I teach a course for graduate students that is called “Current Issues and Trends in Family & Consumer Sciences.” At the beginning of each semester I teach about the history of FCS. I have sections about the scientific roots of FCS, the early leaders of the discipline, and how FCS has evolved in more than 100 years. I also cover the basic philosophy of FCS, explain the importance of the integrative nature of the discipline, and describe Bronfenbrenner’s Systems Theory in detail. My students all ask me why I think they need to have this information. I tell them to consider the fact that at some point they will be in the job market, in competition with many other people. They will need to be able to explain their unique attributes to a potential employer. One of the unique attributes of someone that studied FCS is that he or she has the ability to look at various aspects of the functioning of individuals, families and communities. This is far superior to the professional that only looks at one aspect of any situation or issue.
FCS is not always understood. In fact, it is sometimes ridiculed (e.g. Superbad’s Home Ec classroom scene). One of my family members told me that it must be easy for me to get a degree in FCS because I already had children! Here at Eastern Illinois University, where I teach, we actually get telephone calls from people asking how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey, if we know any babysitters, or how to sew on a button. I had a friend that worked in the Math Department. I asked her if anyone ever called and asked how to solve math problems and she looked at me as if I were the craziest person she had ever met. She said “We are an academic area, not a FAQ hotline!” I could not help but agree. We are fighting against a popular perception that can be very dismissive. Therefore, it is up to US to market OURSELVES!
The very fact that FCS is integrative in nature means that FCS graduates THINK in an integrative manner. However, this worldview becomes so common to us that we have trouble recognizing the skill or articulating its importance to employers. Most often FCS students describe the integrative worldview as “common sense;” however, that way of thinking is in fact a very important skill that has been developed, almost unconsciously, through exposure to the FCS philosophy. Therefore, you should give some thought to marketing your unique skill. It is important to carefully review each potential job description and make sure you can clearly explain how the integrative nature of FCS has prepared you to work in that particular position.
Example 1: pretend you are interviewing to manage a program for young mothers that have been incarcerated for drug crimes. Most people interviewing for the position will be trained in counseling, program management, or another type of field that focuses on the individual. However, FCS focuses on individuals, families, and communities! As expected, there will be several issues that come up when working with incarcerated young mothers that can be addressed through your understanding of human development and family relations. For example, you will need to understand adolescent/emerging adulthood brain development (e.g. how they process information, what motivates behavior) in order to work with the population. However, you also bring a unique understanding of the role of extended family (i. e. children, parents and other family members) and their role in the lives of your population. You might need to explain that you have knowledge of consumer spending habits and the behavioral issues related to the management of household resources. You would also know that travel may be important for family members that are visiting your population and look into ways that you can ease that particular burden. You might explain that adequate nutrition is important for optimal functioning, and you are able to address the need for your population to eat in a healthful manner in order to manage the stress of their situation. You would understand that visual aspects of an environment are important and may look at the improvement of visiting facilities.
Example 2: You are interviewing to serve as food and beverage manage at a private country club. Clearly you will want to describe your background/training related to hospitality management. However, you should also be able to look at the menu/service/physical environment and use your knowledge of human development to understand the dining needs of various populations. You might also have some knowledge of marketing because of your exposure to consumer affairs. You will also have some idea of the complex dynamics involved in family purchasing choices. You should have a working knowledge of nutrition, which is clearly an asset. Your exposure to the visual aspects of space will also be an asset.
Can you see that you have a variety of skills that may not be apparent, even to you?
To prepare for a job interview ask yourself these questions: How can I explain FCS in one or two sentences? How can I articulate my unique skills as an FCS graduate? What do I have to offer a potential employee that a non-FCS grad would be lacking? Once you can clearly explain FCS to a future employer, I believe you will have a jump on any competition.
Resources for Further Study of the Foundations of FCS: