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Reimagining Liberal Arts initiative at UWRF

March 13, 2019

Members of a student panel talk to faculty during a recent meeting of the Reimagining the Liberal Arts initiative. (Theodore Tollefson/Student Voice)
Members of a student panel talk to faculty during a recent meeting of the Reimagining the Liberal Arts initiative. (Theodore Tollefson/Student Voice)

The Reimagining Liberal Arts is an initiative that has been put together by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls College of Arts and Sciences in order to help gain a general and collective understanding of what a liberal arts education means. This program is designed for students who are graduating with a liberal arts degree.

“A group of faculty and staff over the last two or three years began to think about the fact that we as a campus needed to really articulate what the liberal arts were in the past, what they are now, and what they could be in the future,” said Dean Yohnk, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “We’re always striving to be innovative in our programing and do everything we can to prepare students for successful lives and careers after they graduate.”

The initiative held its first event in a series of panels that took place on Wednesday, Feb. 27. The panels presented to a group of 14 students with at least one representative from each of the colleges on campus, some of whom are on the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s advisory council. The students spoke to faculty and administrators on the benefits of the liberal arts education they have received at UW-River Falls, both in their core major courses and in their general education courses through the college of arts and sciences.

During the panel all students were asked a series of four questions. The first of these questions as asked by Yohnk was, “What do you perceive to be the benefits of the comprehensive liberal arts education that you have received at UWRF?”

Jonah Conway, a vocal music education major, responded, “I think the main benefit is that it allows students to have the opportunity to experience different courses and different experiences from all sorts of walks of life and that can result in a more holistic education.”

Paul Tietz, an environmental science major, added, “Having these liberal arts requirements here in River Falls, while attending here, as opposed to some other engineering school or technical focused place. Without all of those requirements, if I didn’t have those, I wouldn’t have pursued study abroad like I did. I spent a semester in Spain in the fall. I had such a great experience and it’s definitely not something I would have done if I did not have these liberal arts requirements here.”

The second question that was given to the students to answer was, “What are the most essential learning techniques and skills that you have gained in courses at UWRF that you believe will help you be most successful in the future, both on a personal and career level?”

Jase Bakker, a biology major, said that his most important skill gained is, “Priority management. My own has really improved since I came here. When I first came here it was do the first thing that is due next and try to get that done, kind of waiting until deadlines to get things done the day that they are due. Learning that if you kind of do things a couple days in advance, you actually create time for yourself to dive deeper than you would have if you just waited until the final moment to do that assignment. If you give yourself that extra time you dive deeper than you would have originally and that just comes with that extra time you have created for yourself.”

“Making connections with people. I think that in liberal arts being that everyone comes from different aspects in what they want to pursue in their major. I think everyone has different things to bring to the table in liberal arts, like those gen eds specifically come together in team work,” said Dakotah Poitra, an exercise sports science major.

Moving on, the third question that Yohnk asked was, “What do you believe have been the most important ‘high impact learning’ activities that you have engaged in while at UWRF?”

William Sealy, an education major, talked about his own internship experience and how it related to the important high impact learning activities he had engaged through UWRF, “So the internship that I got was working through a diversity program with Native American youth this summer, so I was actually teaching in a classroom with sixth through eighth graders. It really gave me more experience getting comfortable in front of other students and just kind of adapting my instructing, pretty much things I was learning in my education classes I applied in an academic classroom setting with those students.”

Finally, the last question Yohnk asked the panel of students was, “As you prepare for the future (graduation, career, graduate school, personal life) what do you personally believe are the most important (2-3) skills or lessons that you have learned from your education here at UWRF that you believe will help you be successful in the future? ¬†What advice do you have for current or future students?”

Zach Dwyer, a journalism major, spoke on what advice he would give to an incoming freshman, “Jumping into activities right away even if you’re not experienced or no really ready for it right away. First week here, you know, going into a head coaches office interviewing them right away was pretty intimidating or talking on the radio for three hours during a football game. That’s not something you are ever going to be fully prepared for, so just being ready for when that opportunity comes and build on those opportunities.”

Michelle Stage, a psychology major, also spoke on advice she would give to an underclassman saying, “Just jump in and try things, whether it is an organization, whether it’s a gen ed. I think about the first two gen eds that I signed up for and they inspired me to pursue a philosophy minor. I think about the organizations I am a part of and all of this would not have happened if I hadn’t taken the chance to jump in with my gen eds.”

After Yohnk concluded his questions for the group, the floor opened up for faculty and staff to ask questions of their own to ask to the group of 14 students. Following the additional questions, two presentations were then shown to the audience. The first concerned the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP initiative by the Association of Colleges and Universities) which is the initiative that is influencing UW-River Falls’ own evaluation of the college of the liberal arts. The second presentation was on High Impact Practices in Teaching and Learning which focuses on what critical thinking and life skills faculty are teaching their students and how they can improve on what they are already teaching.

The next public panel of the reimagining the liberal arts initiative will take place on Tuesday, March 19 from 4-5:30 pm in the University Center. This panel will feature alumni and local business leaders speaking on the value of liberal arts education at UW-River Falls.

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