October 23, 2017

Webster community weigh in on pros and cons of pursuing specialized degrees

A big debate in higher education is about getting a broad degree for more job opportunities or a more specific degree that is closer to what someone wants to specialize in for the rest of their lives.

Luigi Scire, head coach of the Webster women’s soccer team, said he believes that a more specific degree opens more opportunities in the future.

“I graduated with a business administration degree from Webster—undergraduate in 1987 and graduate in 1989. I can see the argument both ways, but in today’s environment, I think more opportunities are available for those who have more specific degrees. I have used my degree in aspects of my career now, but to me, the more specific, the better,” Scire said.

Nevertheless, Scire said his degree has been helpful in his role as women’s soccer head coach.

“I believe I’ve used some skills from my degree, such as managing the budget and schedule and organizing important things that the girls or I will need,” Scire said.

Maximilian Reid, a 2011 Webster graduate, agrees with Scire.

Illustration by Sarah Blankenship

Illustration by Sarah Blankenship

“Specialization matters so you can see what happens when you commit to mastering something,” Reid said. “It’s good to specialize in the thing you’re most passionate about. A lenient degree suggests a shallow knowledge of many things versus a deeper knowledge of fewer things.”

However, Reid believes all learning is valuable.

“I think it’s a good idea to study as much as you can outside of your major. Study other languages, subjects in the humanities, personal and business finance, psychology or harder sciences, fencing, acting—it’s all valuable.”

Webster’s Dean of Fine Arts Peter Sargent said that students should slow down and think first about the future.

“I believe that only 20 percent of people who graduate from high school should be allowed to go to college,” Sargent said. “A lot of students don’t know what they want to do after college, so it is almost pointless for them to waste their money.”

In order to get ahead in the job market, Sargent said a student should be going beyond just looking at one specific area.

“People should go to schools that will prepare them for college,” Sargent said. “Webster has done a nice job with this through the Global Citizenship Program. Webster is preparing students to become well-rounded individuals.”

Colleges around the nation have implemented programs that allow students to become more usable to potential employers upon graduation. Online School Center conducted a study of the “30 Colleges with the Most Impressive Job Placement Rates and Career Services,” and among the top schools were Syracuse University, Washington University in Saint Louis, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Bruce Umbaugh, a philosophy professor at Webster, helped lead the effort to get the Global Citizenship Program put into Webster to boost job placement rates.

“Employers want students with global experience, and that starts in the classroom,” Umbaugh said. “Students need to have effective communication skills among other things to put them ahead in the job market.”

Since the job market is extremely competitive, Umbaugh believes that implementing such programs at schools is necessary.

Warren Rosenblum, a history professor at Webster, also believes people should focus on getting educated in all subjects.

“Students should be educated in all senses of the word,” Rosenblum said. “Learning just one subject is self-defeating. People regret not studying more liberal arts, not business or engineering.”

Post-degree data

The speech and debate team host an annual tournament, The Gorlok Gala, the last weekend in January at which they award Outstanding Alumni of the Year. This year, one of the recipients was adjunct professor Melissa Benton.

The award recognizes an alum who contributes to the school and gives back to the students.

Benton said Webster University has helped her to see the world as such a big, magnificent place where she could do anything.

“Webster brought color and that was the real thing,” Benton said. “I started to see all the different colors and started appreciating all the different hues.”

At Webster, Benton  teaches interpersonal communication, public speaking, communication and education, as well as coaching the forensic and debate team at Webster.

Associate director of forensic and debate Gina Jensen met Benton as a student who had one goal: to always keep improving.

“She started out great, but certainly she has grown in . . . the depth of her abilities and talents and to me she gets better every year, every semester, every term.” Jensen said.

Benton has travelled with the forensic and debate team and spent numerous hours helping the students improve, coach and judge for the tournaments.

“Her contributions have been great,” Jensen said. “She’s been a great alumni for us, we’re very blessed.”

Benton said the forensic and debate team changed who she was by 180 degrees. She calls Gina and Scott Jensen her mentors.

“They shape me, I have to admit,” Benton said.

Benton received her B.A. in Speech Communications at Webster and later completed her MA in Communication Management.

Benton said Webster taught her there is room for everything and opened her up to different talents she did not know she had.

“[Webster] inspired me to be more self-reflective and look at life with a different lens,” Benton said.

Before Webster, Benton had her associate degree from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia in Opticianry Science, which she used as an optician and general manager at LensCrafters.

Once Benton learned she had fibrocystic tumors and endometriosis, she realized she wanted a different career that would be less stressful.

Coming from a scientific background, accuracy was extremely important to her and is what made her successful in her former career.

“I love the fact that this school taught me that there’s room for everything… you don’t have to be 100 percent right in everything,” Benton said. “That’s with what the Forensics and Debate team did.”

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