In a world focusing on the need for more STEM education, it is easy to overlook the possibilities of a liberal arts education and miss the inherent value of attending a liberal arts college. As it turns out STEM is not for everybody and it is not a fit for me. Attending a liberal arts college can be a boost to educational, career and personal success.
According to the famed biologist, researcher and two time Pulitzer prize winning author, E. O. Wilson, “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” As a Professor Emeritus at Harvard and deemed “father of ‘sociobiology,” (1) Wilson advocates for the need of an educational base supporting critical thinking, humanism and communication.
A liberal arts education builds and embellishes previously learned knowledge to a point where it can be aptly applied to all types of fields and professions. With each new skill learned, the ability to be a more confident student increases, making it possible for young adults to branch into fields where they previously believed they could not contribute. In 1828, the Yale faculty issued a report explaining that the essence of liberal education was “not to teach that which is peculiar to any one of the professions; but to lay the foundation which is common to them all.” (Zakaria 51)
While research often overshadows teaching in many universities, liberal arts colleges have the luxury to concentrate on teaching, often with lower studenttofaculty ratios, creating a supportive, yet challenging environment for students to learn, about themselves and the world. A common focus in a liberal education is to learn to write and writing forces one to think. To be able to write concisely and clearly is the basis of communication and is a valuable skill in any walk of life. The Nobel prize winning chemist, Thomas Cech completed a classic liberal arts education at Grinnell College and he advocates for academic cross training similar to athletes. Cech states, “Analogously, a liberal arts education encourages scientists to improve their ‘competitive edge’ by cross training in the humanities or arts.” (Zakaria 80)
In preparation for this scholarship application I conducted an interview with the acting manager of the U.S. Department of Energy Los Alamos Field Office, Christine Gelles, who attended a liberal arts college and publicly promotes the benefits of a liberal arts education. Ms. Gelles focused on the need to “learn how to communicate with a wide variety of people” which she said helped her gain the footing needed to be in the league of the Department of Energy. She also shared that the confidence in herself instilled by previous years of liberal education really helped her make and keep her stand among the many PhD scientists and mathematicians she works with everyday.
Learning to write based in thinking, the ability to synthesize and to communicate clearly are the cornerstones of a liberal arts education. Integration of these skills creates endless opportunities, opening doors to many careers and adventures in life and are the immeasurable value of earning a liberal arts education.
(1) “E. O Wilson Quotes”. BrainyQuote. BrainyQuote, n.d. Web. 2001.
Zakaria, Fareed. In Defense of a Liberal Education.New york: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2015. Book.