Here in Academic Support and Advising, we’ve heard this phrase rather frequently over the last few weeks. In fact, it’s become the typical greeting of first-year students, usually followed by some version of “Well, I’m going to be a Marketing major, so I don’t really understand why I’m in a history class.”
And I get it. It makes sense for students to want to jump right into their prospective degree programs – after all, taking those introductory courses is often the key to figuring out if you’re on the right path. But what I like to help students realize is that these “other” courses – the ones assumed to have no connection to the schools of Business, Communication, or Education – are anything but peripheral.
So at this juncture in the conversation, I usually start talking about Elon’s Core Curriculum and the benefit of a liberal arts education – a phrase so negatively associated with unemployment that it’s almost always greeted with skepticism. But here’s the thing: I have TWO liberal arts degrees, and while I haven’t been in a steady career for the last 25 years, I did land a job right out of graduate school at the ripe ‘ole age of 25. And I have my degrees – and their wonderfully transferable skills – to thank. But before reaching for the archaic adage of “If I can do it, you can do it, too,” I try to meet first-years where they are, articulating what I believe are the most important values of a liberal arts education.
A Strong Foundation
I encourage new students to complete their first-year foundations in a timely manner since these courses teach the invaluable skills of careful reading, persuasive and effective writing, quantitative analysis, and cultural sensitivity. And as many students have attested on Elon’s Are You Ready? website, these skills are critical to future success, both in and outside the classroom. For more information and some great student testimonials, check out this link: http://blogs.elon.edu/areyouready/core-curriculum/
I try to explain the Core Curriculum in a way that makes it seem less like an obligatory checklist and more like a streamlined way to explore additional interests while supplementing primary ones. Because in all honesty, there’s nothing a student will study in Elon’s Core Curriculum that can’t be applied to a major outside the Arts and Sciences. And believe me when I say I’m not just parroting some script in the advising center. I really do see the value in these courses, and lucky for me, so do Elon students. In fact, here’s what one Elon 101 TA had to say when asked to assess the applicability of Elon’s Core Curriculum to various degree programs:
1. THE 125 “Acting for Non-Majors” would help a Strategic Communications major by helping the student learn to interact with other people as an actor interacts with other cast members and learn to put oneself into another mindset, as they would a character they are acting out, to better communicate with different types of people.
2. HST 221 “The World in the 20th Century” would help an Education major because the student could integrate relevant topics from that century into their teaching and lesson plans when they go on to teach or it could help the student decide what interests him or her and what they want to specifically teach as they pursue a career in education.
3. PSY 111 “Introduction to Psychology” would help a Finance major because it could teach the student how the mind works and what motivates people to do things, which that student could apply to the use of money. Furthermore, it could also help him or her because it would teach them how to work with people based on the way they think.
4. BIO 106 “The Science of Life” would help a Philosophy major because it could help them think deeper into things that can be explained by science and to apply that when thinking philosophically about things that occur in the world; in other words, it could give the student a different way to look at the topics they examine through a philosophical lens.
I remember back in undergrad – after deciding to major in English – hearing a never-ending conga line of “So, what are you gonna do with that? Teach?” For a while, I prided myself on responding to said question with a big, resounding “NO!” Because let’s face it: what 18 year-old wants to seem cliché? But all it took was one semester as a TA for one of Stetson’s most beloved English professors, and I was hooked. Not only did I go on to get my B.A., but I added on a Master’s degree for good measure, and this fall, I’ll be trying my luck at Ph.D. applications. But what I love most about my degrees is that instead of opening one door, they opened several. They provided me with so many skills – from interpersonal communication to cultural sensitivity to research to editing to marketing (you get the picture). They gave me a chance to explore. To ask “why.” To cultivate my own answers to universal questions. To consider different and often challenging perspectives. To grow.
So instead of confining themselves to a checklist of peripheral obligations, I charge Elon’s class of 2018 to make the most of our Core Curriculum, using these courses to their inquisitive advantage. College is a temporary investment, but its return lasts a lifetime. Don’t squander the limited time you have to explore, because as J.R.R. Tolkien famously writes, “Not all those who wander are lost.”