Monday, January 9, 2017

Susan Koch: Award winners cite benefits of a liberal arts education

The following is an excerpt from a column by University of Illinois Springfield Chancellor Susan Koch. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on January 7, 2017.

"When Illinois residents think about the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois, the University's longstanding reputation for preparing public servants for leadership in government and related sectors is often top of mind. 

While that association is most certainly appropriate, a broader institutional value at UIS is our commitment to providing all students, regardless of major, with an outstanding liberal arts education. 

In fact, UIS is one of only 30 universities nationwide - and the only university in Illinois - that is part of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, a selective organization that drives awareness of the value of high-quality liberal arts education in an affordable public college setting. 

The term "liberal arts" refers to studies that are considered essential to an exceptional undergraduate education. It includes the humanities (the arts, English, history, foreign languages, literature and philosophy), the social sciences (anthropology, communication, economics, geography, psychology and sociology), the sciences (biology, chemistry and physics) and mathematics (algebra, calculus, geometry and logic). 

And what are the benefits of a liberal arts education in the year 2017? I asked that question of four exceptional UIS faculty members - each of whom has received the University of Illinois "University Scholar Award" within the past few years. 

The University Scholar Award is given for outstanding teaching and research and is the highest honor a University of Illinois faculty member can receive. Hua Chen, a professor in the UIS Biology Department, responded: "The biggest benefit of a liberal arts education is that it empowers individuals to deal with the complexity, diversity and change that living in the 21st century demands."  
One take-home message after studying this topic is that I hope students have learned to think critically when they enter the workforce and they have learned to be more engaged and informed citizens." 

According to David Bertaina, a professor in the History Department at UIS, a liberal arts education is "not just about filling up gaps" in students' knowledge. "At a liberal arts institution like UIS, faculty want to be an important part of students' intellectual formation," he says. "Professors are excellent resources, and some of the best learning opportunities are through discussions and interactions outside of class. Success requires a whole set of connections and experiences, and a liberal arts education helps make those connections and experiences possible.""

Read the entire column online.