Published: Aug. 15, 2019

I hope that everyone had the opportunity to spend time with family and friends during the summer months when our calendars may be a little less full. The quiet hallways of our buildings will soon echo with the chatter of students making their way to their classrooms. For first-timers, the new way-finding signs in North Classroom will ease their anxiety as they try not to be late.

The transition back into a new school year is always exciting. We look to the future as we greet the new and returning faces full of promise, anticipation, and determination. Students wonder what concept or topic will spark curiosity and lead to the lightbulb switching on. Faculty explore how to generate that spark and nurture it. How will our interdisciplinary liberal arts education challenge our students to think deeply and critically about their chosen disciplines, their communities, and their world? 

Over the past several months, numerous news articles appeared citing the passion and commitment that the coming generation has to address the serious issues that face the nation and the planet:

Zero Hour is a coalition of teenagers who joined forces through social media to increase awareness of “climate change and environmental justice.”  They held marches across the nation in July 2018, including one on the National Mall (New York Times, July 21, 2018).

A few months earlier, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida successfully planned international protests demanding action on gun violence (Washington Post, March 24, 2018).

Young people formed the Sunrise Movement and met with Senator Diane Feinstein to advocate for environmental legislation in a meeting that went viral (CNN, February 23, 2019).

On March 15, 2019, thousands of school children and university students participated in the first global climate strike (The Guardian, March 15, 2019).

United We Dream is a youth-led network with over 400,000 members that fights for justice for immigrants. Many of the leaders of the recent and ongoing Hong Kong protests are millennials (CNBC, August 12, 2019).

These are students who want change. CLAS can facilitate the process. The education that the students will need to meet the challenges on which they are focused falls squarely in the interdisciplinary approaches and critical thinking that a liberal arts education fosters.

We held our annual retreat for department chairs and program directors earlier this week.  During one of the sessions, we brainstormed about what pressing issues or hot topics likely concern our students, both current and prospective. Not surprisingly, climate change was at the top of the list.  We also identified gun violence, environmental justice, and immigration.  Others were privacy and security, diversity and inclusion, urban sustainability, and access to health care broadly defined to include mental health, wellness, and nutrition. 

The next steps over the coming weeks and months will be for departments and programs to define questions that describe how their disciplines might approach each issue. We hope these questions will create an open-ended discussion about how we might think about our teaching and research in support of interdisciplinary student learning and, more importantly, how we might meet students where they are with their passions and concerns. Everyone can contribute. We are excited to see where this goes.

The thunderstorms are looming as in a typical Denver summer day. Unlike some years past, hints of fall are not yet in the air, but they will arrive soon enough.  Enjoy the energy of the first week.  Thank you for everything that you do.