“Inquiry is at the basis of the liberal arts because you’re learning your own potential by stretching yourself and having a dialogue between different parts of your life,” said Strikwerda, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at William and Mary. “When [students] go out from here, they have to be their own liberal arts scholars.”
The “greatest gift” the College can bestow upon its graduating seniors involves equipping them with up-to-date research methodologies enabling them to apply “their own mode of inquiry,” he said.
In many ways, William and Mary uniquely is positioned to help undergraduates master that ability, according to Strikwerda. The College continues to compete nationally to bring top-notch scholars into its graduate and undergraduate departments, it has small classes and a low student-to-faculty ratio, enabling those faculty members to interact directly with students, and cross-disciplinary initiatives are routine at the College, the dean explained.
“We’re playing to our strengths,” Strikwerda said. “We recruit the best scholars, scientists and artists that we can, along with the best students that we can. But we are encouraging those scholars, scientists and artists to see themselves as teachers equally to being researchers in their field. We believe equally in the creation and the dissemination of knowledge, if you will.”
Increasingly, faculty members are “teaching with their research,” Strikwerda said. He cited numerous departments—government, physics and psychology, among them—in which research is a course requirement. His list of initiatives—the Center for Geospatial Analysis and the Environmental Science and Policy Program, among them—in which research and scholarship are fused across broad disciplines is equally long. He particularly is proud of the way the College incorporates graduate programs and graduate students into “teaching teams” with responsibility to undergraduates.
“The commitment to undergraduate education and teaching in the liberal arts combined with the highest level of research we can strive for is rather remarkable in American education,” Strikwerda said. “At William and Mary, the connection between the College’s graduate programs and the undergraduate population is not institutional but organic.”