It’s no secret that Missouri S&T is known for engineering. It’s been that way since our founding nearly 150 years ago. The U.S. needed engineers to help fuel the nation’s industrial expansion, and the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy — now Missouri S&T — was established in 1870 to meet that need.
In designing the school’s original curriculum, founding Director Charles P. Williams sought to create “a school of technology” where students first learned pure sciences and mathematics and then applied their knowledge to practical problems. This was in keeping with the vision of Daniel Read, the University of Missouri president at the time, who said: “This school is to be a school both of science and of its applications: its purpose is to teach knowledge and art — first to know and then to do, and to do in the best manner.”
Today Missouri S&T’s reputation for engineering — the “applications” part of Read’s vision — still rings true for many. But the sciences help form the basis of our heritage of discovery, creativity and innovation, and have been integral to the course of study since our founding.
“Missouri S&T may be best-known for its science and engineering, but we are first and foremost a university,” says Stephen Roberts, vice provost and dean of S&T’s College of Arts, Sciences, and Business (CASB). “The word ‘university’ comes from the Latin word universitas, which means whole. The word ‘universe’ comes from the same root. Our job, as a university, is to provide that universe of academic opportunities; to educate the whole person across a broad spectrum of disciplines, to expose students to multiple cultural perspectives, to foster strong critical reasoning, communication skills and quantitative literacy, and to prepare students for sustainable careers in a rapidly changing world.”
Degree programs in liberal arts, humanities and social sciences established in the 1960s helped transform Missouri S&T from a “school” into a full-fledged university. But even as early as 1878, the institution offered courses in foreign languages, bookkeeping and a preparatory program for teachers. And in 1893, according to historical records, Professor Thomas Lewis Rubey was teaching psychology, along with courses in history and grammar.
S&T’s programs in business, the sciences, the humanities and liberal arts produce successful Miners who go on to careers in a wide range of fields, including education, scientific exploration, publishing, medicine, business, public service, writing and editing, and law.
And often, those careers are lucrative.
Counter to the narrative that liberal arts graduates can expect to struggle financially, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation released a new study that indicates liberal arts grads actually earn competitive salaries.
Of course, the study doesn’t claim these graduates will out-earn their engineering counterparts, but it does refute claims that a liberal arts education isn’t worth the cost. It also notes the advantages of a liberal arts education in terms of learning to think critically, solve problems, communicate effectively, understand our world and contribute to making it a better place.
The study’s authors, Catharine B. Hill and Elizabeth Davidson Piscreta, work for Ithaka S+R, which conducts extensive research on the economics of higher education.
Hill and Piscreta found that one reason liberal arts graduates earn competitive salaries is the diversity of fields they study. At S&T, liberal arts and business graduates have a further advantage, as STEM-oriented institutions were found to raise the economic outcomes of all their graduates.
Those humanities, liberal arts, sciences and business programs also provide essential knowledge to develop well-rounded students of all majors.
And well-rounded graduates are what today’s employers are looking for.
A recent Cengage survey of more than 500 hiring managers and 150 human resources professionals lists “soft skills” like listening and effective communication among the top skills valued by employers. Similarly, a 2016 engineering.com article includes three so-called soft skills among the top five skills engineering recruiters and hiring managers are looking for. Not surprisingly, technical skills topped the list, but were followed closely by communication and interpersonal skills. Problem-solving and a combination of enthusiasm, commitment and motivation round out the list.
At Missouri S&T these skills are known as “core competencies,” and career opportunities and employer relations staff members help make sure our students excel in them.
“S&T subscribes to the Eight Core Competencies put out by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which include communication, problem-solving and teamwork skills,” says Will Zwikelmaier, director of career opportunities and employer relations (COER) at S&T. “A major role of our office is to make sure that our students are prepared with these competencies to make themselves great employees and continue to make S&T an attractive pipeline for a competent workforce on top of a knowledgeable and skillful one.”
That philosophy applies to all students, not just those in engineering disciplines. One common misconception is that employers don’t recruit for sciences, business or humanities majors at S&T, which could make the post-graduation job search challenging.
Zwikelmaier says that isn’t the case.
“Companies regularly recruit CASB grads at the career fair,” Zwikelmaier says. “Most companies that come to our school seeking to hire CEC (College of Engineering and Computing) grads also have positions available for CASB majors, and many come seeking specifically CASB majors. It is our goal to add more employers seeking CASB grads to our on-campus engagement opportunities.”
S&T’s career fairs, held twice yearly, continue to grow in popularity. Last fall’s event drew a record 331 employers, many of which were seeking students from disciplines outside of engineering. COER is working to expand its opportunities for CASB students by providing access to employers in ways beyond traditional on-campus recruiting.
One example is Handshake, a custom digital tool that connects employers around the country directly with S&T students. While Handshake benefits all job-seeking students, it is especially helpful for those looking for jobs in sciences, business, humanities and liberal arts. Firms seeking those majors often recruit on a different timeline than most engineering and technology firms, Zwikelmaier says.
“Through Handshake, we can post jobs directly from employers to our students, and we vet every single posting,” he adds. “Students can use the application to build a profile that is visible to employers who are directly seeking our students. If students upload resumes into the system, we can provide employers digital books of all resumes when they call seeking to hire someone from a particular major.
“There are a plethora of opportunities available to students that put them directly in arm’s reach of employers who trust in our reputation as an institution,” he says.
COER recently surveyed employers who hire S&T graduates and found they most often seek new hires who show initiative, are personable team players and detail-oriented, and possess a good work ethic and strong communication and problem-solving skills. Those characteristics are developed through a broad education.
“We can’t do that simply by requiring students to dive deeply into a single discipline,” says Roberts. “For students to graduate from S&T with the capacity to help solve the many serious and complicated challenges our society faces, they must have broad educational experiences that teach them how to approach and solve problems in many contexts and along many dimensions.”
Roberts is founding dean of CASB, and he takes pride in what the college offers to students of all majors.
“Majoring in a CASB program at Missouri S&T provides you with the very best of two worlds,” Roberts says. “You get the small liberal arts college experience while still being a part of a major STEM-focused research university. You get to enjoy a lot of close contact with and mentorship by professors, small upper-division courses with personalized attention, and incredible opportunities to conduct meaningful, original research as an undergraduate — often, even as a first-year student. I know that our students are being well served by the rich, exciting educational opportunities CASB provides.”