Emily VanBerkum believes she has become a more well-rounded person and student through her liberal arts studies at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College. Photo by Vanessa Santilli

In praise of a Catholic liberal arts education

By 
  • February 3, 2012

TORONTO - Emily VanBerkum believes the “interdisciplinary” aspects of her Catholic liberal arts education have made her a well-rounded student.

“It’s very interdisciplinary and it relates to so many disciplines in your life, so many fields like business or politics,” said the fourth-year Christianity and Culture student at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College.

The highlights of a Catholic liberal arts education will be showcased  Feb. 6 by the Rabanus Project, the official student group for the Christianity and Culture program. It will be holding an event called “What can I do with my Christianity and Culture degree?” showing its applications in the working world through speakers who are graduates of the program.

Among the speakers will be Cheridan Eygelaar, associate producer at Salt + Light Television, Theresa Johnson, a teacher at Fr. John Redmond Catholic Secondary School, and Gregory Rupik, a Master of Arts student in theology at the University of St. Michael’s College.

“We take a lot of pride in the fact that our students are doing lots of different things,” said Reid Locklin, Christianity and Culture program co-ordinator.

“We are not just educating persons to acquire certain technical skills — we are doing that — but we’re more importantly educating persons as persons and trying to get them to ask the questions that are important for living a good life in the Word.”

Some of the possible paths for graduates include careers in education, careers in law, research-oriented educational careers, media and communications and pastoral ministry, said Locklin.

The origins of a liberal arts education are kind of old school, but the benefits make it perfect for the demands or requirements of living in the 21st century, said David Sylvester, principal at King’s University College in London, Ont.

“The skills and tools that you learn in the liberal arts are those that allow you to read the signs of the times and determine where your place is in society,” said Sylvester.

“And those are critical thinking, great communication skills, the ability to solve problems and analyse problems and empathy.”

Sylvester said King’s was one of the Canadian representatives at the Beijing Conference on the Liberal Arts in Higher Education last June.

“China is rediscovering the liberal arts because they need visionaries and they specifically said they need individuals who can see the big picture and plan for the future,” he said.

“Asia is rediscovering the liberal arts as valuable precisely when some in the West are starting to disparage it. If anything, the meltdown has illustrated that technical prowess does nothing for us unless we have a conscience… and an understanding of all aspects of what we’re involved in.”

Many programs focus too much on wooing students with promises of more direct career paths than one might see in the liberal arts, said Jim Frank, vice president and academic dean at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ont.

“But the bottom line success of a student… is how well they have nurtured their inquiring mind and commitment to being a responsible citizen and that will have a very broad application in the workplace, in your local community and the way you can affect living conditions and policy across the country and beyond,” said Frank.

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