The Power of the Liberal Arts

April 10, 2014 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

The following article appears on the website of The Council of Independent Colleges, which has launched a national initiative to promote the liberal arts and the effectiveness of independent higher education.

I am a pioneer, in that I have never been afraid to stand at the edge.

I was one of the first people to work in the field of wireless communications. Over the last 25 years I held several executive roles in what at the time were breakthrough companies but that now are household names—Verizon Wireless, Sprint/Nextel, and OnStar.

My professional world is about harnessing technology to maximize communication among global audiences and expansive networks of information, organizations, and data.

But my success in that world is built on a foundation of far more personal interactions—the sharing of knowledge, values, and support. One-on-one conversations. Mutual respect and a concern for the needs of others.

That foundation was nurtured at the small, Midwestern liberal arts college where I earned my bachelor’s degree—Elmhurst College. My academic career at Elmhurst gave me the skills and confidence to establish a career in cutting-edge fields and to flourish there.

I came to Elmhurst College from Detroit, seeking a small but comprehensive campus. I did not want to be one of millions. I wanted to be part of a dynamic yet comfortable environment, a place where I could tailor my education but also get input on shaping my studies. I also wanted to learn from instructors who didn’t just teach out of a book, but who brought real-life experience to the classroom. My professors did that and more, through their commitment to teaching and their accessibility.

That accessibility continues. On a visit to Elmhurst last spring, I had the pleasure of spending some time with the president, Dr. S. Alan Ray. As we walked around the lovely tree-lined campus, I was immediately struck by how Dr. Ray knew every student’s name and by how comfortable students were in approaching him.

Some very important aspects of my liberal arts education weren’t immediately apparent to me at the time, but without a doubt came to shape me. I refer to the college’s emphasis on the humanities and service-learning. As a student, I was completely focused on business and accounting, and I didn’t see the relevance of humanities-related courses. I realize now that those courses, as well as the service projects in which we participated, awakened me to the world beyond my own, and to my responsibility to make a difference there. The value of doing service also has influenced how I manage people and build businesses.

The qualities I developed at Elmhurst College are the same ones that I and other leaders value now when we hire and promote. We want people who are not afraid of change, who are passionate and have ideas, and who are always learning and know the importance of self-development. We want people with a liberal arts education. Mine was like a blank canvas on which I learned to paint. Yet it is not a static piece, but something that will always stay with me and continue to influence my life.

Linda Marshall is president of the WebLyn Group, an independent consultancy that provides strategic direction to companies in the telecommunications, wireless, and health care industries. Most recently, Marshall was the president of OnStar—where she was responsible for leading the company’s worldwide safety, security, and connected information services initiatives—and served as an active board member to the Shanghai China division of General Motors. Prior to her presidency at OnStar, Marshall served as the executive director of OnStar Global Business Strategy and Development.

Marshall has more than two decades of experience in the telecom industry focusing on strategic business and revenue planning, sales, brand, and product marketing. Before joining GM, she held the position of chief operation officer of Revol Wireless and was in charge of restructuring the organization and relaunching the Revol brand and product portfolio. From 1993 to 2004, Marshall held several executive roles at Sprint/Nextel, including vice president of strategy and public safety in charge of developing and executing Sprint/Nextel’s public safety strategy. Earlier, she served as the area president for the Midwest region, managing the launch of the first Midwest digital wireless system for Sprint/Nextel. Marshall started her career as vice president of regional finance at Verizon Wireless in 1986, where she became a vice president of sales and service operations in 1991.

Marshall currently serves on the advisory board for Childhelp USA, which provides foster care and adoption services in Michigan and nationally. She previously served on the board of the Judson Center.

She holds a bachelor’s of science degree in accounting and business from Elmhurst College (1985) and completed the Executive Management Program at Stanford University.

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