Alumni Testimonials

Our alumni have gone on to have rewarding lives and successful careers in diverse fields. We asked them to tell us what studying philosophy at SMU has done for them. Here is what they told us.


After finishing undergraduate school, I attended law school at SMU and focused on criminal and international humanitarian law. Those areas of law have very deep philosophical underpinnings. During law school, I did a 6-month externship at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia adjudicating war crimes. After law school, I was selected to be a Judicial Law Clerk through the U.S. Department of Justice Attorney General’s Honors Program. In that role, I researched and wrote judicial decisions for the five Immigration Judges in Dallas. For the past year, I have been an Assistant District Attorney at the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. I am now a Chief Misdemeanor Prosecutor in charge of all of the cases in County Criminal Court #9. In all of these positions, I utilize(d) the ways of thinking, writing and arguing that I learned as a Philosophy major. Ironically, all of the prosecutors in my Court were Philosophy majors at different institutions! I have no doubt that our degrees prepared us to be effective advocates. Rebekah J. Bailey ’05

I have been at Georgetown Law in Washington DC the past 3 years. I graduated in May, moved back to Texas, and took the Texas State Bar. I just started working as an associate at Bickel & Brewer, a litigation firm in downtown Dallas. Majoring in philosophy at SMU was a great choice for me for many reasons. (I also majored in Political Science.) … I don’t think the type of thinking and problem-solving I learned from being a Philosophy major, though intangible, could be gained from any other discipline. I took a course at Georgetown called Great Philosophers on Law. Basically everyone in the class majored in philosophy—so I was a little scared about my grade in the class to say the least. But I ended up getting a CALI award for the highest grade in the class! It was very exciting, and I know I have the SMU Philosophy department to thank. Whitney Ehlin ’08

I use my philosophy degree every day. I’m a litigator. I make arguments for my clients in court. And my studies in philosophy taught me to make logical, concrete arguments about abstract ideas, a skill every good lawyer must learn. But perhaps more important than learning to construct an argument is learning to take one apart, that is, learning to uncover the cracks and fault lines, the logical gaps, and the problems with an argument that someone else has made. Learning to deconstruct an argument. That’s much harder to learn, and for me, that’s what a philosophy degree is all about. Chris Schwegmann ’97

I am going into my sixth year of law practice in Dallas. I began my practice at Baron & Budd PC as trial lawyer on the plaintiff’s side in environmental cancer cases. I moved to Bell Nunnally & Martin LLP in March of 2013, where I handle labor and employment cases, as well as general business litigation matters. My philosophy degree has helped me in my legal career because it trained me to think about issues and problems in non-traditional ways. As you might imagine, as a lawyer, I am often called upon to solve the “impossible” problems faced by my clients. Walking through problem-solving exercises in my philosophy classes was good training for what I now do almost every day. My philosophy classes also taught me to ask good questions, which is critical in any law practice. Alana Ackels ’06

I frequently tell people the most practical learning I had in preparation for a legal career both as a lawyer and judge were the philosophy courses I took at SMU. The logical reasoning, the analysis of difficult literature and philosophical thinkers provided essential tools for my legal career. I think it is cliché to say majors such as philosophy have no practical application in the ‘real world’ but I could not disagree more. Hon. Charles Montemayor ’88

After graduating from SMU in 2003, I started law school at Texas Wesleyan School of Law (now Texas A&M). … I was grateful for many of my Philosophy classes (especially symbolic logic) and felt they served me well as a law student. I graduated 6th in my class in 2006 and passed the Texas Bar Exam three months later. Marta Miller ’03

Beyond having the opportunity to study under a learned and esteemed group of professors and scholars, my philosophy studies at SMU taught me to penetrate the superficial appearance and structure of issues. As a lawyer, the sharpened analytical skills that philosophical study and inquiry provide are crucial components of interpreting and applying legal precedent. In a profession, and world, where right and wrong are generally defined as a matter of perspective—the ability to regard an issue from varying and unique angles provides a distinct advantage in terms of advocacy, and is an essential skill for someone working to establish law and policy that will impact a varied multitude of people. After more than ten years of practicing law, I still regularly utilize the methodical approaches I learned during my philosophy studies, and often delight in noting the regularity with which modern issues parallel broader questions that human beings have pondered and examined throughout history. Travis R. Perez ’03

Business, Finance, and Technolgy

I loved my time at SMU dearly, but it was really my philosophy classes that made my undergrad years so special. The chance to think and question without penalty. To be able to say things like, “I can imagine a world where …” and to have that imagining seriously entertained. That is what I take from my undergrad into every single one of my lectures [on Business Management]. I want my students to leave my class with the same desire and ability to question the status quo that your department gave me. Michelle Wurster Ruiz ’06, Professor of Management, University of Houston–Victoria

I graduated in 1989 with a BBA in Finance and a minor in Philosophy. When I was interviewing for jobs on Wall Street, it was my degree in Philosophy that interested most of the firms that I got job offers from. All newly hired undergrads were reasonably smart in the world of finance and accounting but not many were able to write or think before they spoke. I am not saying I was the most critical thinker that hit Wall Street in 1989, but I felt like my philosophy experience gave me an advantage. I am still working for an investment bank and love my work because I tend to look at deals and situations differently. Maybe I just have a curious mind but having an exposure to philosophical thinking has helped. Michael Burchell ’89

I double majored, and my second degree was in communications, with an emphasis on public relations. Throughout my career, it has always been my PR background that would get me the job interview, but my critical thinking skills from philosophy that would get me the job. Richard Franco ’92 (Works for Liquidnet, a financial technology firm)

I completed an MBA from Rice in Houston in 2013, and I have been trading energy for the past 4 years. I continue to find my philosophy studies helpful almost every day in my job. Philosophy has helped me develop critical thinking and decision-making skills. Curtis Cox ’07

Currently I work with Wells Fargo in their Wealth Management department as a Senior Private Banker. … The best take away I could give you from my experience with the philosophy department at SMU is that it helped me to strengthen my ability to listen to others and gather a better understanding of another viewpoint rather than my own. Listening is a skill set that takes practice and patience. My time with the philosophy department at SMU helped me to strengthen it. Jason Mcclanahan ’02

Since starting my career in Information Technology consulting in 2006, I cannot tell you how many times people have complimented me on my writing and communication skills. I feel a major contributor to my professional skills in these areas was definitely my Philosophy coursework. Working with the professors to get their opinions on my writing assignments and your department’s approach to examining and explaining arguments in a logical, concise way has been invaluable to me. Patrick Hardy ’05

During and after law school, I worked for a large NFL sports agency in Atlanta. After 6 years there, I took the NFL agent exam and became a certified NFL contract advisor. I have since opened RMI Athletics and serve as agent for 6 NFL players. I’ve always felt my philosophy degree from SMU was one of the building blocks for how I think, and how I guide my business. Ryan Rubin ’06

My journey into philosophy was an unresolved and disorienting frontier compared to the matter-of-fact conventions of business education. So, it is an interesting question to consider which academic pursuit has been used more often and successfully. I have found that the core value of a philosophical education—the experience of applying analysis and judgment despite uncertainty—has been most consistently useful. Jim Harris ’87

I work in real estate and mortgage financing and I value my Philosophy degree over my Business degree for a variety of reasons. The best reason is that it taught me how to approach and analyze problems more broadly than using just numbers. David Blewett ’89

I left SMU in 1989 with no idea what I was going to do next. I settled upon what ended up being a fairly lucrative and rewarding career in Information Technology. Philosophy was undeniably a help, though the degree has admittedly been a frequent source of puzzlement to the majority of resume readers. But philosophy taught me to reason, taught me confidence in examining arguments and making decisions based on a careful weighing of evidence. It made me comfortable with the abstract, a requirement that becomes more and more necessary as one climbs the proverbial corporate ladder. Most importantly, it taught me to question success itself, financial or otherwise. I happen to live in a very nice house in a very nice neighborhood, both of which I am very thankful for. But philosophy equipped me to ask, what is the point of success and who gets to define it? Why strive for higher and higher pay, greater and greater accolades? Had I not been equipped by my time at SMU to ask such questions, I might not have had the confidence to ask these sorts of questions at all. Jim Swayze ’89


After graduating in 2009, I went to medical school at Johns Hopkins and now I am a resident physician in Pathology at the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. I think that studying Philosophy uniquely prepared me for this career both in practice and in research because it cultivated an ability to dissect ideas and models of thinking (this as opposed to rote memorization). Peter McCaffrey ’09

I am currently a practicing physician. I can absolutely tell you that my philosophy studies at SMU have been invaluable to my personal and professional development and continue as I move forward. Todd Stewart ’92

I have always found my studies in philosophy extremely important throughout my career in medical research. After my residency in Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern/Parkland Hospital, I spent 10 years 1973–1983 at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, doing epidemiological research. In 1983 I returned on the faculty at UT Southwestern to start a new Epidemiology Division within the Department of Internal Medicine, which I have headed since 1983. Basically my philosophy studies taught me how to think critically and particularly how to analyze a philosophical paradox, which I find commonly in medical research as well as in public health policy. Robert Haley ’67

Ministry and Counseling

I believe my philosophy degree has helped me to examine and evaluate arguments, to think critically about issues and ideas. My writing was improved through my work in various philosophy classes, and I was prepared well for the kind of abstract thinking that is so often necessary in areas of theology and in the Church. Rev. Mark Reisinger ’01, Minister, United Methodist Church

My interest in ethics has guided my decisions and often led me to surprising, but correct, conclusions about the correct direction I should take; it’s also helped me learn to keep my sometimes too-strong temper in check. Finally, I actually do think about things more deeply than I think many people do, which helps me win at poker, but also to engage in interesting conversation, make better (and deeper) friendships, and help me help others at my job at the church, where being open to helping others is a key part of what I do. Mark Wischkaemper ’05, Director of Music for Bethel, St. David’s Episcopal Church

I am currently pursuing a graduate degree in counseling at the University of Memphis. I want be a professional counselor. The writings of Rollo May, Carl Rodgers and Carl Jung all have a strong philosophical and existential bent. Without my background in philosophy, I don’t think I would have been drawn to seek counseling or to be interested in reading authors such as these. Oscar Carr ’04


I received an MA at George Washington University in Social Policy as a way of bringing together my PoliSci and Phil BAs from SMU into a more coherent and tied narrative for my professional career. I have for the last 7 years or more been working in the federal government on the softer side of things within cultural institutions like the Smithsonian and National Archives (currently). Michael Annen ’06

Rational thought, strong writing skills, compassion, perspective, and empathy are just a few of the benefits of my philosophy degree. I use these tools on a daily basis, and I thank my past self for having the foresight to take up philosophical studies. The project I am working on now, Engaged: A Collection of Proposal Stories, falls under the sub-category of aesthetics. Through this book, we celebrate art, beauty, emotion, and sentimentality in a good way. Jennifer Dertouzos ’02

I draw on my philosophical education daily since it is the underlying foundation on which nearly every aspect of our now civilized life is built. From my gun league to parent associations to analytical decisions to political debate, one can’t really avoid philosophical encounters. Perhaps most folks don’t make the connection to Philosophy, but for me, it was training that empowered me to question things until I’m satisfied and to be a better decision maker. Rebecca Chapa ’97