If you look up as you enter the Liberal Arts building from 39th Street, you will see the bas-relief human symbols carved in stone above the doorway. On closer examination, you’ll see that each figure holds a different artifact of the Arts and Sciences, including a reading tablet, a pitcher and test tube, a lyre and an art pallet. These figures – attributed to the architectural sculptor Corrado Parducci – symbolize the ways the Arts and Sciences are touchstones of a liberal arts education.
When talking with people about why the arts and sciences are important, I will often ask them to think about a particularly meaningful college class. The responses are varied, but all inspirational. I remember one woman recalling a history class where she suddenly realized women are an important part of history, which is so much more than a series of wars. Or a conversation with an enthusiastic woman who shared details about a green chemistry class where she began to understand the involvement of science to the preservation of the planet. Naturally, there are many notable recollections of music, art or literature classes where people realize that creativity is such an important part of a meaningful life.
I come to the position of dean as one who has traversed a mosaic path through the arts and sciences. Originally a Special Education major, I remember how a course in Women in Philosophy and Religion changed the course of my life. I went from college to seminary and later, when I was looking for a career change and seeking answers on how best to serve those in need of mental health care, I pursued a graduate degree in Psychology. Now, as a psychologist with a background in ministry, I credit these areas of the liberal arts for enriching my education by offering a plethora of meaningful life experiences.
From my own personal experience along with the recollections of others, it gives me such great pleasure to share that the School of Arts and Sciences at Alverno College is thriving. Our talented faculty works in areas as varied as biology and music therapy to sociology and creative writing. And the alumnae who graduated with a degree from the School of Arts and Sciences are now working in places that vary from research labs and software firms to courtrooms, press rooms and bi-lingual hospital rooms. The only thing that’s common is the impact these alumnae have on so many areas of the workforce.
But there’s another source of pride shared amongst our team: it’s the unwavering commitment to the power of a liberal arts education and the value it brings to every student who walks through Alverno’s doors. No matter the vocation, we believe each of our students must graduate with the ability to think critically, act with integrity, solve problems in organized ways and work effectively with others. To this end, it is our belief that students should leave college with more than just a set of letters that average to a GPA. We believe college graduates should have the ability to enact what they know and use what they have learned in ways that are active and proactive.
The heart and soul of this commitment are the Eight Abilities of Alverno: communication, analysis, problem solving, social interaction, valuing, effective citizenship, developing a global perspective and aesthetic engagement. Rather than just another memorization test, these abilities require the integration of this complex set of actions into every aspect of our lives, thereby enabling us to become competent citizens in the workplace and the world.
Author’s Note: Every semester, I have the privilege of reading a poem I wrote to the Psychology students who are graduating. Written several years ago, the poem celebrates their new achievement, but also anticipates the many ways they will put their mark on the world. I would like to share the poem to further showcase the inherent value of a liberal arts education:
In this age, when, like in every age, ignorance seems to hold an all-too-strong hand over the gentle power of wisdom we come to pay tribute to your search for what is wise, to your ongoing commitment to learn and to keep learning in all of life’s encounters. In an era when greed and superficiality are all-too-common pursuits, we come to pay attention to the ways that you have opened your lives to greater vision, seeing both the needs and the wonders that the world have to offer…
…You go from here with a challenge and a responsibility to continually carry your learning with you so the world might be helped by the ways you enact your knowing, might know of life beyond the shallow pursuits, might experience the richness of connectedness because of your contributions of mindful living.
…We challenge you to honor your own knowing, trusting the wisdom that grows from deep within you, and to honor the knowing of others who have yet to teach you the lessons of living. Be open to the world and ready to seek new sources of knowledge. Listen carefully to the many teachers whom you will meet each day, often coming from the most unlikely of places. Let your knowing equip you to engage your life fully with the maturity and depth demanded by today’s problems and possibilities.