Brush Up Your Suetonius

The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace recently commissioned a study about the value placed on higher education by employers.

I initially only scanned the article, but listening to the Marketplace report on the radio on the way home brought me back to read it again when I heard the president of a technology company talk about how they make their new hires read Cato the Elder and Suetonius. He mentioned they were looking for people who could talk about the process of putting an idea forward, supporting it and problem solving.

“We do that because we ask them to look at the process – the abstract process – of organizing ideas,” Boyes says.

Sounds a lot like an argument for liberal arts education, at a time when more students are being told to study science and technology as a path to a career. Maguire Associates, the firm that conducted the survey, says the findings suggest colleges should break down the “false dichotomy of liberal arts and career development,” saying they’re “intrinsically linked.”

Or, as Boyes puts it: “We don’t need mono-focused people. We need well-rounded people.” And that’s from a tech employer.”

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about how college students need to focus on practical majors like business and STEM fields rather than wasting their time on Liberal Arts. But businesses keep saying they need well rounded problem solvers, not just people with technical knowledge.

Yet that technical knowledge and specific experience is becoming ever more important, predominantly in the form of internships. The Chronicle of Higher Education addresses that specifically in a separate section of their report. What I really liked about it is that it starts by relating a story about a student failing in her internship and learning from it. I think that is a hallmark of a good internship experience.

What I was a little taken aback by was the fact this woman had six internships. My concern is based on the fact that it takes considerable resources to support oneself while they are participating in an internship. Cost of college and the necessity of attending is certainly revealing the gap between the wealthy and those with fewer means. Now to learn that incurring the cost of internships is increasingly important for employment and to see that one woman has worked six of them presumably to make herself more marketable, is somewhat disheartening to someone like myself whose family didn’t have a lot.

I have written about internships a fair bit over the course of this blog discussing the laws that apply to them as well as some interesting ideas for giving arts majors more practical skills through the design of their training programs.

As I read and listened to the sections of this report, it occurred to me that arts training programs need to insure their education and internship opportunities are providing is relevant and valuable. But it also occurred to me that arts organizations offering the internship opportunities would benefit by marketing them to students outside the arts.

The interns from other disciplines can gain the practical experience and educational “leavening” they need to become more well-rounded. The arts organization can benefit in turn by having someone with a non-arts perspective working for their company.

True, this may reduce the number of internships available for people pursuing arts careers, but those students can also benefit from working for a non-arts company to become well rounded in other areas and pick up skills they can bring back to the arts.

Let me tell you, I wouldn’t have thought doing semi-farm work as a teenager would have translated into anything useful for the arts until it came time to drive a farm tractor around while setting up the grounds for an outdoor arts and music festival.

The Chronicle article mentions much the same thing:

Such exercises don’t always ensure connections, at least at first. Jacquelyn M. Lomp, who graduated from UConn last May with a B.A. in English, initially wasn’t sure how her internship, in which she wrote newsletters for the university’s pharmacy department, related to her studies. “I’d go from dissecting different pharmaceutical research,” she says, “to studying Norse mythology.”

Only after college did she come to recognize that both her academic work and her internship required intense focus and the ability to analyze language for deeper meaning.

The title of this post, inspired of course, by the song from Kiss Me Kate:


About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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