Autumn 2016

You’re the Star of the Story

There are two words any new graduate is bound to hear: “What’s next?”

Receiving a degree is like reading the first page of one of those Choose Your Own Adventure novels (minus the time travel and talking trees, probably). Your average university grad’s career path resembles more of a winding road than a straight line, with forks hinging on choices and connections, surprises and coincidences. There might be dead ends and disappointments but, for most of us, there’s just as much excitement in the journey as there is in the outcome.

The University of Alberta Career Centre calls this the “planned happenstance” approach. Recognizing that most career paths are shaped by unplanned and unpredictable events and encounters, the idea is that by trying different experiences and meeting different people, you can prepare for the unexpected and be ready to take advantage of it. The chaos theory of careers, if you will.

If you ask alumni about their career journeys, you will hear about plenty of happenstance. Like how an early interest in music brought Amritha Vaz, ’97 BA(Hons), ’02 LLB, full circle from a BA to a law degree to Oscar-nominated music composer. Or how Jimmy Jeong, ’01 BA, got his start as a photojournalist while working at The Gateway. And how the experience and connections that Chris Henderson, ’05 BA, made at the Students’ Union led him to manage winning campaigns for current Edmonton mayor Don Iveson, ’01 BA.

Inspired by the career paths of these and a few more U of A arts alumni, we decided to create a U of A Choose Your Own Adventure story. The book on the facing page puts you in the driver’s seat. Just as in real life, there are plenty of forks in the road and your choices will lead to some very different endings. The story pays tribute to the life-defining choices we all make along the way; it’s a fun way to explore the many roads trod by U of A alumni.

After all, isn’t that why you chose to attend a university in the first place? You wanted the kind of education that would open up divergent paths and offer an introduction to the wider world. Every engineer who had to sit through an English class or arts student who powered through that science prerequisite can thank the Greeks for coming up with the notion that education should prepare you, not just for a job, but to take your place as a citizen of the world. Or, as it’s explained at Augustana Campus, a university education spurs you to build “a personal wholeness.”

So if any U of A degree can kick off an adventure, why does this story begin with a BA? Frankly, the BA absorbs a lot of the questions about the value of a university education. It is a lightning rod for raised eyebrows from skeptical family members, and total strangers take it as permission to make jokes about career baristas. (You’ll find our retort to those folks inside the booklet!)

Of course, as any of our 50,000-plus BA-wielding grads know, along with the wayward ride that is a bachelor’s program come many of the skills for which the current job market hungers: the ability to research, analyze situations critically, be creative problem solvers and share your ideas effectively with others — those so-called “soft skills” that make an HR manager’s heart skip a beat.

In fact, three-quarters of employers give liberal arts education a big thumbs-up, according to a 2013 survey by the Association of American Colleges & Universities. Of business leaders surveyed, 74 per cent said they would recommend a 21st-century liberal arts education to create a more dynamic worker. And 95 per cent value good oral and communication skills, making all those cringe-worthy group projects and presentations (almost) worth it. Thinking on the fly and challenging the status quo, it seems, are just as important as any technical knowledge.

So sit back and put those critical thinking skills to good use in your very own U of A Choose Your Own Adventure story. We hope you have fun with the format and, just maybe, reflect on the happenstance in your own life.

What are you waiting for? Start your journey as a newly minted arts alumnus by clicking on the book cover.

– Lisa Cook with files by Kate Black