Expanding Visions
May 16, 2016
Denison Magazine
person at projection screen

During the fall semester, our faculty members developed and approved academic majors in global commerce and data analytics, as well as a concentration in financial economics. It is rare for a liberal arts college to launch three new academic programs. The programs demonstrate special qualities of Denison. They build on our strengths and will push us in exciting new directions. Let's talk about why.

We will stay rooted in the liberal arts. The future will be shaped by people who can think broadly and boldly. (William Cronon's classic piece “Only Connect” remains the best statement on the liberal arts—it's worth Googling.) Other colleges are starting to develop data analytics programs, but in a very narrow, technical way. They are missing the point. The world is awash in data, and anybody can learn to analyze it. What we need is a corps of people who know how to frame questions, connect disparate ideas, and communicate results in ways that open conversations to new ways of thinking. Our data analytics students won't merely be able to analyze large data sets; they also will know how to frame questions and communicate results in ways that drive better decision-making across the professions, from marketing and product development to public health and economic development.

Our students will use the liberal arts to explore fields of business, international development, and public policy. Global commerce students will understand the underlying dynamics of markets and commerce, while also exploring how this happens differently within cultural contexts. Students will be immersed in a commerce core of classes that gives them a good grounding in fundamental concepts of business, finance, and accounting, while also taking a wide range of courses that help them learn how to read cultures, learn languages, and situate activity within historical trends. Data analytics students will learn how to work with data sets to frame questions, explore topics, understand behaviors, and develop ideas. These new majors are deeply interdisciplinary. This is important. The future will belong to people who can think across disciplines and who can adapt to change. I worry tremendously about national trends to train students narrowly within a field or discipline. I worry that they will spend their lives low on organizational charts and living in fear that change will make their skills obsolete. Our students will work across disciplines in ways that allow them to think anew and adapt to the world around them. This remains one of the great attributes of colleges like Denison.

We will take advantage of Denison's location. Both global commerce and data analytics will take advantage of our access to Columbus and our global sister colleges. With the new highway and growth of Columbus, we are 15 minutes from New Albany, which has become the home of exciting, dynamic organizations that work across sectors, locally and around the world. Global commerce students will complete a senior capstone project that pulls together all of their college work. The projects give students a chance to work with Columbus-based firms and organizations. Data analytics students will do internships as part of the program. Both programs will regularly connect students to Columbus-based firms and organizations as part of their classes. And we envision giving students the chance to work on problems for those firms and organizations as part of their course work.

Likewise, the programs will have global components. As of last spring, we have helped form the Global Liberal Arts Alliance, which gives us sister colleges in 17 countries around the world, including India, China, Japan, Ghana, Morocco, and France. Global commerce students will be required to master a language and spend at least a summer or semester abroad. Data analytics students will have the same opportunity and also will have opportunities to do projects on global issues and problems. They might spend a summer at one of our sister colleges, for example, working on a public health challenge. Lastly, these new majors say something about Denison. At its core, Denison is defined by relationships. Both new majors arose from groups of faculty who are connecting to each other in new and dynamic ways. The new academic programs also demonstrate the deep commitment of our faculty to our students. Faculty members are asking difficult and important questions about how Denison builds from a place of tremendous strength to define the future we want for ourselves. So many colleges are being reactive, but our new majors are proactive. They build from what we do well, what alumni, parents, and employers told us students need, and what we believe will serve students well across their lives. If you want to learn more, see page 11 of this issue of Denison Magazine. You also will find information available on denison.edu and on a new strategic priorities section of the president's page at denison.edu/campus/priorities.

Read more of Adam Weinberg's speeches and writings.