Matthew Stiegemeyer, director of student recruitment at Concordia University in Montreal, is an unabashed fan of the humanities.
It’s why he obtained his undergraduate and master’s degrees in communications before obtaining a PhD in education.
“We focused on human relations and organizational communication,” Stiegemeyer told the Straight by phone from his office. “Communication is key to everyday life.”
In a similar vein, he likes telling a story about how the school’s vice president, academic—Anne Whitelaw—responded to a father who worried about his daughter enrolling in a fine-arts program.
The man wondered if she would end up working in Walmart.
“Anne, our interim provost, says: ‘Well, think about what a bachelor of fine arts or a bachelor of arts does for you. You’re looking at creative problem-solving. You’re looking at synthesizing arguments. You’re looking at approaching the world with a lens and adding value from a perspective, whether that’s psychology or sociology or history,’ ” Stiegemeyer recalled. “These are lessons that are connected into our modern world.
“The humanities aren’t this sort of backward-looking classic analysis of history,” he continued. “It’s what we have learned about human behaviour over the years within these spheres of expertise. And how do we continue to advance our culture, our world, and our community?”
Stiegemeyer admitted that his father laughed when he learned that he chose to major in communications.
“But in my case, I went on to graduate school and ended up with a job within six months. I used those skills to help me stand out in my career and put me on the path I’m on today.”
University embeds itself in the community
With almost 47,000 undergraduate and graduate students at its Loyola and downtown Montreal campuses, Concordia is one of the largest English-language universities in Canada.
It has established a national reputation for business education at the John Molson School of Business, as well as for its engineering and actuarial-mathematics programs.
But Stiegemeyer is equally enthusiastic about other programs that make Concordia unique, like its District 3 Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
It embraces an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach in helping students launch startups to benefit the community in a wide range of areas, ranging from life sciences to artificial intelligence to fintech.
“Brilliant mathematicians aren’t always the best folks to take those statistics and figure out how to implement changes in our workforce or improve efficiencies,” Stiegemeyer noted. “You need somebody else to help make that human connection.”
Concordia also has a highly regarded bachelor of arts program in urban studies and urban planning.
Students learn how to gather and interpret statistical data and gain an understanding of the relationships between sociocultural, economic, and physical aspects of urban development.
There’s also an emphasis on applying this knowledge to addressing problems identified in neighbourhoods in Montreal.
Last year, Concordia launched a bachelor of arts in interdisciplinary studies in sexuality, which is offered by the school’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute.
According to Stiegemeyer, this program examines how human rights, gender identity, and sexuality intersect and what that means for government policies.
Courses focus on the experiences of people of African ancestry, migrants, diaspora communities, and those with disabilities.
Issues are examined through transnational, decolonizing, and postcolonial lenses, linking sexuality to art history, film, biology, religion, and sociology.
The interdisciplinary studies in sexuality bachelor’s degree offers internships to help students gain firsthand experience to learn the impact of different communities on the arts, public health, advocacy, and activism.
Queer theory, sexuality theory before the 1969 Stonewall riots, sexual representation in cinema, and trans feminism are all part of the curriculum.
“Our Simone de Beauvoir Institute has been at the forefront of these issues for quite some time,” Stiegemeyer said.
Another unusual offering at Concordia is its bachelor of arts in religion and cultures.
Stiegemeyer acknowledged that this is not something that most people initially consider studying. However, he pointed out that these two subjects are having a profound impact on the world.
“How does understanding religion and its intersection with culture influence both why we are where we are today and how we might move forward toward a more harmonious future?” he asked.
The study of religion at Concordia reflects the school’s “deep respect for diversity of culture, gender, and sexual orientation”, according to the website.
“You’ll have the opportunity to visit places of worship and meet people connected to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism in Montreal,” the website states. “You will have the opportunity to study languages spoken across the world.”
Montreal remains affordable
Stiegemeyer stated that anybody can conduct their own research by going onto Linkedin, and clicking the bachelor of arts entry of a Concordia graduate, and then observing other profiles of people with the same degree.
“You’ll see it’s a real spread of people: in the finance industry, in creative industries,” he said. “It isn’t the best-paid barista at Starbucks who has the bachelor of arts. I’m proud of my degree because I think it did help me.”
Some of North America’s highest-profile executives, like former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Flickr and Slack founder Stewart Butterfield, studied liberal arts in university. Schultz’s major was communications, whereas Slack majored in philosophy.
“It’s what kind of learner you are,” Stiegemeyer added. “Do you want to laser in on something or are you looking to make those broader connections across things that others aren’t making?”
One of the advantages of studying in Montreal is its relatively low cost of living.
Concordia University offers a frequent shuttle service between the Loyola and downtown campuses. Plus, students are eligible for deeply discounted transit passes in Montreal, which has an extensive subway system.
The 2018 Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation rental report for Montreal pegged the average price of a two-bedroom purpose-built rental apartment in the central metropolitan area at $809 per month.
A one-bedroom was available, on average, for $720 per month, and bachelor suites rented on average for $641 per month.
In addition, Montreal was recently deemed the most livable city in Canada in a survey by Fitbit, which looked at 15 variables, including living costs, green spaces, mental health, happiness, and LGBT acceptance.