An Essay from the Classroom on the value of a liberal arts education
“Impressive!” The teacher leaned forward across the table in the crowded Olin Theater during the closing forum. “The professionalism of the students was amazing. It makes me proud to be a Wofford graduate.” The teacher attended our Curriculum Fellows Summit, the culmination of a year of shared work by area high school teachers, Wofford students and faculty that produced engaging, classroom-ready curriculum materials for schools. Fellows around her echoed the sentiment of pride.
Why Wofford? Because inspiring, thoughtful learning from childhood through college, and throughout life, is key for a shared, global future fit for human communities. For me, as part of the faculty, that Curriculum Fellows work was living proof we’re doing that kind of education here and partnering with others working in pursuit of it beyond our gates.
We’re doing education collaboratively on campus, too, with staff members and professors often teaming up to design great learning experiences for students and ourselves. Take the BRICS Interim — focused on the world-changing growth of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — in which I participated as an instructor alongside staff from The Space. “I used to see Charleston as a single point in space,” wrote a student after our visit to the port, to rice and tea plantations and sites of slave resistance. “Now I see it as part of a dynamic global landscape, past and present.” Lessons learned in classes on western civilization, economics, and Chinese came together for our students. Jennifer Dillenger ’07 deftly turned their sights toward their professional futures; I nudged them along with knotty assignments.
Why Wofford? Because what’s beyond our gates — in Spartanburg, Charleston and across the globe — is as significant as what’s inside, and what’s inside is vitally important. Cherished. Beloved. And enormously rewarding … My colleagues’ work on healthy eating, aligned with local initiatives to halt the obesity epidemic; on aging, where students apply the science of memory to challenges at hand, working with the elderly to capture stories their families hold dear; in the arts practicum, where students learn about the beauty and business of art through partnerships with local organizations.
Why Wofford? Because it’s a place where, at our best, our whole campus takes teaching and learning seriously, but ourselves … not so much. Where we’ll load a group of faculty and staff into a crowded taxi in Brazil as part of the Milliken Faculty Development Seminar, and out of the shared laughter and conversation, a new student experience will emerge as the BRICS Interim.
Wofford matters because we’re a place for individualized learning, where average and extraordinary people alike embrace their strengths and hone them in a caring community. We have high aspirations; we invite each other to seek excellence daily. And we understand that all of us here are works-in-progress, that we can all learn from one another.
Why Wofford? Because Wofford is a place where deep disciplinary expertise meets wild, open spaces for developing new ideas; where the walls and gates dissolve and we build what’s next together. As a faculty member, I’m part of that, and so are you, reader. What shall we build?
By Dr. Laura Barbas Rhoden, associate professor of modern languages, literatures and cultures