Foundations

Some people do not enjoy history lessons very much.

I am not one of those people. After all, I was the lone “5” in my AP US History class in 2003. (The scale was 1-5, for those unfamiliar, with “1” being “No, sorry,” and “5” being “You’re really quite competent and adept in this area of study!”) I’m fascinated with World War II. I considered majoring in history before deciding that my only real path was teaching the subject, and I didn’t want to lock myself in with that.

Luckily for me, history and foundations of higher education is a critical component for any good student affairs program. One cannot move forward without knowing where one has been before.

I think one of the coolest parts about learning about American higher education has been my ability to share the knowledge with others outside the field. Take for example a recent conversation I had with two friends. Both of them possess Master’s degrees in English. We were discussing the attitude difference in fans from Washington State University/University of Washington and Oregon State University/University of Oregon. One friend, native to Alabama, talked about how WSU played Auburn several years ago, and he was very impressed with the sportsmanship and dedication of WSU fans–even in the face of a loss.

I said that perhaps that lack of entitlement or elitism stems from the school’s land-grant background. My friends asked, “What?”

I then proceeded to talk about how in the 1860’s, legislation passed stating that states could receive benefits for opening colleges tailored to agriculture, mechanical, and technical sciences. The idea was based on setting up programs for the “common man.” Land-grant institutions tried to cast aside notions that advanced training was somehow reserved for only the privileged; remember that in our present-day struggles with cost of education.

Furthermore, we talked about how it’s funny in that strange way how science (and the STEM fields) are so valuable nowadays when, in the initial days of higher education, science was regarded as practically a joke. Now it seems it’s cool to hate on the liberal arts, when really, liberal arts is the historical foundation of higher education. Liberal arts and critical thinking are not disposable.

What I believe in is striking a balance between the practical and the critical. It’s akin to giving students a reason to wonder why they cherish the STEM field, and how their chosen industries or professions or journeys impact their own lives and the world around them. Science and the liberal arts are not mutually exclusive; similarly, I just read an essay by Albert Einstein about how science and religion/spirituality are not mutually exclusive.

If he can find a balance between those realms, I am confident I can help people find a balance between profession and meaning.

Now… do you understand why history and I get along so well?

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