You majored in religion? So… You’re a priest?

Blaine Billingsley

Blaine Billingsley, Religion Alumnus

If you haven’t heard of Google you’ve been living as an ascetic in the desert–St. Antony style!–for the last 15 years. Blaine Billingsley, one of the UVM Religion Department’s alumni, is currently working as designer for Gmail–and to be completely honest, before hearing him speak I had no idea how he got there.

In a way, Blaine stumbled upon his position at Google. With no experience in coding (apart from what all of the Myspace generation had of HTML), Blaine was living in Austin, Texas when a friend suggested they move to San Fransisco. Within weeks Blaine was living on the edge of Silicon Valley working at a low budget startup learning the ropes of Excel data entry. Blaine laughingly told us that he told his interviewer that he was “EXCEL-ent” and knew exactly what he was he was doing… but he didn’t. He “EXCEL-ed” anyway, and eventually landed at Google.

Since joining Google, Blaine has actually done some interviewing himself as a hirer for Google. He says that Liberal Arts students are at the top of his list of candidates. He remarked that the majors in the humanities create “good thinkers.” He expressed that having been a religion major, he sees the world creatively and he brings new ideas to the (tech) table. Speaking with him was a pleasure and I personally found it reassuring that while building resumes is important, building people is vital as part of higher education.

Blaine says that when someone reads your resume and sees “Religion” as your major, they often ask if you are a priest – once you explain you’re not, you get the opportunity to explain what it is you actually know from college. “When you major in business, people have an idea of what you learned in college. But when you major in religion, you get to set those expectations of what a religion major does,” Blaine said.

After this discussion, we moved on to the most important bit: what was his most notable Sugarman story? Blaine’s response: Upon graduating from high school he deferred for a semester to trek around Europe (I’m envious). While in a crummy Venice hostel he met two Americans and told him he would be heading to UVM in the spring. They immediately replied: YOU HAVE TO TAKE A CLASS WITH SUGARMAN! So now with Sugarman in mind, he headed to Germany where he met ANOTHER UVM pal who also urged this soon to be religion undergrad to absolutely NOT–under any circumstances–miss out on the Sugarman experience.

It’s rare that current students get to hear directly from alumni, and as a current REL major, it was refreshing and a relief to hear of success for religion majors (especially outside of academia). Look out Google, I may not know business or high-level tech, but I’ll soon have the same credentials as Blaine.

Interested in more events like this? Join the RelStuds (or Religious Studies Club)! Check us out on instagram: @relstuds or on Facebook.

Spreading the Good News: AAR’s Religious Studies Major Survey

As some of you know, we here in the Religion Department–thanks to Kevin Trainor‘s successful grant application–participated in the American Academy of Religion‘s Survey of the Long-Term Impacts of the Religious Studies Major. Here’s what AAR says about the purpose of the survey

The focus of the survey is not merely upon what former majors are currently doing, but also upon what they learned (and what they wish they had learned), what parts of the major they have found to be useful, and how the study of religion has shaped their values and actions.

We are thrilled to report that of our roughly 330 alumni, 116 participated in the survey; our 58% response rate far outpaced the 37% response rate for the survey as a whole. Not only does this (statistically significant) data help us pinpoint what we do well so that we might keep on doing it, but in the couple of months we’ve had the results, it has already helped us think critically about where we might better serve our current and future students. We are so grateful to all those who participated, and as we continue to sift through the data and comments, we will make available additional information.

Here are some highlights:
(click the images to enlarge)

  • Our alumni report a 95.7% employment rate, which is more than 10% higher than the national religion major data (82.3%).

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  • Our alumni work in a variety of fields, from medicine to education to environmental science. The following represent the top areas of employment (i.e., above 7% of respondents):

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  •  The majority of our alumni report being satisfied or extremely satisfied with their Religion degrees:

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  •  And, our alumni overwhelmingly agree that their education contributes to their quality of life.

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This last chart is sure to please Prof. Richard Sugarman, who not long ago quipped to Seven Days that:

“Right now everybody is concerned with making a living. Perfectly understandable,” he says. “But you also have to make a life.”

We are pleased to see that our alums seem to be making both a living and a life.

To those who participated: thank you! We were happy to hear from you–and, well, about you. Look forward to us reaching out again, with opportunities to keep us posted on your life, get involved with students as well as other alumni, and perhaps even contribute to this blog.

Religion@UVM 2014 Graduates

DSC_0011On Sunday, May 18, we celebrated and congratulated our Class of 2014 graduates! Many of these students had been with us from the beginning of their college careers; some had moved from the minor to the major; and others still figured out rather late in the game that they had (surprisingly!) taken enough credits to declare a second major in Religion. However they started, all of them finished strongly, and as a department, we are proud of their accomplishments, and eager to hear what they both take on and achieve next.

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Prof. Vicki Brennan with graduate Makenzy Smith

This senior cohort participated in the REL201: Senior Seminar, and wrote intensive research projects as part of their capstone experience. As in years past, the projects built upon both student’s individual interests and coursework experience in the study of religion–which means they produced projects that ranged in scope, method, and theoretical frameworks. While not exhaustive, here’s a sampling of the topics our graduates covered:

  • Buddhist monastic reform movements and nationalism in Thailand
  • analytical perspectives on Nigerian Christian deliverance narratives
  • UVM’s “Healing Touch” course and its place in the curriculum
  • Holocaust narratives and Jewish practice
  • social media, religion, and the NFL

The breadth of their projects certainly reflects the breadth of their interests, but it may belie, at quick glance, the depth with which these recent graduates approach the study of religion, in these projects and in their everyday conversations.

Colin Bradley with Prof. Richard Sugarman

Colin Bradley with Prof. Richard Sugarman

And while this statement itself seems a platitude, we’ve spent the better part of four years listening to them hash out their ideas! Believe us: these are students who cannot help but think religion. We hope they’ll keep in touch, we hope some of them will be featured as alumni bloggers soon, but we ask very little–only that they continue to think religion, with breadth and depth, in whatever comes next.