Task force explores modern interdisciplinary education

By Jake DiPaola

Elm Staff Writer

Founded in 1782, Washington College is a long-standing institution dedicated to providing a liberal arts education.  However, times are changing, and the College believes it is time to modify their approach to a liberal arts education.

Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Patrice DiQuinzio is spearheading the new Liberal Arts Task Force, whose goal is to reestablish the idea of a liberal arts education in the modern day and the future.

Dr. DiQuinzio said that such a wide-ranging education can offer the knowledge necessary to ensure students are best equipped for the outside world. It is time for WC to prepare its students for the future. In order to do that, they have to anticipate what that future will be.

“It is easy for us to say, well we know what this is,” Dr. DiQuinzio said when talking about avoiding complacency in discovering a modern liberal arts education. “That is the way we should be doing liberal arts today, the way to prepare students for the future.”

The task force began last spring when members joined the team and started contemplating what was needed and how it should be done.

Dr. DiQuinzio was joined by academically diverse faculty, including members from the sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

These members include Associate Professor in Psychology Dr. Michael Kerchner, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dr. Emerald Stacy, Director of Gender Studies and Assistant Professor of English Dr. Elizabeth O’Connor, Director of Ethnomusicology, Chair and Associate Professor of Music Dr. Jon McCollum, Chair and Associate Professor of Education Dr. Bridget Bunten, and Assistant Professor of Business Management Dr. Caddie Putnam Rankin.

The members were assigned the book “Robot-Proof” by Joseph E Aoun, which describes the struggles of higher education in an age of artificial intelligence, as summer reading.

While Dr. DiQuinzio does not agree with all of the book’s arguments, she does agree with much of what Aoun had to say, including how to prepare students for the modern world.

“That is what we do, teach students to go out into the world and do what robots cannot replace,” Dr. DiQuinzio said.

“It makes you more marketable for jobs and well-rounded for the outside world. It is what we are discovering in class, how little details relate to so many other departments,” senior Caitlin McDaniel said, regarding the benefits of a modernized liberal arts education.

Dr. DiQuinzio has met with the task force several times, with individual members at least once, and with each department a few times.

They wanted to make the task force as interdisciplinary as possible to “surface as many ideas as possible,” Dr. DiQuinzio said. By discussing education with members from different departments, all with different methods of thought, they hope to collectively establish a new way to teach a liberal arts education.

She mentioned that there is no member in charge of the task force. Rather, each opinion is weighed evenly without higher-ups telling the faculty how to teach.

The task force asks question like what technology is being used today? What new co-curriculars can be offered? What opportunities can WC present to students?

Dr. DiQuinzio said that their talks are very beneficial and represent a good liberal arts education.

“There are students in that building doing experiments and mathematics,” Dr. DiQuinzio said while pointing to Dunning Hall. “And there are students right over there reading Aristotle and Plato,” she said, gesturing towards William Smith Hall. “It is a wonderful combination of the past, present and future.”

Dr. DiQuinzio said that she is currently trying to find a way to get students involved in the task force.

“I would like to see ideas come from the bottom up, not the top down,” Dr. DiQuinzio said.

A liberal arts education is the ability to not only teach students, but as Dr. DiQuinzo said, “to give a passion for learning and the ability to keep learning.”

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