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Faculty panel discusses cross-disciplinary progress, possibilities

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This past Wednesday, the St. Olaf faculty sat down to attend an annual panel kicking off another year of “Innovation in the Liberal Arts.” The evening was spent discussing the development and sustainment of inventive, cross-disciplinary programs here on campus as a launch to another year of creative thinking in and out of the classroom.

As a student, you may be wondering, “What does any of this have to do with me?”

The ability of professors to think outside of the box when it comes to education is becoming increasingly relevant, and, in the current economic situation, incredibly necessary.

Gone are the days when a college degree guaranteed a secure, well-paying job. In fact, recent graduate experiences have only proven time and again that a bachelor’s degree fails to guarantee any sort of job at all. According to a recent article in The Atlantic titled “How Liberal Arts Colleges are Failing America,” in the last year, one out of two bachelor’s degree holders under 25 were jobless or unemployed. Add this to the fact that student loan debts are soaring to new heights due to exponentially increasing tuition costs, and one finds the perfect recipe for disaster for the typical Ole undergraduate student.

Job prospects are so bleak, Generation Y has earned a new name from one journalist at Newsweek that rings with bitter, if grimly funny, truth: Generation Screwed.

Liberal Arts colleges, in particular, are feeling the pressure to adapt to America’s new economic challenges. As upholders of the traditional “well-rounded education,” such colleges have recently come under fire for not meeting the needs of their graduates when faced with the real world’s job markets, especially for arts and humanities students. Young adults graduating with bachelor’s degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs rather than finding positions related to their field of study, confounding their hopes that a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans.

Investing in college should create opportunities, regardless of major. St. Olaf instills its students with the notion that passion can precede practicality, and that doing what one loves will inevitably lead to success not necessarily measured in dollars and cents. Tough financial times beg for something more, which is where the “Innovation for Liberal Arts” committee comes in.

Looking to the word’s definition, innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies or ideas. Innovation differs from invention in that the former refers to the use of a new idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself. It differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different rather than doing the same thing better.

The “Innovation in the Liberal Arts” committee seeks to bring faculty together to rediscover how to make education here at St. Olaf relevant in the rapidly evolving world, so that when students leave the Hill, they are ready to meet the world of work with the tools necessary to succeed.

For example, the committee hosts an annual Student Innovation Competition with an award for demonstrated interdisciplinary innovation. While the project matter is completely open to the student body, it must draw from departments in at least two of five fields: humanities, fine arts, mathematics, natural sciences and social sciences. Students interested in becoming part of this exciting movement on campus should check out the “Innovation in the Liberal Arts” website, at www.innovationliberalarts.org/competition/ for more information. The winner receives a $1,000 prize.

While there are countless factors contributing to the difficult hunt for employment, one can only hope that such innovations in the lecture hall and through extracurriculars will contribute to future Oles’ success stories.

botzs@stolaf.edu