SEM Session Highlight - What is an Educated Person? Making the Case for Liberal Arts Learning

October 18, 2021
  • SEM Conference
  • 2021 SEM Conference
grey building with large marble columns visible in the background and a statue of a bearded man in a cloth stroking his chin as though deep in thought

SEM 2021 Conference session host Anne Thurmer, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, will discuss the benefits of a liberal arts education and the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. In choosing her session, Ms. Thurmer examined the changes she observed during the pandemic, how those changes impacted student experience, and the importance of student experience in education.


We had a chance to speak with Ms. Thurmer about her SEM 2021 Conference session and dig into what prompted her selection for this topic.

When the pandemic was just getting started, I kept coming across media advocating for students to take a gap year. I found the case for a gap year incredibly revealing of what we think education is and how students become educated. Liberal Arts Learning, in contrast to credentialling, is all about experience, and the ways higher education and the culture at large defines experience leaves a lot of students out. It is my hope that we can use the disruption caused by the pandemic to revitalize our conception of Liberal Arts in a way that also considers equity and justice.

Included below is a sample provided by Ms. Thurmer regarding their session and the topics they will be discussing:

What is an educated person? Our websites argue higher education institutions are purveyors of unique experiences. Need an internship? We know a guy. Want to travel to Europe? We can hook you up. Want to study the environment from a canoe? We happen to have gear. Before the pandemic, many in higher education shared the unshakable faith that the extra effort higher education professionals and faculty invested in these experiences were the best things we could do for our students. Perhaps becoming an educated person was the alchemy of experience in community. Perhaps higher education existed as a skilled concierge, adept at getting students the educational equivalent of tickets to see a hit Broadway show or snag seats at that great restaurant where the menus don’t have prices.

This session looks at common messages about higher education during the pandemic to understand how our work is seen by the communities we serve and how we see ourselves. The session maintains that much of what we say about our work, from employment outcomes to the case of liberal learning, needs reimagining in a post-pandemic world. Guided by a framework to discover opportunities and explore root causes, participants will work to articulate what makes liberal learning valuable for technical program students, at comprehensive universities, and in liberal arts colleges.

Interested in joining this session? Register today to attend the 2021 SEM Conference hosted in Miami, Florida.


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