Digital Linking Experiences to Employment: Connecting History BAs and MAs with Careers through Webinars

AHA Session 153
Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Lynn M. Sargeant, California State University, Fullerton
Volker Janssen, California State University, Fullerton
Joseph Potvin, Cengage Learning
Lynn M. Sargeant, California State University, Fullerton
Christine Shook, Wells Fargo Family and Business History Center

Session Abstract

Within the AHA and beyond, the conversation about career opportunities for history students is as old as the anxiety over the growing disregard for humanities and social sciences in higher education. Frequently, veterans in higher education remind us of the importance of “soft skills” taught in the humanities and the professional rewards for a well-rounded college education. And on occasion, historians or their allies point to the solid employment record of their Ph.D.s, M.A.s, and Majors in op-eds of big dailies or the pages of less-well circulated publications such as the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Only recently has our discipline begun to follow these words of assurance with significant action. The drastic drop in tenure-track hiring during the Great Recession prompted more history departments and the AHA itself to promote “Career Diversity” for freshly minted Ph.D.s.  Thanks to the AHA-Mellon Career Diversity Pilot Programs, graduate students and new Ph.D.s now probably receive more support than has ever been custom in our discipline.

And yet, the promotion of careers for history majors and M.A. students remains a formidable challenge to history departments nationwide. This is certainly a concern for the students who struggle to explain to their prospective employers why their studies of history qualify them for a position. But this is also a concern for history departments who face increasing pressure from students, parents, and administrators to document the success of their students not only in their field of study but in life after graduation. Many are watching – somewhat helplessly – the gradual decline of enrollments in their major.

Since the summer of 2015, the CSUF department of history has been trying to change this pattern and take active steps in career training for its majors. For example, with the help of the Dean’s office and the CSUF Career Center, Volker Janssen has been assembling panel discussions on career branches that have drawn on alumni participants, seniors in the respective industries, and recruiters. Rather than arrange for on-site events, the organizers developed a webinar format – allowing for participation from across the United States and even overseas at a time of day that works for most of CSUF’s working students. Both as live events and as recordings accessible via the department website, the campus now offers a solid resource for its history students on how to translate the learning objectives of their major into careers in fields as diverse as civil service, public history, the aerospace industry, business and finance, tourism, and NGOs.

This roundtable discusses the challenges of training majors for careers and shares the design of its Career Webinars series by drawing on the perspectives of the organizer, the dean’s office, the recruitment experts at the career center, participating alumni, and recruiters.

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