March 01, 2010

What Sets a Beloit Education Apart

  • President Scott Bierman

In February, I witnessed four Beloit students, all seniors, serving on a panel during Presidential Scholars weekend. They fielded questions from a large group of visiting prospective students and their families, every one a potential recipient of one of these top Beloit scholarships.

All four were extraordinarily comfortable in this high-stakes setting; they were articulate, substantive, and candid, even while speaking extemporaneously. When asked about their post-graduation plans, they talked about the uncertainty the future held. But—and here comes the most remarkable part—none of them were unduly concerned. Quite the opposite: The world in front of them was a moveable feast of opportunity. They knew their education had prepared them for uncertain futures. They were aware of options, they understood networks, they were primed to seize opportunities, they understood how to accept and manage risks. They exuded confidence—wise, thoughtful confidence. It was a virtuoso performance made more so because it was authentic and real. It was the embodiment of the “Beloit miracle” you will read about later in this magazine.

Witnessing the students that day reminded me of my first board of trustees meeting last fall. I had asked the board to identify what they thought should be the most important and distinctive elements of a Beloit education and what purpose those elements should serve. They split into small groups with the end goal of spotting commonalities across autonomous conversations. When they came back together, we discovered that all groups valued the core liberal arts skills that are reinforced in course after course at Beloit. Also, and importantly, every group spoke of the value of offering students experiences that promote and develop these habits of mind, including off-campus study and an on-campus community that features diverse backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking. Every group spoke with great passion about connecting students’ core liberal arts foundations with rich, authentic, and unscripted opportunities to test how these come to life in real-world settings—through internships, community service projects, mentored research programs, and work study, among others. This particular Beloit strength has matured with great sophistication over the last half century and owes its origins to President Miller Upton and the Beloit Plan years.

But the most interesting and insightful thing that emerged from the board meeting was that nearly all groups talked about self-confidence and the importance of an education that promotes it. There is nothing in the College’s mission statement about self-confidence, yet this theme was robustly present.

I have spent my entire career in higher education, but in my first year at Beloit, I have discovered the most distinctive quality of a Beloit College education is the degree of confidence it engenders. What I witnessed during Presidential Scholars weekend confirms this observation. And it is reconfirmed over and over in my daily encounters with students.

Why do Beloiters follow such marvelously diverse paths, why do they find such magically unpredictable routes, why do they lead such richly creative lives? I think much of the answer lies in their willingness to confidently take risks and their self-assurance in managing those risks.

What about a Beloit College education produces this quality with such regularity? I am convinced it is the energy faculty and staff put into the intersection of two great educational themes: the foundational aspects of a liberal arts education and putting that education into authentic practice.

In this magazine, you will read the remarkable stories of eight faculty members and the creative ways they are putting into practice the central liberal arts foundations of their courses. These eight are, of course, the tip of the iceberg. And, it is the mass of the Beloit iceberg that matters. There is no course at Beloit titled “Confidence 101,” yet it is woven into the fabric of this most distinctive curriculum.

When you think about what sets a Beloit College education apart, I hope what I have shared with you here helps you respond confidently.

President Scott Bierman

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