At first glance, it might appear as though the sky is falling for the traditional liberal arts education. Some proclaim a liberal arts degree won’t be worthwhile without companion “relevant” business courses to make graduates more marketable. A Wall Street Journal article proposes replacing foreign language requirements with computer coding classes because “there is no better [intellectual] challenge than writing code that teaches a machine to do exactly what you want.”
It’s heartening to see, however, there is hard evidence to rebut these sweeping (and gloomy) pronouncements. For the last seven years, Forbes has identified 30 young movers and shakers in 20 different fields ranging from arts and entertainment to finance and venture capital through its annual Forbes “30 Under 30” List. And, while many of the yearly 600 honorees come from large state universities or private research institutions, a significant number are liberal arts college graduates. And, they’re showing up in fields not traditionally associated with those schools.
Another liberal arts graduate on Forbes’ list making a significant contribution to the technology sphere is Tariq Meyers, Ithaca College alumnus and head of inclusion and diversity at ride-sharing leader Lyft. In comparison to other technology companies, Lyft was behind the curve in producing an annual diversity report, but soon after hiring Meyers, the company became one of the youngest to be honored by the Human Rights Campaign with its Corporate Equality Award. Looking ahead, Meyers wants to grow diversity on a team-by-team basis as well as implementing both unconscious bias training and conscious action training.
These efforts at Lyft were a natural outgrowth of Meyers’ time at Ithaca College. In addition to being a Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar, as a sophomore he was elected to a two-year term to the college’s Board of Trustees. He was also awarded the Princeton University Prize for Race Relations for his research and work relating to social consciousness and justice concerning youth in Boston.
While social justice is a common thread for those coming from liberal arts colleges, it doesn’t preclude developing a killer instinct. This is certainly true for Fahmi Quadir, a Harvey Mudd College alumnus and founder of Safkhet Capital Management. In college, she belonged to organizations like Mudders Making a Difference and Claremont Peace and Justice. Yet, it was her contrarian nature—being willing to sell short in a bull market—that led to her success in world finance.
As an equity analyst for Krensavage Asset Management, she bet big that the Valeant Pharmaceuticals share price was about to drop. Subsequently, in a period of two years, its price fell 90 percent. Quadir parlayed this success into raising 200M dollars for her own exclusively short-selling hedge fund Safkhet, named for the Egyptian goddess of accounting, math, and knowledge. Selling short is not for the weak of heart, but as her mentor Marc Cohodes says, “She’s the real deal. I think she’s ruthless, I think she’s cold-blooded, and I think she’s dogged.”
Jonathan Swift defined “vision” as being the “art of seeing what is invisible to others.” And that’s the case for Eric Scott, a Claremont McKenna College graduate. Through a series of career moves beginning at startups like Giftgraph and Wantful, he became an investment partner at Hard, Valuable, and Fun (HVF), a technology investment firm started by Max Levchin, founder of PayPal and Yelp. After being involved in over 60 deals utilizing over 200M dollars, Scott became a partner at SciFi VC, which specializes in startup investments utilizing complex technologies in highly regulated industries.
Recently, in his capacity at SciFi VC, Scott joined the board of Lystable, a freelancer collaboration application used by managers in a variety of creative industries, including publishing, fashion, content marketing, and video production. As Scott says, “The freelance economy is the new normal, and became that way extremely quickly. Companies at the forefront of this trend are scrapping their spreadsheets.” Lystable’s goal? To completely rethink, to re-see, the mechanics and execution of team collaboration on a worldwide basis.
There will always be liberal arts naysayers. In “Why Liberal Arts Degrees Are Worthless,” Steven Waechter writes that a major is worthless if it “only discusses the great instruction in cognitive ability, critical thinking skills, writing, and analysis.”
Those running the largest companies in the world would disagree.
On the other hand, Alex Chriss counters Waechter’s position in U.S. News & World Report: “The uniquely human skills polished by a well-rounded liberal arts education will make job candidates more competitive for all roles in the digital economy.” Chriss goes on to say, “The ‘STEM only’ mindset is misguided because it focuses narrowly on job preparation … though it’s optimistic to think otherwise, technology can’t do everything. Consider creativity, critical thinking, adaptability and empathy, to name just a few of the traits we humans possess.”
And it’s these skills that differentiate us and provide value as opposed, for example, to just being able to code a machine to do what we want it to do.
Need proof? Just look at the liberal arts grads from the Forbes “30 under 30.”