From the Dean's Desk: The Value of a Jepson Degree

March 2008

Prospective students and their parents have the same questions: What is a Jepson degree about, who is it for and what is its value?

This year, we’re continuing our efforts to address these questions. We have begun to standardize our language about the academic program so that it is described similarly in different venues. That’s a sort of minimal requirement though, one that doesn’t yet come close to fully answering the concerns an aspiring or even committed Jepsonian may have.

So how do we describe a Jepsonian? Past or present, one feature stands out: They are risk takers! Our students are self-assured enough to stray from the straight and narrow major into something a bit more murky, less well-defined, and with no one career path at its end.

This is as true of our students today as it was in the earlier graduating classes. This isn’t to say that we don’t see patterns in what our students do when they graduate. We do. In fact, one of the things we have started doing more of this year is collecting and analyzing data on what our graduates do when they leave us.

We’re slowly constructing an accurate picture, although we need to work more to find out which graduate school programs alumni enter. I’ll write more about this pattern in an upcoming newsletter. For now, I can say that most of our working alumni are in the business world (for-profit and nonprofit). Many also enter the legal profession and work for the government.

Recently, I was lucky to be able to sit in on Dr. Gill Hickman’s Theories and Models class as a few of our alumni gave advice and shared insights with students. There was an extraordinary variety in what these six alumni are doing now. The group was comprised of a lawyer, a medical doctor, a physiotherapist, a specialist in green technology for GE, an advocacy worker for multiple sclerosis, a member of Gov. Kaine’s administration and a chief of staff for the chief technology officer in the District of Columbia.

Students were given the opportunity to find out whether these young professionals use their Jepson knowledge in their everyday lives and careers. The answer was a resounding yes. But perhaps more significant, given that current students need to nail down their internships soon, Dr. Hickman’s students wished to know the answer to the proverbial question: How do you explain your degree to a potential employer? The alumni answers varied but I was pleased to hear that the overall message was in-line with my own thinking on this: “Say you’re a risk taker. Use the degree to show that you’re different, that you stand out. Say you can think analytically and synthetically. That you can reason. That you can lead by example.”

One alumna reminded us all that “there’s not a job fair out there that says if you’re a leadership studies major, here are the jobs for you. We’re all doing different things with the same experiences and same classes. Be confident in your degree and in who you are.” A second told the students: “Really play up your degree and the Jepson School. Leadership studies distinguishes you from every student at every other school. It’s a good opportunity to distinguish yourself.” A third proclaimed boldly, “However you define the degree, make it your own. You’ve got to feel it with a passion, what it means to you. It’s a beautiful degree.”

All agreed that this degree is the first thing employers ask about. It’s quixotic. But it’s valuable, like a rare gem. Just like our students and alumni who have signed on for on such an unusual major. Celebrate it!

Sandra J. Peart
Dean, Jepson School of Leadership Studies
University of Richmond