An ode to a Liberal Arts Education

  Students gather by Deihl Hall.   COURTESY OF FLICKR.COM

Students gather by Deihl Hall. COURTESY OF FLICKR.COM

Leah Boynton

FEATURES EDITOR

As a graduating fourth-year, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately on  my experiences, my mentors, and, most importantly, my education. In the next few weeks, I’ll be walking away from Whittier College with a Bachelor’s degree and a liberal education, which I believe has not only prepared me for my future career in higher education, but has also prepared me to be a well-rounded educator and individual. A liberal arts education deserves more support and recognition for all that it prepares students for in the real world.

A liberal arts education often gets a bad reputation and is misunderstood. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cites a few key misunderstandings, such as high school students and their parents’ perception of a liberal arts degree, the various terminology that is used to describe liberal arts degrees and curriculum, and the marketability of a liberal arts education. What even is a liberal arts education, after all?

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, “Liberal arts education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest.” 

I believe Whittier College’s educational model is in line with that definition of a liberal arts education. Through my experiences in my two majors (English and Theatre and Communication Arts) and my minor (Sociology), I have learned how to communicate effectively, think about diverse perspectives, and make broader connections to the real world, among the many other skills I have been able to gain over my time at Whittier. 

A liberal arts education does not just prepare a student for one thing, it prepares a person to take on anything. Throughout the broad range of topics that students study at liberal arts colleges, students gain truly transferable skills, such as writing, oral communication, and critical thinking. These skills become essential when students move into the workforce and are required to market themselves as an asset to their new employer. 

Communication skills are one of the key factors in getting a job, not only for job interviews, but also to be able to work as a part of a team, convey your ideas, and advocate for yourself. U.S. News & World Report cite communication skills as one of the top 10 skills necessary when looking for a job. Whittier College certainly prepared me for this, through the many papers, oral presentations, and even oral examinations that I successfully completed. I will never take for granted this important skill. 

Another skill that is taught in the liberal arts is seeing diverse perspectives. Whittier College was founded by Quaker, poet, and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier, and his values of equity and inclusion still ring true to Whittier College’s current values. I believe that the way liberal education allows for all voices to be heard is an asset to a Bachelor’s degree from a liberal arts institution.  

Without a well-rounded education, one can only be a specialist, and not a true innovator. According to the Huffington Post, “Four out of five employers said each college graduate should have broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences, and three out of four would recommend a liberal education to their own children.” 

The liberal arts prepares their students for innovation because the educational requirements encourage students to make connections and think outside of the box. At Whittier College, the Whittier Scholars Program is a fine example of the way students make connections on our campus, bridging the gaps between disciplines and encouraging innovative ways of thinking. 

Even as a English and Theatre and Communication Arts major, I have been taught to make connections across disciplines even when not in connections courses, a skill that only the liberal arts prepares you for. For example, in a World Theatre class, I brought in the ideas I learned in a History class to give historical context to the play we were reading. Another time, I found that the idea of race as a social construct, which I learned in my sociology course, Racial and Ethnic Relations, connected to the English literature I read in my American Realism and Naturalism course. 

Many students at Whittier College have similar experiences, finding that their classes connect to one another and that professors make an effort to allow students to make those connections. For example, Professor Tony Barnstone encourages students in his 221 English course to write interdisciplinary papers, as that mode of thought challenges students to connect the dots between disciplines. 

These are just a few times when the liberal arts have allowed me to think about the way all things connect to one another, as they do in life. I think it is important that we think about the way everything is intertwined, especially in a world that is interconnected by globalization and technology. The interdisciplinary approach has taught me that over my years of making connections at Whittier College. 

Besides all of the practical skills that I have gained from my liberal arts education, I have also learned how to be a globalized thinker, citizen, and person, and how I can contribute positively to the world. The liberal arts prepare you to be a good person and make a difference no matter what career field you end up in. 

As I graduate from Whittier College and head into graduate school and my future career, I now understand the value of a liberal education and the many ways I have been lucky to have one. The skills I have learned during my time at Whittier College have equipped me with invaluable tools. From a student’s perspective, the liberal arts, and what is taught at Whittier College does an excellent job of using the liberal arts to its advantage, preparing students for a bright future full of success.