Ben Wong (1st Quarter, 2009)

by Josh Barsch on August 20, 2010

1st Quarter, 2009
Liberal Arts Scholarship
Ben Wong

Currently in my last year of studies as a B.A double major in Geography and Sociology.  I will be working at a major energy company upon graduation to enhance their social and environmental policy to improve overall sustainability.  Considering going on to graduate studies or MBA in sustainability.

A Portion of Ben’s Winning Essay:

Ben Wong

“What the heck am I going to do with an Arts degree?” Exactly what I exclaimed, and what my parents exclaimed, as we flipped through the pages of the university prospectus, pen in hand, ready to sign the application form. Shortly before, I had just graduated from high school with honours, but no real idea as to what career path I wanted to take.

Being Asian-Canadian, my parents wanted me to take something technical such as science, math, or engineering for my degree. The argument seemed fair; such disciplines were highly regarded and offered tempting salaries. I would also get the benefit of having many of my relatives to help me if I had any trouble, as they were all well versed in quantitative skills.

But, I highly disliked math and science. I felt detached from doing anything math or science related during school. However, I enjoyed reading about the great accomplishment of mathematicians, scientists, and engineers as they solved many problems and help drive the engine of the world.

Business and commerce seemed enticing, I was fascinated at how once ordinary folks such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook could turn into billionaires so quick. I played the stock market in my spare time, and business seemed to be a relatively easy route to a career. However, the words ‘calculus’ and ‘statistics’ in the required courses list sent shivers up my spine and kept my hand from signing on the dotted line. The academic advisor told me that taking one year of Arts is a good idea; it will help me decided what I want to do given the broad nature of the program. Okay, let’s do it!.

A second after submitting my form, I was certain that I would withdraw and end up taking sciences. Boy was I wrong. Even after the first week of studies, I knew this was what I wanted to do. My first year of courses was an eye opening experience. In philosophy, I learned not only the incredible writings of western analytical thinkers such as Descartes and Kant, but also the skill necessary to formulate my own logic, communicate complex discourse, and write research papers. In Art History, the many monumental achievements in art, sculpture, and architecture of the past were presented in such a way by my professor that it made me believe I actually transferred back in time! Furthermore, it was not only a course where students studied such distinctive designs; but also the social and historical forces that led to the creation of such art. In psychology, my favorite stream was behavioral psychology. Learning about Pavlovian conditioning and operand conditioning helped me to understand why people behave the way they do, what changes behavior, and how I, myself, can apply such techniques to help me be a better person.

Being of Chinese descent, I naturally chose Chinese as my second language requirement, while also taking intermediate and advanced courses. The lack of Chinese school for adults in my city left me unsatisfied; I wouldn’t be able to go back to my home country to communicate with my relatives and others. Luckily, Arts provided. Sociology became my major and economics my minor. Economics really changed my way of thinking in a number of ways.

Upon enrolling in my first econ class, I had no idea what to expect; if it was anything like high school social studies, it would be a cinch. I was wrong on so many levels. Econ helped me to appreciate mathematics by showing me that such quantitative tools could help describe why businesses operate the way they do and why financial markets operate the way they do. Econ is more than just supply and demand graphs, it incorporates behavioral psychology (which I enjoyed) to explain consumer and producer theory. Best of all, it was challenging yet enjoyable.

Macroeconomics allowed me to investigate global trade, monetary and fiscal regimes, banks and financial markets, and also dynamics of developing countries. Economics was probably the most practical of all the Arts courses, a discipline that bolsters a student’s analytical thinking and technical skills. Despite its similarities to commerce, it is also the most “Arts” like subject, where different views are freely accessed and debated, where combinations of psychology, history, psychology, and math are addressed and appreciated.

This was perfect. All the business tycoon stories that I loved to read about I was able to explain them in proper ‘language’ that made me sound like a business expert. Why was the Apple Iphone so successful? What strategies did Warren Buffet make him so rich? What’s with the global recession of 2008? Why are oil prices so high or low? Such questions could be answered with economic theory, and not just from those in business and commerce.

Sociology was important to me because of its application in explaining group and cultural dynamics. For example, many people blame the homeless because of their laziness and apathy. However, they disregard other factors as to why they are homeless. It could be because of mental illness that is left untreated due to cuts in federal social assistance programs, lack of assistance or facilities that provide for personal hygiene (I always have said to people whether they would hire an unkempt homeless person if they were a storekeeper), and faults in some of urban planning and other institutions.

Sociology also encompasses a whole range of fields, ranging from sociology of art, religion, environment, energy, media, urbanization, politics and so forth. Critical thinking and writing is stressed. The most valuable skill that I learned is how nothing is as simple as it seems. For example, I now realize that certain television shows on certain television networks have allegiances to certain political and corporate influences. The media has a profound effect in changing social order and dictating cultural elements to the masses.

Sociology of economic development led me to comprehend the various socio-political forces at work; why outsourcing is so rampant despite the negative consequences for developed countries to do so. Sociology is simply important because it includes area of concern that is simply negated by other disciplines such as business, where the profit motive always comes first.

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