A&H students, faculty look to find their place in university known for STEM fields
UTD is known for its cutting-edge programs focusing on science, business and technology. Tucked away within the Johnson Building, however, one program has managed to thrive outside of the spotlight.
The Student Perspective
Peter Hunt, a junior double major in literature and history with a minor in political science, came into UTD as undeclared.
“I liked everything,” he said. “I still really love math, I still really love science, I still really love chemistry. I’m just more passionate about literature and screenwriting.”
Coming out of his first semester, Hunt decided to overload his schedule with liberal arts courses to test his passion. Although he said he is not sure what he will do with his degree, he really liked his new humanities classes.
“Being a professor would be great,” he said. “Or being a writer, creative writing sort of stuff. I love that, I do that in my spare time and I have aspirations of turning it into a job, but it’s not easy to make a living.”
Hunt said pursuing the liberal arts at a STEM focused school does have an effect, albeit indirect, on the history and literature departments.
“It would be difficult for me to speculate specifically on how being in that sort of STEM environment has changed the actual substantive material that we’re handling,” he said. “But I feel like maybe it has in a little way in that it feels like there’s a more practical, material approach to what’s going on. … Here it’s more like, ‘You’re going to get a degree, figure out what you’re going to do with it. Have some more material job expectations for it.’”
He said part of what drew him to literature and history was the process of engaging with an idea that the disciplines require.
“Communication. That’s the essence of what you’re doing in Arts and Humanities,” Hunt said. “It’s finding some idea or some concept and trying to articulate it or put it into a form that other people can understand.”
Senior Virginia Beam describes the arts and performance degree as a “choose your own adventure” program, where a lot of the courses required are patched together based on the concentration — which, for her, is in creative writing.
She said she has always wanted to do creative writing. Once she found out she’d be attending UTD, she said the arts and performance plan was the only option for her to pursue that dream.
“(UTD) wouldn’t have been my first choice, but things like the distance and price and things came in to play,” she said. “(I said), ‘Would I rather take creative writing at a really good creative school, or take creative writing at a school not known for being artistic, but is still a good school and is a lot closer?’”
Despite the school not having a ranked creative writing degree, Beam said all of her professors have been good and that she’s had nothing but positive experiences in her classes.
“I think because the program isn’t micromanaged, there’s a lot of flexibility,” Beam said. “There are some pros to not being the high priority.”
Although she has not had trouble taking all the required classes to complete her degree, Beam said she did wish there were more options. She has taken some classes that one can take multiple times for credit — like Creating Short Stories and Creating Poetry — a handful of times each.
“Writing of all kinds is what I’m drawn to,” she said. “I think that’s what all the arts people here have in common is we all want to create something and put something out there that represents us.”
The Practicality of A&H
One of the main allures UTD has for incoming students is its strong STEM-based programs. For A&H Dean Dennis Kratz, however, one of the main draws should be the School of Arts and Humanities.
He said there’s a growing tendency across the country to view education as focusing on immediate goals rather than looking at learning as a whole —something he believes is detrimental to universities nationwide.
“Basically there’s been a growing tendency of students to realize they need to get in and out in four years,” he said. “As majors grow more complex and demanding, there’s fewer elective hours and students say sometimes, ‘Maybe it’s better to take a pre-req for one of my other courses.’”
Despite that struggle to get that focus, Kratz mentioned a number of opportunities for A&H students to pursue after graduating with a degree from UTD.
From law schools to major companies, students have gotten offers after graduation, even though a degree from A&H may not be what people most associate with those positions. Kratz said the reason for this is how well rounded A&H students end up becoming.
“If you look at interviews with CEOs and employers, what do they say they want? They say they want people who can solve problems, who can communicate, who can collaborate effectively and productively with other people, who have imagination and logical skills,” he said. “Well, that’s the essence of the education we give.”
Kratz said a number of humanities majors have gone on to law school, medical school and other endeavors because of the diverse education A&H offered.
One student in particular was able to use his education to take the highest position at one of the largest university systems in the state.
Brian McCall, the current chancellor for the Texas State System, graduated from UTD with a Ph.D. in philosophy in 2006.
He said people aren’t surprised when he tells them he has a Ph.D in the humanities and that he would bet most chancellors have doctorates in similar fields.
“I just think a liberal arts educations is good for anyone, in any field,” he said. “Whether they’re formally trained at it or not, the reading of literature, the study of art, philosophy, history is a good thing.”
He said as long as Fortune 500 companies are deliberately seeking out liberal arts candidates, then the field will open paths for growth.
“A liberal arts degree trained student is creative, can write, can think critically, knows history, just has a broad understanding,” he said. “I’m not in any way denigrating other types of degrees, but a liberal arts degree is not a telescope that teaches you something very specifically about what’s on the other end, but rather causes you to think broadly about the bigger issues historically in all fields. So it’s not a specialization, it’s a broad, good study.”
As the starting date for Richard Benson, UTD’s new president, looms closer, Kratz said he will emphasize to him how critical a role A&H plays in furthering UTD’s vision.
“We already have first rate people and first rate programs,” he said. “A culture can’t exist without thinking about doing why it’s doing, without literature, without the arts. We all have a philosophy. I’m very confident President Benson will seize this opportunity. … So I think this is a great time to integrate and enlarge our vision of the university.”