Breaking Business Barriers

(Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
November 2, 2015

Befuddled looks from family, friends and prospective employers don’t shake English major Jolee Parks ’15 when she shares her business dreams. Instead, those looks drive her to succeed as she takes an atypical route to a business career.

What others questioned, Parks, a Milledgeville, Illinois, native, embraced. Instead of using the English degree to prepare for academic, teaching or writing careers, she used it to strengthen skills vital to the business world.

“All everyone thinks you can do is teach, but I’m confident I can be an English major and thrive in the corporate world,” Parks said. “It seems everyone is a business major, but my degree is a differentiator that will keep my options open.”

Parks’ persuasive pitches placed her in position to excel as a role model for fellow liberal arts-focused students whose dreams don’t align with traditional career paths.

She complemented her English major with a management and leadership minor. She proved her value with that academic combination as an intern for Princeton, Illinois-based Allegion LCN and an ongoing experience at Caterpillar Inc.’s Peoria headquarters.

However, it took extra effort to prove to prospective internship employers that an English major belonged in business.

“I expected to set myself apart, but I had to do a lot more to convince people than I anticipated,” she said. “Once I convinced them to look past their preconceived notions of my English degree, they saw how I added value to their companies.”

Parks’ English background taught her to empathize and understand other perspectives, analyze materials and communicate ideas. She also discovered English majors excel as boardroom communicators.

Additionally, she credited her innovative spirit to the liberal arts degree.

“Liberal arts degrees show you’re creative, and my desire to work in the corporate world demonstrates that,” she said. “When presented with a problem, I can come up with a solution someone else might not find.”

That creativity helped her excel as a summer and fall intern at Caterpillar. A member of the global talent acquisition team, she works on macro-level issues within the company’s hiring process. By staying aboard this semester, she has the satisfaction of guiding several projects from start to finish.

Parks will graduate in December — a semester early — with a year of corporate internships on her resume, a unique skillset and a desire to keep challenging stereotypes.

“I’m glad I can be an example and show people what’s possible,” she said. “I hope my career will continue to model how important people like me can be to businesses.”