Liberal arts; it’s a phrase we hear constantly across the Georgia College campus. But what does it mean and why is it important?
A new initiative on campus looks to bring folks together to answer those very questions in an effort to align all aspects of campus life, from volunteerism to coursework, with our mission as the state’s designated public liberal arts university.
Professor Cynthia Alby teaches graduate level courses to students pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching. To her, liberal arts learning goes beyond career preparation. It also creates a breadth of knowledge and prepares students for life.
“The students in my courses come from a variety of backgrounds. They may have received their undergraduate degrees in history, English or a foreign language, however they learn together and from each others experiences,” said Alby. “It’s in that diverse learning setting that students can bounce ideas off each other and really learn beyond what a textbook can say.”
Alby, who herself is a product of a liberal arts education, sees the value in the holistic learning environment.
“My undergraduate education was in liberal arts, and it has served me well,” said Alby. “From there I got a master’s degree in archeology, taught high school Latin and English for a while, then I finally realized my passion for teaching. My liberal arts background allowed me to not only take advantage of opportunities, but also find where my heart truly was.”
She shares that experience each semester with her students in hopes that they can relate to her path.
“Many students in my courses may not have thought they would teach, but here they are working to do just that,” said Alby. “I hope my story shows not only the benefits of learning in a liberal arts environment, but also that it’s OK to let your passion drive your career, and even more so that being exposed to new ideas and concepts can actually lead to you your passion.”
Alby is one member of a group spearheading an initiative to reignite the liberal arts focus on campus. She’s joined by Dr. Julia Metzker, Dr. Cara Meade Smith, Dr. Amy Sumpter, Dr. Nolan White and Dr. Kimberly Cossey, all of who attended the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Institute on General Education and Assessment over the summer.
“When we went to the Institute, we saw many teams that were creating plans to be implemented upon their return to campus, but we knew we didn't want do that,” said Cossey. “We have many great curricular and co-curricular programs in place at Georgia College, but we need input from everyone to make our liberal arts efforts cohesive and more visible.”
Cossey, who teaches organic chemistry, knows the importance of truly engaging students and has seen the results of teaching in innovative and collaborative ways.
“I learned chemistry through traditional lectures, chalk talks and note taking, so that is how I taught when I first came to Georgia College,” said Cossey. “However, I quickly found success implementing more active learning into the classroom. Now I use a modified flipped classroom. Spending the majority of class time working problems and synthesizing the concepts, rather than just reporting the facts from the text, has shown greater gains in student learning and enthusiasm in the subject (of organic chemistry). This focus on transferable skills, rather than lists of concepts, is one of the great strengths of a liberal arts institution.”
Cossey, Alby and the team have kicked off this multiyear project to renew our focus on the liberal arts, which officially began with guest speaker Dr. Lee Knefelkamp, senior fellow at AAC&U. Knefelkamp, a dynamic and entertaining speaker, is one of AAC&U foremost experts on the liberal arts. She has worked with many institutions like ours to help them build general education programs that embody the principles and ideals of their liberal arts missions.
“Dr. Knefelkamp’s extensive work with liberal arts institutions brings an important perspective to this project,” said Dr. Julia Metzker. “She emphasized the importance of dialogue and urged us to ask the question, ‘What is possible at this place with this culture and with our talent?’”
This liberal arts renewal project will start with discussions throughout the year where faculty, staff, students and community members will be invited to develop a shared understanding of the liberal arts at Georgia College through spirited and engaging conversations. Information on those discussions will be available through the Front Page calendar and at the project blog, gcsu.wordpress.com.