A few minutes with: Liberal Arts interim dean Robert Rebein, on the 'Dual Degree Advantage'

Robert RebeinView print quality image
Liberal arts training and education can pay off when job searching both after graduation and years down the road, says School of Liberal Arts interim dean Robert Rebein. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

The School of Liberal Arts has launched a new Dual Degree Advantage program, in which IUPUI students can add a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts to complement their first major/degree within the traditional four-year time frame, at no additional cost. Robert Rebein, interim dean of the school, answered a few questions about the program for Inside IUPUI.

Q: With job markets being as competitive as ever, how does a liberal arts degree offer a leg up? Was there a demand for this program?

Robert Rebein: Liberal arts training and education gives students going into their first job -- or their second or third job -- a real advantage over the competition who don't have that degree. The advantage is especially in those key areas of critical thinking, communication skills -- both written and oral, the ability to work in groups, and the ability to think about matters of diversity and society and how things are changing.

We have heard consistently from employers that they appreciate liberal arts students -- students who have a liberal arts education even in areas that you wouldn't think of, normally. Around one-third to one-half of IT jobs are filled by liberal arts graduates, in part because there aren't enough STEM folks to fill those roles, but also because employers really appreciate liberal arts students and what they bring to the table in terms of soft skills like critical thinking, writing, and the kind of research students do in the humanities and social sciences during their time with us.

Q: There are hundreds of possible dual-degree combinations. What are the ones you've seen emerge so far, and what might be more common?

RR: Some make perfect sense, like combining a foreign language like Spanish, German, Chinese or Japanese with an engineering degree. It gives the prospective engineer the ability to think more globally and to work more closely with companies and projects abroad. Another one is adding, say, economics to a finance or a business degree. That adds a level of theoretical sophistication in addition to this incredible hands-on experience they have had at the Kelley School of Business in a particular field like accounting, for example.

There are a lot of degrees that have this natural affinity for one another, and there are others that you might not think of at first, but once you see the two interact, you see where the magic is. When I was still chair of the English department, I had a student call me from Chicago, where she had just landed her first job. She had majored in marketing at the Kelley School of Business, but earned a second degree in creative writing in the School of Liberal Arts. She called me to say how they told her in the interview that they were giving her the job because of the creative writing degree. That degree, in addition to what they knew she already had in marketing, made her stand apart from the crowd. In that specific job, writing and creative writing ideas were going to be really important, and they knew this particular dual-degree student had the goods to perform at an exceptionally high level.

Q: How does the program enhance a student's time on campus?

RR: Often in one major, your whole life is centered in one building on campus, but earning another degree allows you to interact with a whole new environment and group of people. It adds variety, and it keeps your thinking, your degree plan and even your social life from getting stale. Say you're in the Kelley School of Business or the School of Engineering. To do your liberal arts degree, you're going to be coming into our building and interacting with our students. Before you know it, you're on the editorial board of genesis and making a whole new set of friends that way. Businesspeople like to talk about thinking outside the box; this is like thinking outside your school or the specific discipline of your first degree.

Q: What's the best way for students to explore this?

RR: You can visit our website. If you come into Cavanaugh Hall, there's a welcoming center on the second floor where you can get a lot of additional information. And we have a wonderful advising team on the fourth floor who will sit down with any student and produce the degree map for any combination that interests them. You could come in with a specific degree in mind, or you could talk to an advisor just about exploring the idea of adding a B.A. in a liberal arts discipline. Either way, we're here to help.