Language skills expand career opportunities for UW-Madison students

Image features UW-Madison language and linguistics alumni
During a virtual talk with UW-Madisonundergraduate students, language & linguistics alumni share how language has shaped their personal and professional paths.

“What will you do with that major?” The dreaded question college students face from family and friends after declaring a liberal arts major. UW Languages, an initiative of the Language Institute, in partnership with advisors in the College of Letters & Science language and linguistics programs at UW-Madison, dismantles myths of employability and career prospects for liberal arts students through conversations with language and linguistics alumni.

UW Languages hosted a series of talks with language and linguistics alumni during the 2020-2021 academic year. The alumni represented diverse industries, including government, research, entrepreneurship, education, law, supply chain management, and public policy. The language and intercultural competencies that these alumni possess emboldened them to pivot in exploring and transitioning to new careers and work environments.

“I didn’t have a traditional business background,” said Tony Lathers (‘12), Global Logistics Manager at Trek Bicycle Corporation. “Once I got to UW one of my goals was to learn Chinese. Chinese led me to an internship in Chicago for an importer of Asian foods, and that’s where I got to really learn about the field of logistics and overall supply chain.”

A liberal arts education in language and linguistics helps students to develop key future-readiness skills that are highly sought after by employers. The competencies that UW-Madison language and linguistics students acquire in problem-solving, collaboration in diverse teams, and communication give them a professional advantage.

“Starting a business is all about solving a problem. It was really my background in language and linguistics that allowed me to see a novel solution for a novel problem, said Samantha Beaver (‘16), Founding Linguist of Memra Language Services.“The problem that I saw was failed workplace communications. Linguistics and language have proved to be a good solution to this problem.”

“I credit my education in Classics and the correlative modern language experience with giving me the verbal skills, analytical skills, and research skills that have helped set me apart, especially as I’ve moved along in my career in public policy,” shared Bryce Carpenter (‘04), Manager of Educational Outreach, Strategic Partnerships, and Digital Presence with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “The ability to write, communicate, and argue well is really second to none.”

In today’s economy, there is a growing demand for multilingual employees. Nine out of ten employers rely on employees with skills in languages other than English (ACTFL Making Languages Our Business, 2019).

“Many Latinos, just like myself, struggle with this element [language]. I have a Spanish name, I may have an accent…How do we utilize this to advance our careers?” reflected Luis Valdez-Jimenez (‘15), Contracts Manager & Counsel for OpenExchange. “How can we actually weaponize our background and our heritage in order to help us advance our careers? Language skills are one of the best ways to do that, especially considering how linguistically diverse this country is and the growing spending power that many people in the Latino community have.”

To expand career development opportunities for multilingual undergraduate students, UW Languages has designed a new, 1 credit course debuting fall 2021.

“In creating this course, we wanted to capitalize on all the great programming UW Languages is already doing,” said course co-instructor, Toni Landis. “Showcasing the success of our multilingual alumni builds confidence in students exploring language and linguistics interests and encourages their continued career exploration.”

African 275: Lead with Languages: Putting Language Skills to Work will teach undergraduate students to leverage their language skills to maximize employment opportunities while connecting with multilingual alumni.

Written by Kaitlin Koehler | International Directions Advisor | UW-Madison Language Institute