Confronting Career Fears: Reflections on Arts and Humanities in Action

The arts and humanities are a viable career path, and there’s a January term class to prove it. Skyla Monroe ’27 sheds light on her experience with the Arts and Humanities in Action program and how it changed her perspective as a current student and future professional.

Confronting Career Fears: Reflections on Arts and Humanities in Action
Many students’ favorite part of the Arts and Humanities in Action class was their trip to Boston. Photo courtesy of Sarria Joe ’27.

“What do you want out of your career?”

On my first day of the Arts and Humanities in Action (AHA) program, I didn’t have the slightest idea how to answer Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science Austin Sarat’s question. Though I’ve thought about what I want to be, I never considered who I want to be. Do I want to be someone who lives to work? What values do I want to be led by? What career and majors would I pursue if I wasn’t afraid to fail?

AHA is an annual January Term (J-term) class designed to expose first-year students to the skills and career paths available to them as humanities majors. The week-long intensive — led by Emily Griffen, executive director of the Loeb Center and special advisor to the provost, and Carla Costa, program director of careers in arts and communication at the Loeb Center — included workshops that focused on building skills in storytelling, networking, and searching for internships.

AHA grew out of a desire to deepen students’ confidence regarding the real-world relevance of studying arts and humanities, Griffen said.  

“Through my lens as a career development expert, I think the program is really important because the skills you develop through arts and humanities education are critical preparation professionally … no matter the career field you pursue,” Griffen said. “But my saying that over and over isn’t enough — students need to see it with their own eyes, and that’s what we get to do in the AHA program.”

AHA intended to show students that a humanities major can lead to virtually any career path. “Majoring in the humanities doesn’t prepare you for something, it prepares you for everything,” Sarat said.

Griffen added that the program is tailored for first-years “to connect with students as early in their Amherst experience as possible.”

Each day during the program, we met with alumni who shared what activities and resources at Amherst best prepared them for their current careers. Additionally, we listened to presentations on the different departments in the humanities led by Professor of Music Jeffers Engelhart, Assistant Professor of History and Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies Christine Peralta, and Professor of Russian Michael Kunichika.

Engelhart appreciated that AHA expands how students view the music department. “With music as a liberal art, it becomes a method of inquiry and a means of communication, not just a space for those with talent and ability,” Engelhart said. “Music becomes a way of integrating experiences across the curriculum and cultivating skills for life beyond Amherst.”

The program’s highlight for many was the trip to Boston, where we practiced networking with alumni at the Boston Globe, Conservation Law Foundation, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Massachusetts Historical Society, and Institute of Contemporary Art Boston.

“By participating in the Boston Trek, my confidence in finding a professional career in the humanities grew,” said George Daniel Dixon ’27.

My favorite moment, however, was our final faculty presentation with Kunichika. During this session, Kunichika spoke about his nonlinear career path in academia and his encounters with sudden failures and rejections.  By reframing failures as opportunities to develop resilience and resourcefulness, Kunichika challenged my own fear of uncertainty in my professional life.

AHA asked me to rethink my ideas about my career and college education. Perhaps the most valuable resource offered by AHA was the newfound companionship of the thirteen other students who participated in the program. While momentous questions about my future remain unanswered, I am comforted by the knowledge that I need not traverse the journey alone.