Making a big school like Michigan feel smaller is no easy task; LSA students trying to navigate classrooms filled to capacity, academic pressures, and a slew of acronyms, can feel overwhelmed with it all. Participating in clubs and student organizations are great ways to get that intimate student experience at Michigan, but the community created through the LSA Opportunity Hub’s Applied Liberal Arts (ALA) classes makes students feel at home while positioning them for career exploration. For junior Sai Zheng, ALA 325: Putting your Education to Work helped find her footing with students looking for similar support. 

After transferring to Michigan from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy (New York), Sai completed a campaign finance internship in Ann Arbor for the summer which she says prompted her to start thinking about careers outside of the traditional finance track. Thankfully through her interactions with seasoned Hub coaches during coaching drop-in hours and Hub workshops, she discovered that ALA 325 was a class specifically designed to help students like her make sense of their short-term goals and career aspirations.

Sai reflects that she walked into the classroom with expectations that she would secure an internship for the summer. However, she was pleasantly surprised at the level of support she received and the community that formed just over a seven-week period.

“People at the Hub really want to hear your story and give you feedback to encourage you to do things that help you,” Sai says.

The course helped build her confidence in herself. Instead of focusing on deficits, where struggles monopolize the conversations, Sai found that the instructors of ALA 325 highlighted her strengths and encouraged her to develop them. 

“I got to thinking about my connection to ALA and the University of Michigan...our assignment on unique forms of education highlighted all the privileges an LSA degree gives now and in the future,” Sai said.

Having the space to reflect on herself, both outside and inside of the classroom, led her to reflect on the number of marketable skills she holds. 

“I’m a very open-minded person who’s willing to try new things and push myself out of my comfort zone… both LSA and the Hub has given me the chance to explore industries I’m interested in,” Sai says.

Even though the class had a number of assignments (like most university classes), having the agency to pick assignments based on her interests allowed for a level of personalization that she hadn’t experienced in the classroom before. Developing a strong, up-to-date résumé that could be tailored to a position, as well as a cover letter that highlighted both her strengths and her interests, gave Sai a leg-up as she started applying to summer internship positions. 

“Originally, I thought my interest lay purely in the fields of economics and mathematics; I was planning on attending grad school,” she said. 

Through the course, she discovered a myriad of career possibilities that aligned with her own personal goals. 

“Even though my internship in campaign finance was really interesting, I realized it wasn’t the end goal for my career. The internship did spark my interest in consulting, and ALA 325 helped me explore that interest more.” 

One critical component of the class is connecting students together with alums through informational interviews; students have the opportunity to talk with professionals in the working world and can envision what their futures could look like in their career paths.

Regardless of where you feel your strength lies, whether you’ve done all of your research or are just starting to make headway in your professional planning, Sai emphasizes how accommodating ALA 325 is for people at all stages of the student journey. Since so much of the course emphasizes collaboration and discussion, everyone has a chance to learn from both the instructors and their peers. 

As Sai explains: “all of the students are heading in similar professional paths, but we are all at different parts of our path. Talking with students about their experiences and hearing their advice has been really helpful for me as I go through similar challenges.”

If you are interested in enrolling for ALA 325 for the second half of winter semester, register before March 9 in Wolverine Access; juniors should contact for an override.