By Michele Dobbins
The new year is not full of empty resolutions for Phi Beta Kappa members, who enter 2017 continuing to advocate for liberal arts and science education in their daily lives. From chapter officers to student members, advocates for higher education significantly impact their campuses and communities.
One such officer is Tammy Lorince, who teaches microbiology and acts as her department’s lab coordinator in addition to serving as ΦBK’s Secretary of Events at the University of Arkansas chapter. Lorince volunteers as a judge during the Northwest Arkansas Regional Science and Engineering Fair, an annual event for local students in junior and high school to display STEM projects. She also uses this opportunity to advocate for expanding the field of science to all students.
“I like to do it because we want women and girls in science,” Lorince said.
When she began her education, Lorince describes her professors as among those “blazing the trail” for women in the sciences, but she says that over the course of her career she has witnessed a growing number of female students pursuing a degree in her field.
Lorince believes that all students would benefit from a certain number of arts and science classes because a “fast track” approach can leave out important skills.
“Some students look at college as a hoop to jump through to get to a job,” Lorince said.
University of Arkansas ΦBK Secretary of Records Karen Hodges made a similar observation. Influenced by her education at a liberal arts college and by the values of ΦBK, Hodges serves as the executive director of academic initiatives and integrity as well as deputy Title IX coordinator and focuses her advocacy on education policy change.
The University of Arkansas’s state-approved general education requirements currently include an assortment of arts and science courses for students to choose from to reach the 35-credit hour total. While Hodges appreciates that students are exposed to a well-rounded selection of courses, she believes these classes unfortunately can be perceived as a chore students must “get out of the way” before they can proceed to a specific major. As a member of the General Education Committee, she is part of a team revaluating this system.
Hodges said the first step is asking: “What do we want a UofA graduate to be like? What do we hope they can do?”
The committee believes the answer to this question is encouraging growth in broad areas such as speaking, critical thinking, and writing, and potentially in areas such as ethics and international awareness.
“These aren’t learned in one single course but should be reinforced in many courses,” Hodges said.
The committee is running a pilot this spring semester, which will examine the assignments of a particular class to see if students display these broader capabilities.
Additionally, Hodges has helped celebrate the late J. William Fulbright, an icon of the arts and sciences at the University of Arkansas. The ΦBK chapter cosponsored the annual birthday celebration for the former university president and U.S. Senator.
“With his belief that education can lead to world peace, Fulbright is one of my heroes. It was my privilege this past summer to get to speak to some Fulbright Scholars who were on campus,” Hodges added.
ΦBK Chapter President Stephanie Schulte, who works as an associate chair and associate professor of communication at University of Arkansas, also emphasizes the national importance of her field.
“Phi Beta Kappa helps remind us—members and non-members—that the liberal arts and sciences have historically driven American progress by diversifying American thought. Without diversity, progress is impossible,” Schulte observed.
Caroline Osborn, a 2016 inductee, has already joined her fellow ΦBK members in promoting the value of her education. She will graduate in December with a double major in French and philosophy as well as a minor in Arabic. Whenever she receives questions about using these majors in her next career step, Osborn plans to take advantage of the opportunity to talk about her degrees:
“It's a privilege for me to explain that in our ever-globalizing world, understanding a different culture, language, and worldview is crucial for success, problem-solving, and teamwork.”
Michele Dobbins is a senior at University of Arkansas majoring in English. University of Arkansas is home to the Alpha of Arkansas Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.