The Practicality of a Liberal Arts Education

This week, we’re going to hear from Kerry Randazzo, one of Welty’s summer staff members.

I recently graduated from Beloit College. One experience I think a lot of folks who went to Beloit College can speak to is the feeling of needing to validate your decision to pursue a liberal arts education. I can’t count the times in the past four years that I have listened to speeches or read articles that have waxed poetic about “the value of liberal arts, being well rounded, and developing critical thinking skills.” I have always agreed, but security in my educational  decisions hasn’t stopped the raising of eyebrows when I tell acquaintances or family that my major is “Environmental Arts and Communications.” “So… do you draw pictures of trees or something?” Questions like this would always chip at that security. They would make me question whether or not I made the right decision. Would a broad, interdisciplinary, liberal arts education actually serve me in the professional world, or would I have been better off pursuing a path that is generally viewed as being more “practical?”

(Above: Kerry at Beckmann Mill, and behind a sewing machine)

My liberal arts education is anything but impractical…

What I know now, even after only a couple of months into my first post-collegiate job, is that my liberal arts education is anything but impractical. In an uncertain time that has required us all to be flexible and find creative solutions, I have found myself leaning on my liberal arts degree MUCH sooner than I ever thought I would. In developing environmental videos and remote lessons at Welty, I have had to revisit knowledge from lessons in geology, art history, documentary filmmaking, etching, sewing, and theatre just to name a few. Many of these are classes I took on a whim, for which I have long lost the notes and textbooks, not thinking that I would need to revisit the knowledge anytime soon. Regardless, here I am, using the knowledge in a practical, professional setting! 

…and it influences my work as an environmental educator every day.

On a broader level, I was taught how to communicate my ideas, how to think critically, how to find the connections between seemingly unrelated topics. I was taught how historic systems of oppression are baked into our society, and how to begin the work of replacing them with more inclusive, equitable systems. I was taught to be more humble and curious about what others’ experiences have to teach me. All of these ideas are what the liberal arts are all about, and they influence my work as an environmental educator every day.

My final thoughts are, to folks who are pursuing a liberal arts education currently: you WILL use your degree, your education is valid and a privilege, and your creativity will serve you better now more than ever. To folks who are in high school or seeking a new path in higher education: consider something well rounded, something practical; consider liberal arts.

Kerry Randazzo
Summer Environmental Educator, WEC