I was surprised to read Fort Lewis College President Dene Thomas’ question in the story headlined “Figuring out a modern identity” (Herald, Dec. 3.)
“What good is an English or history degree without a skill to go with it?” she asked.
Allow me to defend myself and my history degree.
In 2009, I graduated first in my class, summa cum laude. While I was studying history at Fort Lewis, something miraculous and inexplicable happened. I found myself with some skills.
I gained a spatial and geographical awareness of the Earth and a chronological understanding of human history. I developed research and skills in finding relevant and scholarly information, and an ability to search quickly and effectively for both digital and print sources to suit my needs.
I developed skills in analyzing and evaluating sources for credibility – something relevant in this era of information literacy and responsible news consumption and sharing. I developed skills in evaluating context and taking multiple perspectives into consideration, something useful in almost every professional setting imaginable. I gained critical thinking skills and developed skills in analyzing perspectives – learning to ask deeper questions: What if? Why? How?
I developed skills in analyzing systems of power, how they rise, how they perpetuate, how they change over time and how they affect people and society. I learned the importance of an informed citizenry, the power of my voice and the value of my vote. I learned how important our values of freedom and equality are, and the long strides and struggles our nation has endured.
Because of these things, I’ve developed skills in respectfully speaking about political issues and in teaching kids how important it is to engage with our citizenship in a productive manner. I learned how to sit with those whose views may differ from my own, and forged skills in carrying a discourse intelligently and productively forward. I learned the value of opening my world internationally and exploded my world view. With the history department, I explored the history of Greece and archaeology at a medieval monastery in France. These skills have affected me both professionally and personally.
I practiced and applied language and communication skills in an authentic setting, and I learned about myself as a global citizen. I learned the importance of listening to the voices of the past and the present we hear from persons of color, indigenous peoples, women, and from those who haven’t been represented for all manner of reasons. I’ve grown my own listening skills and strive to learn more.
I’ve learned how to be vigilant in research, patient in the development of an idea, diligent, ethical and professional in my work. I’ve honed my confidence and skills and learned how to craft my questions to get to better answers and in such a way that I can create a well-written argument that is researched, organized and supported with relevant textual evidence.
I’ve learned how to transfer all of these skills across disciplines and across jobs – whether as a historian, a server in a restaurant, a writer, the manager of a furniture store or a welder. All of these skills are relevant because we are all global citizens of this 21st-century world.
I’ve developed skills in defending my degree choice, and the confidence to do so even against the president of my own alma mater.
I have the incredible faculty at FLC to thank for helping me acquire these skills – and for teaching me how to shape and grow them as I’ve continued my journey academically, professionally and personally.
All of this has been possible because of my liberal arts experience at FLC. It is where I found my heart, where I developed my mind, where I defined who I am and found my place as a global citizen.
I’ll use every ounce of the skills I began to develop there and hope to continue to develop the rest of my life because I learned there that I am a lifelong learner. We all are, every one of us.
Whenever anyone asks me about my experience at my alma mater, I am quick to answer that the best part of FLC is the faculty. My professors challenged me and my imagination in ways that made me grow. They pushed me. They weren’t satisfied with mediocrity. They had high expectations and helped create in me a fertile ground for my passions to grow.
The faculty members deserve so much respect for the work they have done and the skills that they have helped their history alumni evolve. My professors have persisted in pushing me and continued to check in with me through the years, remaining my intellectual mentors and continuing to inspire me.
These are the skills that are wrapped up and represented in that scroll of paper – my history degree from Fort Lewis College.
Melissa McConnell is finishing a double master’s degree with a teaching credential at the University of Denver. Reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.