Verbum Ultimum: Lessons from Mindy Kaling

Dartmouth must better support students who are pursuing alternative careers.

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 4/13/18 2:15am

Mindy Kaling ’01 is a Dartmouth legend — not because she is a two-time New York Times best-selling author; not because she was the first woman of color nominated for an Emmy in writing for her work on “The Office”; not because she produced, directed, wrote and starred in her own comedy series “The Mindy Project”; and not because she made it on to TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People List in 2013, to name just a few of her accomplishments. She is a legend because she grew a successful career in entertainment out of a Dartmouth degree.

From theater major, Dog Day Players performer and mastermind of the comic strip Badly Drawn Girl to Dartmouth’s Class of 2018 Commencement speaker, Kaling certainly did not take the traditional path that so many Dartmouth graduates follow. Rather than leaving the College with a corporate job that would provide financial and professional security, she ventured forth to find work in show business. Success eventually came in the form of a chair in the writers’ room for “The Office,” but that wasn’t until after many unrewarding auditions and less-than-ideal jobs as a nanny and a production assistant on the cable show “Crossing Over with John Edward.”

Dartmouth has invited a number of brilliantly successful alumni to deliver the commencement address, including other prominent figures such as television producer and writer Shonda Rhimes ’91 in 2014 and CNN news anchor Jake Tapper ’91 in 2017. What Kaling, Tapper and Rhimes have in common is that they all found themselves pursuing alternative career paths post-Dartmouth, rather than the traditional Dartmouth feeder-industries — finance and consulting — in which 47 percent of the College’s most recent graduates ended up.

By inviting these figures to deliver the commencement address, Dartmouth is promoting the idea that its students can take an unconventional route in pursuing their careers and still achieve great success. The College has always encouraged students to pave their own unique Dartmouth experience, promoting the notion that no Dartmouth experience is the same. While this holds true, the resources available on campus and the present emphasis on preparing students for select industries limits students’ options.

Resources on campus must expand in order to match the diverse interests of the student body. While almost half of Dartmouth students end up in finance and consulting jobs post-graduation, that still means that more than half of students are pursuing careers in other industries. This half of the student body faces the challenge of having far more limited resources to turn to when seeking help for academic and professional planning. For example, jobs available on DartBoard do not cater to the majority of the student body, offering minimal options for students pursuing careers outside of finance and consulting. The majority of companies that partake in corporate recruiting are also in these industries. In addition, Dartmouth advertises the option to create special majors for students whose interests lie outside of the scope of established majors, yet the highly bureaucratic nature of this process translates to minimal guidance, incredibly low approval rates and, worst of all, discouraged students.

It seems less likely that Dartmouth intentionally pushes students toward finance and consulting, and more likely that it has become complacent with the current narrative. The College should instead demonstrate its support for students who are paving their own path by providing them with sufficient resources to achieve their goals. The College has the responsibility to uphold the liberal arts model by balancing and diversifying available resources so that its liberal arts education will equally prepare students to do whatever they choose. For example, while finance and consulting companies invest heavily in the corporate recruiting process, Dartmouth should be investing heavily into attracting companies in industries that have not traditionally partaken in the recruiting process in order to balance the opportunities that are available to students. There should be more effort on the part of the Center for Professional Development to make a wider variety of employment options accessible on DartBoard. Deans, advisors and faculty must become more knowledgeable about nontraditional Dartmouth career paths and interests in order to better advise students for academic and major planning. There have certainly been areas where Dartmouth has been successfully proactive in catering to student needs, such as through the founding of the DALI Lab and the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, which offer experiential learning opportunities to students interested in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. These kinds of efforts must be doubled and translated into the professional realm as well.

It is in the College’s favor to vehemently pursue a solution to this inequality of resources. Dartmouth cannot continue to showcase successful alumni who have followed nontraditional career paths if the infrastructure of professional guidance and opportunity on campus does not equally meet the needs of half of the student body. Without reform, the current infrastructure may discourage students from maintaining their authenticity and pursuing what they love. Advertising to prospective students that they may follow any path they choose will only lead them to become disenchanted and discouraged when they face real limitations upon arrival. Dartmouth must become the college that it promotes not only for its current community, but also for its prospective students.

It is unlikely that nearly half of incoming students arrive at Dartmouth with the intention of growing careers in finance and consulting. More likely, the College’s emphasis on these career paths unintentionally pushes students in these directions. The rise to success of Dartmouth alumni who follow nontraditional career paths is more of a testament to the grit and talent of students than to the ability of the institution to support these paths. Mindy Kaling offers many students what their College has not readily provided: a role model for the kind of success they can achieve if they remain dedicated to their passions.

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.