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Grad student blends career, education into all-encompassing life experience

Jonathon Hofer shares his takeaways from studying classical education in the 21st century


Portrait of Jonathon Hofer.

Jonathon Hofer, program coordinator at Mary College at ASU.

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May 05, 2022

Beyond a degree, college education can play an important role in many students’ lives.

That becomes evident after talking to Jonathon Hofer, Mary College at ASU’s program coordinator and master’s degree candidate in the Master of Arts in Classical Liberal Education and Leadership program.

In his role, he coordinates a key partnership between Arizona State University and the University of Mary, allowing ASU students to take Catholic studies courses that fulfill ASU general studies degree requirements. And in spite of his busy schedule, Hofer found in the master’s program offered by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership to be the missing piece to living a full life. 

“This program awakens a depth of meaning and breathes new life,” he said. “It helps me to be a good husband, father and professor. It has a unifying thrust — it challenges me to question whether the whole of my life is a unified reality. The classical liberal education I’ve earned at ASU has given me a wider aperture through which to understand humanity.”

Hofer applied for the program after learning about the kind of experience students have, engaging with each other in Socratic seminars and thus creating a community of learners. In its foundation, the Master of Arts in classical liberal education and leadership program at ASU is three-pronged: It combines the study of the Great Books; civic education in American principles and institutions; and statesmanship for the 21st century. 

Classical education today

Classical education invites students to seek truth and guidance through the study of the great philosophers and authors in Western civilization, in order to become virtuous in all areas of their lives. In this master's program, students reflect on the past, with its rich heritage of liberal education. Informed by that heritage and inspired by its exemplars, they are prepared to take on the challenges of education, citizenship and statesmanship.

Courses include "Classic Texts in Political Philosophy and Justice," "Literary Leaders and Ethics" and "Character and Leadership."

But why study classical education today?

Classical education transforms the way one sees life,” Hofer said. “It adds depth of meaning to life. It helps you to see things connected and it encapsulates what education ought to do. It’s not just graduating with a degree so you can get a job. That is certainly important, and it’s a piece of it. But to stop there is a disservice. What liberal education at ASU does is it frees the mind to see yourself truly, to bring all aspects of life together in a meaningful way, and to transform who you are, what you do and how you see the world.” 

This program at ASU gives a seat at the table for faith and the Catholic academic tradition. This is truly profound. Many degree programs shy away from faith, but I have been simultaneously welcomed and challenged.

– Jonathon Hofer 

In this program, Hofer and his colleagues reflect upon texts ranging from Cicero and Plutarch to Shakespeare and Lincoln, from Aristotle and Montesquieu to Jane Austen and James Madison, and from Locke to Churchill, all in pursuit of a liberal and civic education in America's constitutional democracy.

“The ideas we are engaging in are worthwhile not because someone said they are, but because they speak to our human experience,” Hofer said.

After defending his dissertation in the fall of 2022, Hofer plans to continue the work he is doing at Mary College at ASU.

“The partnership between an innovation-driven university and a private, Catholic university is unique and provides incredible opportunities for students. I am excited to blend what I’m doing at the Mary College and what I’m studying at SCETL and to offer that back to students,” he said.

Giving faith a seat at the table

Jonathon Hofer (center) during a trip to Rome with his students

Hofer (center) in Rome with his students.

While the program focuses on classical liberal education, Hofer reiterates that his colleagues and professors welcomed his interest in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and Thomistic studies.

“This program at ASU gives a seat at the table for faith and the Catholic academic tradition. This is truly profound. Many degree programs shy away from faith, but I have been simultaneously welcomed and challenged,” Hofer said. 

“I have been welcomed to bring in my Thomistic background. To me, the integration of faith and reason is possible, important and it communicates a fundamental truth about what it means to be human and how we engage with the world. At the same time, by reading authors like Nietzsche and Rousseau, I am challenged to think in ways that I haven’t before. At a university, we don’t need to be scared of ideas,” he said.

One way the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership makes it possible for professionals and scholars to complete the master’s program is by providing them with financial aid opportunities to help reduce out-of-pocket costs. These include the Lyceum Fellowships, the Cook Family Graduate Fellowships available to classical teachers working at GreatHearts, as well as Student Success Awards for students achieving high standards of academic excellence.

The MA has also been approved by the James Madison Memorial Foundation for the recipients of its prestigious award for excellence in K–12 civics education, as the degree offers the requisite courses in constitutionalism, American political thought and civics that interest awardees.

The program offers research assistantships that include stipends, tuition awards and possible benefits. Prospective students are encouraged to check the program’s website for updates about additional funding opportunities.

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