Included in this year’s batch of Nobel Prize winners is Tufts alum Eugene Fama (A’60). I encourage you to read more about his accomplishments in economics, but his laudable research in understanding asset prices is not what excites me most. What has me jazzed is how he got there.
You see, as an admissions representative for Tufts I often find myself explaining not only my own institution, but also the value of a liberal arts education in general. For every person who relishes the idea of a flexible intellectual journey, there is a student or parent (practical-pants firmly belted on) who questions a four year degree that is not pointedly career focused.
At Tufts, we don’t teach exclusively to a specific career. Our academic ethos is rooted in the idea that an interdisciplinary education is invaluable to creating students who are intellectually nimble, professionally adaptable, and equipped with core skills that prepare them to work in any field. We also find intrinsic value in intellectual freedom and flexibility. In our eyes, expecting a 17-year-old to commit irreversibly to a single field is impractical and limiting. “Go forth and explore!” we say, hoping that a student’s eyes will be opened to new and exciting possibilities.
As much as I can explain this ideology well enough, I’m always happy to be armed with a shining example. This brings me back to Eugene, our recently-crowned Jumbo Nobel Laureate. In 1956, when Eugene was 17 or 18, he came to our campus and embarked on the traditional liberal arts journey. For his first two years, his area of focus/interest/expertise was Romance languages, primarily French. In junior year, he found economics, fell in love, and threw himself into that new area of study wholeheartedly. Fast forward to 2013 and boom: Nobel Prize in Economics.
So I ponder: What if Dr. Fama was enrolled at an institution where his academic and career fate was sealed from day one? What if he went to a university that didn’t allow him to switch academic gears halfway through? What if he was enrolled in a place where students and departments are more segregated, and he never had the opportunity (or encouragement) to even TRY economics?
Some students have preferences/inklings but no real idea what they’ll study, some students have too many ideas, and some students think they have this whole “life plan” thing figured out. No matter where you are now, or where you (think you) will land in 30 years, I say: keep an open mind and consider the liberal arts.