Liberal learning leads to student success

Harry Jellema
Harry Jellema

Since its creation in 1960, Grand Valley has been committed to providing students with a world-class liberal education, which provides broad knowledge of the world, as well as in-depth studies in specific areas of interest.

Fred Antczak, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said liberal education is a necessity in today's professional landscape because the approach helps prepare students to be successful in a complex, diverse and evolving world.

"The challenges they will face aren't going to get smaller, simpler or fewer, so they will need scientific understanding, logical and ethical grounding, artistic creativity, political sophistication, historical precedent and communication abilities," Antczak said. "So, we teach the intellectual traditions by which a person may become more at liberty to think for him or herself in any situation, in any future world."

Harry Jellema was one of the prominent advocates of liberal education who helped plant the roots of Grand Valley's mission. Jellema was first hired as a consultant to Grand Valley in 1963, but soon after became the institution's first faculty member and founded the Philosophy Department.

To honor Jellema's commitment to liberal education and the university, a plaque and photo of Jellema were recently installed near the Philosophy Department's main office in Mackinac Hall, room B3-105.

Stephen Rowe, professor of philosophy, said Jellema defined liberal education as "the ongoing awareness of not only how one thinks and what they think, but also the mind with which they think."

"A liberal education is a philosophical education, and this understanding accounts for the deep embedding of philosophy in Grand Valley's robust general education program, and a philosophy department which, while spinning off leaders of many other programs and initiatives, has refused to become a set of specialized academics standing apart from the world," Rowe said.

The success of Grand Valley's alumni demonstrates the positive return-on-investment from a liberal education. Alumna Hillery York, '12, began her first year at Grand Valley with ambitions of becoming a veterinarian.

During that same year, York developed an affinity for academic history through her general education courses.

"Sure, I was captivated by the Hollywood glamor of Indiana Jones and the mysterious history of ancient Rome, but I had never seriously considered academic history as a career," York said. "Honestly, had I not been encouraged to expand my academic horizons through prerequisite courses, I probably wouldn't have willingly taken history classes. Instead, I was laser-focused on a career I thought I wanted."

York now serves as the collections manager at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in the National Numismatic Collection. In this position, York is responsible for the more than 1.6 million monetary objects in the NNC's collection, which includes coins, paper money, checks, tokens and much more.