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Phoenix Forward magazine

Want adaptability in a changing world? Study arts and sciences, says President Bill Pepicello

Bill Pepicello
University of Phoenix President

“College administrator” was not exactly the career description Bill Pepicello, PhD, had in mind when he studied the classics as an undergraduate student, nor when he focused on linguistics in grad school and for his doctorate at Brown University.

But today, he’s president of University of Phoenix, the largest private, for-profit university in the United States.

Looking back, he says he knows he made the right choice by pursuing humanities programs.

“What I really was doing was following my passion,” Pepicello says. “I certainly never set the goal of being president of University of Phoenix — or anywhere else — but this is where my passion led me.”

No diploma can guarantee a job, much less career success, Pepicello notes. Students have become more pragmatic about their education, and interest in information technology, health care and even business overshadows the humanities today. But studying the arts and sciences can help foster creativity and problem-solving skills that will help students adapt to a constantly changing workplace later in life.

“The value of liberal arts, or arts and science education, is still essential to success in life,” he says. “I think that liberal arts are now sort of the complement to the job skills students are looking for.”

The value of liberal arts, or arts and science education, is still essential to success in life.

Supporting Pepicello’s remarks, recent studies have shown a divide between what employers are looking for and what employees think they’re looking for. Employers say they’re more interested in hiring creative problem-solvers who are willing to learn new skills, rather than workers who have previous experience specific to a skill set.

“The liberal arts are not something one pursues in isolation, but integrated into the very fabric of the curriculum,” Pepicello adds.

That’s important insight for college students, he points out. The cutting-edge scientific or technology skills being taught in school today have a limited shelf life. Those who broaden their knowledge by studying the humanities develop the tools to extend their expertise and have more job opportunities after graduation, he adds.

And that is how a linguist becomes a college president.

Pepicello credits a professor in his undergraduate studies at Gannon University in Pennsylvania for making him aware that he could become more than he imagined. “He encouraged me to follow my passion,” Pepicello says.

It’s a message he has firmly adopted as his own, and one that he’s lived by since college, noting that it’s key to “find something you’re passionate about, work hard at it and take every opportunity to learn more.”

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