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Advisors workshop underscores place of humanities in higher ed

August 07, 2012

Demonstrating humanities in action every day was the focus of a specially designed workshop for academic advisors at Arizona State University that took place July 30 on the Tempe campus.

“In this moment of intense angst and confusion from undergraduate students and their parents about the rising price tag for a college education, more than 120 academic advisors gathered to better understand and ultimately demystify humanities content, courses and degrees,” said Neal Lester, professor of English and associate vice president of arts and humanities for Knowledge Enterprise Development.

“The session brought advisors from practically every discipline and academic unit – service professionals who know our students, their past and present, and can best advise them about their futures,” said Lester, who also is the director of the ASU's Project Humanities.

The session included an exercise in visualizing humanities through everyday experience, small group discussions among advisors from different disciplines, veteran advisors facilitating the group discussions, along with select faculty at each table to comment on disciplinary course content.

Julie Voller, director of academic advising in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, partnered with Lester to create the workshop.

“Academic advisors are in a unique position to talk to students about their entire curriculum," Voller said. "This workshop on humanities and undergraduate education for academic advisors increased their understanding of the value of humanities courses, degrees and ways of thinking. Reaching out to the academic advisors ensures that students, in turn, will understand the importance of humanities general studies requirements, and humanities courses, in preparing students for their lives beyond graduation.”

“Advisors reported out what seemed almost transformative – their clearer understanding of humanities that moved beyond often futile efforts to define humanities in a few words," Lester said. "They saw connections among disciplines and better communicated how humanities courses and content enhance, explain, challenge, answer and invite imagination, translation and interpretation."

The humanities discussion helped to show that jobs are not the end result of a liberal arts education, according to Lester. He explained that among the discussion prompts were statements about the connection between jobs, perspective and meaning; how humanities courses are similar to and different from other courses; and how best to communicate the value of humanities to suspicious, confused and often questioning students.

Representatives from Career Services also participated to clarify and confirm that skills derived from humanities and liberal arts education give students a foundation upon which to become better citizens after college and beyond degree completion, Lester noted.

“To include advisors more deliberately into a university's undergraduate education equation for student recruitment and retention makes sense," Lester said. "A student's success is almost always tied to a collaborative effort, and this workshop for advisors underscored that humanities study and awareness is the very embodiment of collaboration and community.”

“Degrees, jobs, professions and careers go hand in hand with humanities, as humanities, among other things, offers the context that allows us to determine and keep perspective, to assess quality, and to make meaning,” said Lester. “As higher education costs rise, good advice about and a truer understanding of humanities is priceless.”