Students answer: Why the liberal arts?

Excerpts from three outstanding L&S student submissions to the UW-System’s 11th annual Liberal Arts Essay Contest reveal unique insights about the value and importance of a diverse and varied education.

August 29th 2016 | L&S News
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The storytelling scientist

Humans are social beings and our ability to relate to and connect with one another is our most valuable skill. Drawing upon past interactions and experiences, we can make sense of the world and find creative ways to act within it. 

The strength of a liberal arts education is not that it is training for the jobs currently in demand today, but instead teaches students to interact with and continually learn from the people and world surrounding us, preparing us to tackle jobs today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our careers.

Beginning college, I knew where I could apply my calculus and biology classes as a scientist, but wondered what the application of my Scandinavian Tales and Ballads course would be. On the first day of class, we went around the room and stated our majors. 

Afterward, our professor said how excited he was to have such a variety of majors in the class because each background would bring a different and unique perspective to the table. 

As the extension of that, he said his goal for the class was not to make everyone a Scandinavian Studies Ph.D., as that would flood the academic market. Instead studying these tales and ballads would help us become better computer scientists, marketers or whatever passion we were pursuing. 

Instead of seeing a diversity of backgrounds as a hindrance, he saw it as an advantage because each class member could contribute a separate source of value to the whole.

Bill Mulligan, senior, Biochemistry (L&S), First Place


Value of a liberal arts education

I found that setting aside time to practice an instrument required discipline and self-motivation. Making sure I knew my part in choir and listening to those around me to achieve the best sound required effective teamwork skills. 

Befriending and convincing performers to play my pieces required top-notch communication. Building creative models of solo flute pieces in my composition course taught me how to extrapolate data from sets and think outside the box. Picking a piano piece to arrange for orchestra and meticulously proofreading each part showed me that the more time and effort I put into a project, the more pride I’d take in the final result.

Even if I don’t ultimately become a composer, I know I’ll approach my work creatively from an interdisciplinary standpoint, communicate effectively with those around me and be able to find and succeed at a job I truly enjoy, even if it doesn’t exist yet. 

My life’s path will ascend, descend and meander back and forth. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I can’t wait for the ride ahead.

Yasha Hoffman, sophomore, Russian and Music Composition, Honorable Mention


Dad says, "get a job!"

The importance of a multi-faceted personal development, with elements of liberal education, life experience and specific training, was made clear during my recent Macroeconomics 102 class. I learned about structural unemployment (unemployment due to industrial reorganization) and how the lack of liberal education negatively impacts individuals, families and the economy. 

In addition to this eye-opening Economics class in my first semester, I studied Environmental Change Literature, Japanese, Psychology and Integrated Learning Seminar. These courses, although unrelated, helped me zero in on my interests, passions and career path. 

I am grateful for such liberal arts educational opportunities, but this education alone is not enough. In today’s world, specific training is now and will always be needed, as well as a broad range of life experience. I do not agree with the argument that liberal arts education is more or less necessary than specific training — based on my experience and that of my mentors, it is clear that successful people strive for and achieve a successful balance between liberal education, training and experience in life. 

 Jennifer Morris, freshman, Psychology and Neurobiology