By: Nick Santangelo

There’s a common misconception among many people choosing a college or university that in order to work (and be successful) in the business world, a business degree is a must. And while that’s certainly a viable path, it’s just one of many.

Getting a liberal arts education, for instance, can further your ability to think critically and make strategic decisions by instilling in you a unique worldview. And with businesses increasingly looking to build diverse teams of professionals with varying backgrounds to help them find creative solutions, College of Liberal Arts (CLA) educations are opening more doors for graduates than ever before—including doors they may never have even thought to look at.

That’s what happened for Edwin Plotts, CLA ’13, who thought he wanted to be a teacher after graduating with dual degrees in English and philosophy. Like 40 percent of Temple University students, Plotts came to CLA as a transfer student. A Philadelphia native, Plotts wanted to stay in the city and earn an affordable bachelor’s after receiving his associate degree at Montgomery County College (MCC). And after connecting with one of his English professors at MCC and receiving high praise for his writing, Plotts knew CLA could offer him the type of coursework that excited him.

“I wanted to further pursue English and writing and essaying,” he says. “Creative writing, as well, and all of it, also kind of led me—it kind of bled into philosophy because at the time, I was doing so much personal seeking, in terms of stepping out of religion, and just asking larger philosophical questions. Which I found to be extremely interesting, and tied very well with communication, persuasion, creative problem-solving.

“That's what really led me to philosophy and English at Temple, and I loved the courses and the experience at Temple. I had several teachers who I'm sure I'll always remember.”

One of those professors is now-retired English Professor Samuel Delany, a world-renowned science-fiction author whom Plotts describes as being so energizing it was like having Stephen King as his mentor It’s not a far-fetched comparison when you consider that Dr. Delany was a Grand Master of Science Fiction who’s authored over 20 novels and several dozen other works.

Marketing is actually uniquely suited for someone who is passionate about creative writing and philosophy 

Plotts was also impressed by former Philosophy Professor Lewis Gordon and his command and articulation of complex ideas. But perhaps most importantly, Dr. Gordon’s ability to engage with students and keep them entertained made him “easy to listen to,” says Plotts. Dr. Gordon’s honors course in Philosophy of Horror was like a “dream discussion topic” for Plotts, one he doesn’t think he’ll ever forget.

It's no surprise, then, that his first instinct after graduating was to pursue a career as an educator himself. But Plotts changed his mind and wanted to do something else. The trouble was, he didn’t know what that something else should be. After spending a few years serving tables, Plotts realized he had all these great skills from his time at CLA, and he was tired of not putting them to professional use.

A friend of the family with a highly successful career was willing to offer some advice. If she was going to help Plotts, though, she wanted an assurance that he would follow through on her recommendations for him. He promised that he would, and then he did.

The mentor noticed a social media internship at the Temple University Library near the bottom of Plotts’ resume. She suggested he move it to the top and make that his focus. He did so and also began volunteering as a social media manager for local non-profit The One Lesson Foundation. That led to a social media and copywriting internship at kitchen supply company Fox Run Brands.

“I found that marketing is actually uniquely suited for someone who is passionate about creative writing and philosophy, because it's the things I like most about it really folds into it,” says Plotts. “It's about persuasion. It's about putting yourself in others' perspective. It's about creative problem-solving.”

Plotts was eventually promoted to a regular role as the company’s Digital Marketing Coordinator, but his opportunities to learn from others and continue growing were limited, so he looked outwards. He found a program called the Startup Institute and enrolled in a two-month accelerator program in which he was mentored in the marketing and networking skills he’d previously had to self-teach himself. It paid off, and Plotts landed what he calls his “dream job,” in growth marketing at Ladder Digital in New York City. Today he’s the Head of Growth at Ladder.

You're going to bring a new perspective.

Speaking of, when Ladder looks to fill jobs, Plotts says it values diversity and that the most important things hiring managers look for are knowledge of how to learn, communicate, think critically and leverage creativity—skills Plotts refined at CLA. On his team are professionals who've previously had careers as skiing instructors, professional poker players and crypto investors.

“It really doesn't matter what your degree is,” explains Plotts, “and if anything, actually, I think it's more valuable for you to be in a degree that isn't necessarily aligned with, or isn't necessarily named after the industry you're going in, because you're going to inherently bring something new to this table. You're going to bring a new perspective.

“You're going to still have the same skill that everyone else has, in terms of, I can learn, I can teach, I can communicate, I can commit, I can deliver, I can be reliable. In marketing, for example, I can now come to the marketing world with a perspective that is actionable and different and that was crafted from my passions in college, rather than coming to the marketing industry and having this understanding of what marketing is from a textbook that everyone else read and could be outdated by the time you graduate, anyway.”

Plotts’ advice for incoming liberal arts students, then, is to do what you’re passionate about. Find a major that’s meaningful to you and commit to it. And when you finish the degree, he says, don’t ever let yourself fall into the trap of thinking it’s not a useful degree. Take the unique perspective you develop at CLA, proactively network and promote yourself, and you can find a fulfilling career—even if it doesn’t look like a straight line from the title of your degree.

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