Purpose and Passion: How the Liberal Arts Forge Individuality for Good

The liberal arts, one of the campus obelisk’s four pillars of Puget Sound values. Photo Credit/ Emma Pellegrini/ The Trail

By Emma Pellegrini

For many professors and students, choosing to attend or teach at a university like the University of Puget Sound is about finding a community where scores, manuscripts, GPAs and awards are only a part of the puzzle. Instead, the students and faculty, nestled in this vibrant community with its many quirks and comforts, chose Puget Sound for its distinct liberal arts approach: rigorous academics combined with the commitment to creating well-rounded, passionate, unique student bodies. At the University of Puget Sound, success does not always lie in the number of As, nor the GPAs, but rather in the passion that students find in their four years. At a school like the University of Puget Sound, the liberal arts flourish, distinctly focusing on something deeper and far more valuable than diplomas or degrees; transforming and preparing students for a meaningful purpose, in an uncertain future.

Professor of English and Honors, Alison Tracy Hale often feels accomplished when she helps students find personal pride not in an A, but in the pride of improvement and academic excitement. Professor Hale focuses on taking the importance off of grades and focusing more on experiential and creative learning, as a way to further engage students in their academic pursuits. “I think it’s essential to provide a variety of different ways for students to demonstrate their learning so that they can foreground their strengths while they develop other skills,” Hale said. Professor Hale also discussed her dislike for letter grades because they tend to reduce a student to a number. She believes grading systems that only focus on As, Bs, and Cs create a false standard that can make students feel that they need to live up to such standards in order to be deemed academically successful or superior. Instead, she feels it is more important to allow students the autonomy to experiment in their academics. “I haven’t gotten all the way to eliminating grades, but I’m incorporating more opportunities for students to identify their own goals for an assignment and convey to me how successfully they have addressed those goals so that they feel more ownership of the work,” Hale remarked.

Professor Hale is not alone in her sentiments. Professors at the University of Puget Sound find gratification in watching their students become passionate and excited by the material. Diane Kelley, professor of French and Francophone studies, believes the liberal arts shapes students into well-rounded, unique, hard-working individuals, all qualities being something of a necessity in today’s rapidly changing world. “A liberal arts education educates the whole student, broadly and deeply, to think about problems critically from different perspectives,” Kelley says. However, in the past few years, many liberal arts colleges nationally have faced difficulties in funding and enrollment. A recent Forbes article reports a decline in students majoring in and studying the liberal arts, estimating a 9% decline between 2019 and 2021. Forbes describes the effect the ongoing pandemic has had as a major factor in these difficulties, but the trends began before the pandemic. The University of Puget Sound is not immune to these difficulties, as evidenced by the current turmoil surrounding the budget. Despite the dilemmas facing these institutions, many students still find meaning and value in them, meaning and value that drives them to attend such institutions.

Many students choose Puget Sound to spend their four years, because of its equally holistic and rigorous approach. Elliot Bogue, a first-year, chose Puget Sound because of its commitment to liberal arts values, and the advantages those values would bring him. “I chose Puget Sound really because it gave me like a variety of academic questions because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do coming in here and still don’t,” Bogue said. Much of Bogue’s enjoyment comes from feeling that the liberal arts education they are receiving at Puget Sound obliterates the negative experiences of high school. “I feel like I’ve gotten really lucky with professors and class environments so far,” said Bogue.

As the world constantly evolves and adapts, a liberal arts education becomes increasingly essential in navigating such change. Many students leave liberal arts colleges armed with skills of communication, critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, well-rounded academics, and interests. While the future looms with complicated problems for liberal arts universities, the education they provide offers a skillset that creates a positive impact on the world. For many, a liberal arts education, like the University of Puget Sound’s, is just the start of something new, something bigger and better. Puget Sound has the potential to serve as an excellent example of the future of higher education exempt from the pressure and loneliness of grading systems and a toxic competitive culture. Instead, the well-rounded liberal arts approach serves as a rigor that both tests and comforts students with an important lesson, to believe in themselves as well as their fellow peers, in and out of the classroom.