“So, I see here that you majored in Religious Studies…”
New initiatives in Religious Studies aim to help RS students respond to such a comment by a potential employer. “Most students don’t realize the range of highly desirable skills that their work in RS has given them the opportunity to develop,” says Dr. Corrie Norman, Associate Director of RS, who created a workshop for RS capstone students on translating their RS learning into marketplace proficiencies. “If students are meeting the RS learning goals,” she says, “they are proving that they have what it takes to be successful, contributing professionals. They can manage projects, do data analysis and communicate well. They understand the complexities of human systems and develop cultural competencies that many professional school admissions committees as well as employers are looking for.”
The workshop was featured in the May/June newsletter of L&S SuccessWorks (formerly Career Services). Leslie Kohlberg, Associate Director of Department Relations for SuccessWorks, said that this type of workshop is considered a best practice in the career services field. Kohlberg was impressed that Religious Studies not only ties career competencies to skills employers look for but also is helping students gain confidence in describing the value of Religious Studies to a future employer or graduate school selection committee. Dr. Norman explained: “We can’t expect that most people outside of Religious Studies will understand what we mean by that term much less just how valuable having someone trained in the field can be for their work. We have to help students prepare to articulate these things.” Students develop written statements in the workshop that they can adapt for interviews, applications or elevator conversations.
Partnering with the Office of Pre-Health Advising, RS sponsored a second workshop last Spring specifically geared toward students considering health-related professions. A panel of current RS students discussed how RS was preparing them for medical school, social work, and nursing. Dr. Norman reached out to recent alums working in healthcare fields ranging from health journalism to public health education. They responded with a wealth of advice as well as their own statements about the value of RS for their work. Recent alumna Teja Vemuganti, working with the Washington AIDS Partnership, sent this reflection:
I do HIV education and advocacy for HIV positive homeless women. One of the biggest challenges is stigma. Talking about HIV means talking about sex, drug use, race, poverty, sexuality, gender identity, sex work—topics that make people uncomfortable, like religion. Religious Studies has helped me navigate talking about stigmatized topics. It has introduced me to ideas that I can use to better understand a client’s discomfort and help navigate through it. Theorists whose ideas I am drawing from have helped me understand clients who I might have little common ground with. While N Street Village is not a religious organization, faith is often a source of strength for clients and staff. Having an understanding of religion beyond its institutionalized forms has been incredibly helpful in my work. The skills I have picked up from Religious Studies help me connect with clients and formulate a course of action that is culturally competent and keeps the client’s health goals in mind.