Language students draw valuable lessons from alumni

December 3rd 2015
Arts & Humanities, Students
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When UW-Madison alumnus Brett Schilke (B.A.'08, Psychology) asked a room of UW-Madison language students if a friend or family member has ever doubted the value of their language studies, almost every hand in the room went up.

Schilke, along with a group of six other alumni, returned to campus to address language students last month at the Language for Life event hosted by the UW-Madison Language Institute. The alumni mentors came prepared to tell students how they found value in their language skills, with careers to prove it.

Schilke kicked off the event with a talk about developments in technology, and how they reduce the demands for certain jobs that rely on repetition. Number-crunching careers like accounting and industries like shipping and packaging, Schilke said, are just some examples of areas where machines are quickly replacing manpower. On the other hand, jobs requiring language skills are more in demand than ever, according to Schilke.

"You're able to use the skills that you're developing in any direction you want," Schilke said. "You can take your language skills and go out and be a translator or a teacher. You can go over to Google and be part of their natural language processing team, or work on a robot in Japan that's going to treat patients with Alzheimer's."

He urged students to think about job options that they might not realize use foreign languages. While Schilke works in Silicon Valley at a youth and educator leadership initiative called Singularity University, other alumni in attendance hold positions in business, optometry, translation, outreach programs, and sales.

Ashley Gordon, a student in French and public relations, said attending Language for Life gave her future plans a sense of direction.

"French and public relations are two pretty broad fields. The alumni I spoke with reassured me that because of this, I have lots of options for my career," Gordon said. "They also helped me narrow down my goals and let me know of resources and potential employers that I didn't even know were out there."

With new professional connections and advice in tow, students left the event with Schilke's call to action.

"Start thinking about the skills that language gives us in a very different way," Schilke said. "We have these skills that are very flexible, adaptable and that we can actually use in lots of different careers."

Story by Nicole Hurley, Language Institute

Tom Kuplic (B.S.'97, German; M.A.'00, Comparative Literature, Ph.D.'07, Romantic Cultural Studies), center, discusses his career journey with students. Tom Kuplic (B.S.'97, German; M.A.'00, Comparative Literature, Ph.D.'07, Romantic Cultural Studies), center, discusses his career journey with students.