Last week's Career Fest 2002 was not a hot bed of the smiles and handshakes of twenty-somethings landing their first "real" jobs, but rather characterized by strong negative emotions of pity, loathing and contempt. A large percentage of students, mostly liberal arts majors, mentally hurled roiling waves of contempt at lines of technical, medical and business majors who enjoyed high demands for their skills while they toiled for the crumbs of leftovers.
Computer science, engineering, pharmaceutical and business majors could not squelch their instinctive pity for their history, political science, English and philosophy brethren wandering aimlessly throughout Alumni Arena in a vain search for employers who offered jobs that were more than "hot or noisy" as one student described them.
Senior Vinh Trang, a computer engineering major, couldn't help but voice his sympathy for the many liberal arts majors wandering around dazed, as though in a fog. "I'd be so nervous if I were one of them - so close to graduation without any prospects."
Sponsored by the Office of Career Planning and Placement, big-name companies dominated the fair. Companies like high-tech IBM and Lockheed Martin, pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Parmed Pharmaceutical, and financial corporations like HSBC and Wells Fargo Financial.
Trang faced difficulty choosing between ClientLogic, who offered a $10,000 signing bonus or Computer Associates, who promised comprehensive health coverage. "I'm just not sure which company to choose," he said. "Both are equally tempting."
Stephanie Wilson, a senior history major, did not face as daunting a choice, identifying Walgreens and Target Stores as her best prospects. "When the rep. asked me what I could bring to Azerty (Inc.), I just went 'Uhhh.'"
Staring at the long line of pharmaceutical majors waiting at Independent Health, Wilson shook her head. "I hope they all get painful athlete's foot," she said.
Dan Ryan, director of Career Planning and Placement, defended the fair's lineup. He asserted that liberal arts majors should get used to being treated as second-class citizens in the job market. As the American economy will rely more on specialized technical skills, those without the skills will be left behind.
"This was a humongous waste of time," complained senior Luke Rogers, a political science major. "I could get a job with Cintas, 'The Uniform People!' I always wanted to sew those brown UPS uniforms."
"Hey, we tried," pleaded Ryan. "But why would Boeing pay a 22-year-old $35,000 a year to analyze the partisan re-alignment of the South in the 1980s?"
The pity felt by many attendees also mixed with bemusement. Business major Suzanne Clemp remembered standing in line for the HSBC display, seeing one student walk in, look over the packet listing the companies in attendance, throw her hands up and walk out.
"I turned to my friend and we laughed and laughed," she said.
Liberal arts majors also felt pity - for themselves. "Look at that," exclaimed Angela Spica, a senior English major. "$40,000 starting salary for computer people at the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Good thing I studied Melville's 'Redburn.' That'll come in handy digging ditches in Sierra Leone with the Peace Corps."
Even the U.S. Census Bureau and the FBI - typical of the government agencies long thought to be havens of employment for liberal arts majors - were primarily interested in students with computer-oriented degrees.
"Christ, if the federal government isn't interested in political science majors I may as well become a lumberjack," said Rogers.
Computer science major Seung Joon Kim wasn't very enticed by the FBI, but checked out their offer anyway. "I thought it'd be good for a laugh. They offered me a job on the spot, but I turned them down.
"Who'd want to work for the government? It's so boring," he said.
Trang believes there will always be a need for liberal arts majors, regardless of their seeming lack of skills. "I'll always need somebody to baby sit my kids or wash my car.
"They could do that. I'd give them a couple of bucks. I bet my friends would too."