Something like 30% of our alumni work in the corporate sector, yet it can be challenging for our students to articulate why a company should hire someone with a History rather than Business degree. To help us understand better the path from the Bethel History Department to the business world, we interviewed Brandon Raatikka (’03), a vice president at FactRight.
Why/how did you decide to major in History? (Did you come to Bethel knowing that was what you wanted to do?)
I came to Bethel knowing I was going to major in history. All throughout my childhood, I was fascinated with various historical periods (the American Civil War, medieval Europe, ancient Rome), and my older sister was a history major in college (at Taylor). If she could, why couldn’t I also study something I loved? In fact, the plan was to go on to grad school after college and become a history professor.
What memories of your time as a Bethel History major most stick out?
I have many vivid memories of being a history student at Bethel. I remember all classes fondly, especially the European history classes. What student taking Roman Civ with Professor Cragg will ever forget “The Curse of the Barcas?” Serving as Neil Lettinga’s T.A. for two years was definitely a unique experience. It was cool to hang around him so much — I learned a lot about history and some about life. However, the memories that most stick out to me include taking the World War I interim class — for our class project, my group dug a life-sized snow trench near the seminary, complete with parapet and barbed wire — and then T.A.-ing for the class my sophomore and senior years. During those Januarys I didn’t just take a class; I felt like I lived WWI through the art, music, films, and philosophy of the period. That was a very special course.
Did you study abroad as an undergraduate? How did you pick your program? Would you recommend the experience to Bethel History majors today?
I studied abroad at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies through the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities at the University of Oxford my junior year. [Ed.- Brandon is the fourth Bethel History alum in this series to have spent a semester in Oxford. CCCU students can still study at Oxford, through the Best Semester program at Wycliffe Hall.]
I’ve always been a bit of an Anglophile, and Oxford has so much history and neat architecture, that it was an easy choice for a semester abroad. I would recommend studying elsewhere to every student, not just history majors. In a lot of ways, it was the biggest highlight of my life. Living abroad taught me a lot about personal responsibility and growth; the education was top notch; I was able to make some lasting relationships with people I met; there were unique experiences to be had (including gaining a undying love for Indian food); the location was very cool; and it opened up the possibility and gave me more confidence to more widely travel. Studying abroad gives students the opportunity to see what’s “out there,” and experience some of the wonder of the world. Most important, it’s incredibly fun.
It looks like you went straight from Bethel into law school at the University of Minnesota… Here again, why’d you decide on that path? Was majoring in History good preparation for law school?
I went to law school because after my junior year, I decided that I wasn’t going to go to grad school to compete with all the smart kids I had met in Oxford for the available teaching jobs. I went to law school because it seemed like a good application for the analytical skills I learned as a history major, because my eighth grade social studies teacher told me that I should become a lawyer, because I got a pretty good score on the LSAT, and because I wanted to delay having to encounter the real world for three more years (just kidding, sort of).
More seriously, obtaining a humanities degree (history especially) is excellent preparation for law school. In so doing, one must read, comprehend, and critically assess copious amounts of heavy material very quickly. Studying history definitely honed my research, reading comprehension, analytical thinking, and writing skills to a degree that would have not been possible through very many other courses of study. Obviously, this is anecdotal, based on my own experience, but I was able to write onto law review because studying history at Bethel taught me how to think and write.
Tell us about your current position: what kind of company do you work for, and what do you do for it?
I work for FactRight, a company that provides independent due diligence, research, and consulting services on alternative investments (significantly, commercial real estate) to financial professionals. FactRight is a small but growing company of fourteen employees, which was formed in 2006. I began as a research analyst, and now run the day-to-day operations of the division of the company that produces the technical due diligence reports on investment offerings that we provide to clients. At a growing company, my job involves a lot of process and procedure building, along with contributing to product innovation and even the sales effort. I also analyze private securities offerings and write due diligence reports.
Do you feel like your studies as a Bethel History major prepared you for the work you do?
My studies as a Bethel history major greatly prepared me for the work I’m doing. As I said, I think it was a good preparation for law school, which in turn got me in the door at FactRight. But the biggest things I took away from my education at Bethel were how to think more critically about situations where the right “answer” isn’t always apparent, and how to write well (as you get a lot of practice writing in history classes). Apart from certain financial and accounting aspects of it, business is largely a “soft” science. Training in history and other humanities gets one comfortable dealing with ambiguities. It helps you assess the significance of facts and order their importance relative to other facts. Being able to focus on the big picture, while still knowing how the small details relate to that big picture, is a huge advantage in business, and something that studies in history can train one to do. Also, history courses are an important element of a well-rounded, liberal arts education — and especially in the context of a small business, where one inevitably wears many hats, a “generalist” mindset is valuable.
What advice do you have for current students looking to take their History degree into the business world?
I would tell current students to hone their writing skills — nothing makes you stand out as thoughtful in the business world than probably even just writing clear e-mails. Further, when looking for a job, history students should play up their analytical skills, which will help them to be able to solve problems for their prospective employers. Also, students probably hear about the importance of networking all the time, but this is especially true for history students, since it isn’t always apparent to employers what a history degree prepares one to do. Thus, history students will have to find inroads other than relying on a perceived job track.
Networking with history grads in the business world is smart because they will be at companies that already employ people with the kind of skill sets that history majors develop. Plus, I’d like to think that history majors have an affinity for one other, and history alums are eager to help out and mentor recent grads entering the workforce. [Ed. – which seems like as good a place as any to insert another plug for our new student/alumni group on LinkedIn…]