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Securing America’s Future:

The Power of Liberal Arts Education

Sara E. Wycoff

Strategic Advisor, Executive Office of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder
Albion College (MI), Class of 2008
Sara E. Wycoff is strategic advisor in the executive office of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
 
Previously, she was policy analyst for the Kildee Grant at a Michigan State University state and local government program and a special policy advisor at the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
 
Wycoff was a political science major at Albion College and participated in the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service. She completed a master’s degree at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
In his book The Know It All, A.J. Jacobs, one of my favorite authors, wrote about his desire to be a Renaissance man like Johann Goethe. Goethe is probably best known as the author of Faust, but Jacobs notes that he had more than 18 unconnected careers in his lifetime; everything from botanist, to mine inspector, to lawyer. Jacobs goes on to lament about what has become of today’s career expectations, half-seriously and half-jokingly, telling readers that today’s job seeker cannot just be a mollusk scientist but instead must concentrate on his or her specialization, something like a northeastern digger clam reproductive scientist. Ha!
 
I wouldn’t go quite as far, but Jacobs’ point isn’t one to be taken lightly. So often, we advise students to choose a singular career path at a young age to be successful. As a high school student, I too felt that pressure. But thankfully I ended up at Albion College where I was able to, as Jacobs puts it, “snack off the pupu platter of life.” While my main dish was politics and policy, it was flanked by myriad courses ranging from environmental science, to communications, and even piano.

Public policy is inherently a liberal arts exercise.

Education and employment aren’t much different from a meal; each happens in context, not in isolation. It’s rare that I eat a burger without fries much as it is rare, nearly impossible, that I face a political or public policy challenge that doesn’t concern subject matter that requires me to use my background in other subjects, such as science or communications. Public policy is inherently a liberal arts exercise.
 
The first test of my liberal arts education was as an employee in the government relations division at Kellogg Company. It was actually my background in environmental science and understanding of how ethanol policy affected domestic food prices that most affected my work during my employment, not my knowledge of political science. My scope of knowledge was advantageous then and remains so today.
 
Six years later as a strategic policy advisor for Governor Rick Snyder (MI), my liberal arts education has only become more relevant. My education has given me the skills needed to be a policy generalist, with the good fortune to work on many varied public policy areas from local government to economic development to public safety and more. It also has given me the ability to connect varied subject matter, think critically and quickly, and confidently explore unfamiliar subject matter. Best of all, it prepared me for a career helping the people and the state I love.
 
My varied skill set has prepared me with transferable skills for an ever-changing economy. As a result, I’m confident that I won’t become bored like some of my peers who find their taste for their work dulled after years of the same.
 
Although I’m sure there is a place for the mollusk specialist, today’s economy, history, Goethe, and A.J. Jacobs make a compelling case for the occupation of Renaissance woman.
See who else studies the liberal arts.
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