The value of a liberal arts education

My cab driver turned left into the parking lot beside Brian Mulroney Hall. He sighed as he pulled the van to a stop and said ‘I remember having classes here’.

That’s when it occurred to me. My cab driver was a St. Thomas graduate. I tipped him three dollars and after walking onto the frozen campus, a terrifying thought crossed my mind: what kind of opportunities await me after I graduate?

I know this thought plagues not only myself, but every student in their final year at STU. After my four years of assignments, exams, term-papers and all nighters, what if the work isn’t enough to for a secure future? Not to say that STU only produces classes of well-read cab drivers, but what jobs are out there for students with a liberal arts education?

I decided to take a journey through my personal St Thomas experience to see what progress I have made. Has it been worth the freshman 15, the time, or the thousands of dollars in student debt? I searched through the files acquiring cyber dust in my laptop and found (in a folder marked ‘useless’) an assignment I wrote for a journalism class in 2009.

There were two things that stood out:

1. Grammar. If anything has improved, thank God this has. At one point in the paper I don’t think I grasped the concept of ‘their’, ‘there’, and ‘they’re’. Needless to say, I have a new-found respect for my intro professors.

2. didn’t take any risks. In high school, students learn the ‘right’ way to construct an essay. The finished product is often a cookie cutter version of your thoughts. I was writing what I thought my professor would want to read.

With these two things in mind, I decided to seek advice from someone with more knowledge on the subject of both first and fourth year students. Professor Thom Parkhill helped me realize there are no simple answers for my question.

“It’s not only that fourth year students read better, write better, or think more critically. The change is often more profound.”

Parkhill has been a part of the first-year-oriented Aquinas program periodically since 1994. He sees many new students at the beginning of their university journey and watches them reach graduation.

“Most students in their fourth year are no longer unaware of the myriad influences on them. They’re critical of what they perceive and are more likely to ask themselves, ‘what’s going on here?’”

Maybe that’s the biggest difference between first year and fourth year students. St. Thomas has equipped me with the tools to question my surroundings, to ask ‘why’ and to continue to learn. If STU serves you in the way it intends to, then after four years you should be even more excited to learn than you were before starting the journey.

Professor Christine Cornell has been teaching at STU for 15 years. She often includes oral presentations and performances in the requirements for her classes. She recognizes how important these skills are for a liberal arts education.

“The liberal arts really does bring together a significant array of ways to learn and grow,” Cornell says. “There have been numerous surveys and reports from employers that suggest they value liberal arts grads particularly for their flexibility and their ability to learn.”

A liberal arts education is a growing process. Though you may not see the changes now, the various skills you learn at STU will help you to be a more competent worker and member of society.

Then it came to me. After four years of schooling I have finally learned how to question what’s around me and think for myself. What a glorious realization! Perhaps that, in a nutshell is liberal arts education. STU is producing not groups of well-read cab-drivers, but groups of people who are creative thinkers, who can think critically,and grow past the confines of classroom walls. If after four years we’ve learned enough to continue growing intellectually, we are an employer’s dream.

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