audio/podcast recording, media product editing, student equipment checkout and use, focus group, iMotion research, consumer behavior research, consumer interviews, social media analytics, and other client services and presentations. 

Redesigned Art Major. With input from students, alumni, and industry professionals, the Bachelor of Arts in Art major now focuses on a core foundation in art and design and more advanced and specialized coursework—with concentrations in art history, graphic design, and studio art. These concentrations are connected to bright-outlook occupations in the state of South Carolina and the U.S. to help students succeed in emerging careers in art and design and be more effective working for larger employers or marketing their own entrepreneurial ventures. 

Spanish for Everything. It’s a fact that foreign languages are relevant to workforce outcomes. USCA’s Spanish program has modified its curriculum and partnered with other colleges across campus to offer:

Spanish for Business

Spanish for Education

Spanish for the Clinical Encounter (see above)

Spanish for Social Services