Deans and students discuss the value of a liberal arts education at Williams

On Friday afternoon, a small audience of approximately 35, mostly parents and some students, assembled in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall to hear a panel discussion titled “Widening Horizons,” organized as part of Spring Family Weekend. Arranged by Jo Procter of the Office of Public Affairs, the panel was described as a “discussion on the present and the future in Williams students’ lives for parents who are wondering ‘what liberal arts in an age of specialization will get their kids.’”

Led by Dean of the College Peter Murphy, the panel included Assistant Deans Laura McKeon and Peter Grudin, as well as seniors Lee Kindlon, Jocelyn Gibbon, Christopher Bell, and Meghan Searles, who spoke about different aspects of their experiences at Williams.

In his introductory remarks Murphy said that the act of committing oneself to a liberal atrs education is an “act of faith.”

One of the roles of the panel members was to offer the parents in attendance reasons why Williams students are benefiting from such a leap of faith.

McKeon, Coordinator of International Education Programs, spoke about the opportunities to study abroad, noting that about 35 percent of Williams students study away for at least one semester. She discussed some of the benefits of international study, such as an increased preparedness for the challenges of future employment.

“The opportunity to study away as an undergraduate student is a unique and precious one,” McKeon said, emphasizing the importance of taking advantage of such opportunities now and planning ahead.

Grudin focused on fellowship opportunities for Williams students, talking about the success of students in winning many of the most competitive fellowships offered, joking that he could enter the list of fellowships granted to Williams students into a database, and “check to see how Amherst did and find that, as usual, they haven’t done as well.” Besides the more competitive fellowships which are also considered the most prestigious, Grudin mentioned other possibilities for students which offer the opportunity to study at the same universities as these more well-known fellowships, but which are available exclusively to Williams students.

Following questions posed to McKeon and Grudin, Murphy proceeded to introduce the student panelists. Kindlon, a history major from the Williamstown area, focused on his community service experiences.

Referring to Williamstown as a “hamlet of normalcy and wealth,” where it is often “too easy to become complacent,” Kindlon emphasized the importance of getting to know as many people as possible during one’s time at Williams. He said his involvement in the Junior Advisor program was one of the best experiences of his life, and also referred to the rewards of a Best Buddy program, which matches Williams students with area youth.

Gibbon, an English major, focused on making the most of a Williams education. “My path through my Williams education has been one of wandering,” she said, remarking that she did not fall into a certain path early on as she had expected, but instead considered many possibilities. She added that her experience as a JA helped to remind her “to look around” and remain open to different possibilities and opportunities, the importance of which is related to the difficulty she finds in pulling certain themes out of her experience at Williams.

She also emphasized her experiences as a writing tutor and teaching a course on nonfiction writing this semester along with a friend, and how these experiences have taught her the importance of sharing thoughts with fellow students and professors in order to derive the most from her education at Williams.

Bell, who is going to Finland on a Fulbright scholarship, spoke about how he discovered an interest in architecture at Williams and proposed an architecture contract major. He was also initially unsure of what he wanted to study, and was influenced by his Art History 101 course and Professor of Art E.J. Johnson.

Bell, who plans to continue studying architecture after returning from Finland, pointed out that he felt he was better off having studied at Williams than he would have been if he had gone directly to a school for architecture, referring to “the different tools which Williams has given us,” and the opportunity to create a course of study pursuing a variety of interests.

Searles, an economics and English major, focused on her experience studying in Ireland and on work-study at Williams. She spoke of her various expectations and aspirations when coming to Williams, how her interests have changed, and contrasted her actual experiences with the ways she had imagined they would be. She described how balancing work, homework, and other activities have benefited her Williams experience and given her various skills, and also mentioned how she came to value Williams when in Ireland.

“There’s got to be room to enjoy life and remember that this is part of life and not just a stopping point,” she added, emphasizing that we “need to slow down sometimes.”

Gibbon later explained that the student panelists were chosen by Procter for their variety of experiences outside of the classroom.

On her participation in the discussion, she said “it was nice to hear others talk about what they’ve done,” noting that students often don’t discuss with one another their Williams experience as a whole.

When asked why he thought he was chosen to be one of the student panelists, Kindlon responded “I think I was chosen to speak at the discussion because I represent so many volunteers at Williams — the people who are quietly dedicated, the people who you might not imagine to be active in community service but yet it’s a huge part of their life. I was honored to be the voice for all of those people and to be part of such a great panel.”

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *