Answering the age-old question “What do you do with an arts degree?"

Ashley FournierI still remember the wave of panic that washed over me three weeks before the end of my final term at Waterloo. The age-old question “what do you do with an arts degree?” hung over my head, and seemed to be amplified into a terrifying “what do you do with a Sexuality, Marriage and Family Studies degree?” to which I had no answer. I applied to every job that I was even remotely qualified for, and held my breath while I wrote my exams.

What I didn’t know during those final weeks of my program was that I was already well equipped and ready for the challenges I would face upon graduation. The program I graduated from, Sexuality, Marriage and Family Studies (SMF), is progressive and promotes outside the box interdisciplinary thinking. I developed an understanding of complex intersectional ties within systems, developed critical research skills, and applied theories learned in the classroom to situations I encountered every day. My involvement with St. Jerome’s Students’ Union and the Beyond U program helped me to understand the value of building community, and gave me the opportunity to develop skills of empathy and authenticity in all of my relationships.

These skills and values helped me to excel in my work. Right after graduation I began work with a community arts centre, bringing the community closer together through simple acts of creativity. I’ve since moved on and currently work with a family mediation service, interacting directly with families who are transitioning through difficult periods in their lives. I attribute much of my success in my work to the dynamic education I received at Waterloo.

I had worked in the annual giving call centre while completing my degree, calling hundreds of alumni, helping to raise funds for Waterloo programs. I always knew that I wanted to give back when I graduated, but it wasn’t until I received a call from a student who was also in the SMF program that my intentions behind giving back became clear. For me, choosing to give back to Waterloo was about more than just ensuring that my degree continues to hold value for years to come. The students that are currently working their way towards the finish line, as I was only a short time ago, will soon be my colleagues in the field. The people that I want to work with are change-makers, people who have learned to think critically and creatively to solve problems and are willing to take risks to achieve the best results.

I know that I will see those qualities in a Waterloo graduate, and I’m thrilled that I can be a part of giving the opportunities that gave me an edge to others.

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