Dean's 2018 Address to New L&S Students

September 4th 2018

Good afternoon! I’m excited to add my voice to the many who have welcomed you to UW-Madison.  Thank you for your kind introduction, Dean Bergman.  I am Karl Scholz, the Dean of the College of Letters & Science, the heart of this great university.  I grew up in Nebraska, a place where folks thought the “N” on the side of the football helmets stood for “knowledge.”  So, I came a long way to get here.  I am an Economics professor, and for the last five years I’ve had the privilege of being Dean of the College. 

UW-Madison was a great university before any of us arrived:  Harry Steenbock single-handedly cured the scourge of rickets with his work on Vitamin D.  A president of this university wrote the nation’s iconic statement on academic freedom and coined the phrase “fearless sifting and winnowing.”  It is not hyperbole to claim that UW-Madison scholars laid the groundwork for social insurance – including workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, and social security – with enormous positive effects on living standards and the security of working families. 

We remain one of the great universities in the world.  Nearly 96% of you will return for your sophomore year, one of the highest percentages in the nation among public or private universities. You will succeed here.  The average time to degree is four years and one week. This is our shortest-ever average time to graduation.  We remain one of the leading universities in producing CEOs and we are #1 in sending volunteers to the Peace Corp.  I love that juxtaposition.  The freshman class comes from 48 states and 48 countries, and L&S students represent more than 50% of the entire incoming class on campus.  You’re from 1,133 hometown cities and 1,500 high schools.  We are proud that you’ve chosen Letters & Science and are excited to get to know you better and to help you explore all that L&S has to offer you. 

My college is home to 35 academic departments, and 22 research centers. We teach 65% of the undergraduate credit hours at UW-Madison.  We have over 20,000 creative, fun-loving, talented students.  23 of my departments are in the top 20 in the country! You might think that’s not such a big deal: if the football team isn’t in the top 20, it’s a bad year. Well, there are 128 universities playing big-time Division 1 football. There are nearly 2,500 four-year universities and colleges in the US, and almost every one of them competes in the core academic disciplines in my college. In my world, top 20 departments are squarely in the top 1 percent!

This is a lot of statistics.  I want to use the rest of my time to make a critical point:  L&S is the coolest, smartest, most exciting place to study in this great university.  We say, “Destination L&S:  Come Here, Go Anywhere.”  The reason is this:  studying in L&S, you will master the 4 C’s, if we have done our job well.

Critical thinking (or in “Wisconsin-Speak,” sifting and winnowing).  Through our education, we teach and learn to analyze, apply logic and search for truth. 

Communicate.  By that I mean: Speak clearly.  Write persuasively, empathetically, and succinctly.  But also be able to listen and understand.  Language is powerful.  Communication is at the heart of what it means to be human.

Creativity.  You will learn to see what others may not, and imagine what could be, one day.

Connect.  Connect across cultures, differences, and points of view.  I trust I do not have to persuade anyone here of the importance of doing that.

We have a catch phrase in the college that captures our aspiration:  we want to prepare you to make a good living and lead a good life.  If we succeed with the four C’s, you will lead a good life.  But I want to share a secret.  Very few of the majors in my college are explicitly vocational.  Your parents or an aunt or uncle might worry about this.  They may point out that there aren’t many employment listings that say, “historians preferred.”  Now I will quickly add, that’s a darn shame.  Our history students learn to write, analyze data, think critically and understand and interpret change.  What organization or company is not grappling with change?  But often, particularly as a Dean, you deal with the world as it is, not as you would like it to be.  So, we have tackled the “make a good living” aspiration head-on with the Letters & Science Career Initiative, which to our students is known as SuccessWorks in the College of Letters & Science.  SuccessWorks will help you chart your path, land an internship, connect with alums, and chase your dreams. 

So let me close by offering three pieces of advice on this day when everybody is giving you advice!

#1:  Visit SuccessWorks.  It exists to serve L&S students.  It is just right down the hill on the third floor of University Bookstore.  The SuccessWorks team is ready to help you find internships, get interviews, and find a job when you are ready. Stop by, free coffee or hot chocolate.  And as soon as next semester, I strongly encourage you to sign up for the one-credit career prep course, “Taking Initiative” (or Inter-LS 210).  It’s an awesome course, focused on you, your education, and your future. 

#2:  As you make your path through the College be sure to seek out our excellent advising staff.  Many of them are here with us today. Advisors, please give a wave to identify yourselves. Students, let’s give them a big round of applause for all they have done, and will do, for you in the future!

o  Students, build advising relationships with these folks you started working with at SOAR.

o  Speak with an advisor at least once each semester to check in and make sure you are taking full advantage of your Wisconsin experience.

o  Also make sure to seek out your professors and TAs. Sometimes new students don’t think they should seek out faculty, but that’s not true.  Take advantage of office hours and engage your professors and TAs outside of the classroom.

#3: I encourage you to reach out to others when you need help, encouragement, or even just a person in whom you can confide.  UW-Madison is a wonderful place. In fact, Madison was recently ranked #2 among stress-FREE cities in America. Despite that, you’ll probably feel stressed out at times.  Things won’t always be easy.  A course might not go the way you want.  Your dream of being a biologist might crash into the reality that you just don’t love biology.  Something at home might trouble you.  You will be challenged.  That’s part of college.  That’s part of life.  We are confident you will be successful, but PLEASE reach out to friends, advisors, teachers, and staff when you need help.  Take a moment to look around you now.  Remember, you are NEVER alone at Wisconsin.  We’re ALL in this together for the next four years and beyond.  So students, one more time:  connect.

We are so glad you are here.  Welcome.  Have an awesome year.  On, Wisconsin!