Porterfield talks education, value of liberal arts, at Common Hour

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President Dan Porterfield kicked off the first Common Hour of the school year with a talk on the benefits of a liberal arts education in today’s fast-paced world. 

By Izzy Schellenger || Contributing Writer

This Thursday, F&M President Dan Porterfield kicked off this year’s first Common Hour with a talk on the value of a liberal arts education.

President Porterfield received his undergraduate degree in English at Georgetown University, where he later served as the Senior Vice President of for Strategic Development. He also acquired his Ph.D. in English at The City University of New York Graduate Center.

Since becoming F&M’s 15th president, Porterfield has strived to expand the college’s financial aid program and enhance students’ opportunities for success during and after college. His focus on the value of a liberal arts education is one of his main principles as a leader and educator.

President Porterfield began his lecture by highlighting the recent achievements within the F&M community, including recent alumni donations, F&M student Becca Myers receiving the ESPYs award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability, and that 120 F&M students participated in funded research on campus during the Summer.
According to Porterfield, all these achievements occurred because of the “definitional choice” that these students made in their academic careers to further their educational and intellectual growth.

Porterfield discussed that liberal arts education is at a crossroads as the nation tries to maintain a shared vision of education. According to Porterfield, the idea of a liberal arts education has been a “tradition that values breadth and depth of learning, creating knowledge, and responding to the fullness of our education.” It leads students toward finding a greater sense of self-awareness, as they gain insight into their responsibilities to themselves, others, and the world.

Some argue, however, that instead of coming to a crossroads, the liberal arts education system has come to a dead-end.

Those who argue against the liberal arts insist that the U.S. cannot afford it and that it does not help people find jobs after graduation. These arguments against the tradition of a liberal arts education date back to the 19th century, with opponents like business tycoon Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie describes a liberal arts education as “adopted for life on another planet,” according to Porterfield.

Porterfield, however, could not disagree more. During his lecture, he stated that 94 percent of 2014 graduates were working full-time or going to graduate school within six months after graduating from F&M.

In addition, out of 976 top institutions, the college was ranked 40th in a study that focused on schools with the highest median for mid-career earnings.
Even though these statistics are impressive, Porterfield believes that they do not fully describe the importance and value of a liberal arts education. Porterfield supplemented this evidence with information on the different opportunities and possibilities that a holistic approach to education can offer.

F&M and the world must ask what direction they would like their education to travel in. Students at F&M and other liberal arts colleges need to ask themselves, “What kind of education will I pursue?” Because of the countless opportunities that a liberal arts education offers, students are able to make numerous definitional choices that will define who they become in the future. The achievements that Porterfield highlighted celebrate some of the choices that students and faculty made that have led to their success.

At the end of his lecture, Porterfield discussed the importance of a liberal arts education on the world as a whole. With the rising amount of conflicts occurring internationally, the need for educated leaders becomes more necessary to solve these problems.
Stressing that a liberal arts education helps to create problem solvers, President Porterfield asked the audience, “What would be our significant gesture” towards helping to create a better world?

Throughout his presidency at F&M, Porterfield has focused on attracting talent from all walks of life, strengthening the academic excellence of the college, fulfilling the emotional and future needs of the student, and responding to the national need for a higher quality education. Because of the high value of a liberal arts education, Porterfield described all of his endeavors as “work worth doing.”

Sophomore Izzy Schellenger is a contributing writer. Her email is ischellenger@fandm.edu.

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