Dale Graden’s office is a maze.
Tall, floor-to-ceiling bookcases line his office, obscuring his desk from view. There is not a single open space for another book. For Graden, a University of Idaho history professor, this love of reading led him to the liberal arts.
Graden said as a young man, he always had a passion for history, but he questioned his field choice. He said he often wondered if he would be better off in law or foreign affairs. In the end, Graden said he is glad he went into history.
Since then, Graden has become a vocal proponent for the study of liberal arts. At 9 a.m. Saturday, Graden will give a talk about the benefits of studying liberal arts at UI.
“We’re in desperate need of maintaining and protecting the liberal arts,” Graden said.
He said in recent history there has been a decline in liberal arts education and a heavier focus on technology-based fields. Graden said he doesn’t think students in STEM fields are getting a well-rounded education.
“I think that liberal arts provides a set of tools critically important for whatever employment (students) go into,” he said.
These tools are numerous, Graden said. They include a capacity to think critically, speak coherently and write in an informed manner. He said in today’s world, it’s important to be able to think individually and construct educated opinions.
“It’s the capacity to take an immense amount of information from different sources and come up with informed decisions,” Graden said.
Graden said to him, the liberal arts are even more than that. They give the opportunity to see the world in a cross-sectional manner. He said liberal arts are important for understanding humanity and where it’s headed.
“You have the opportunity to delve into different disciplines, see what grabs your interest and dive into it,” he said.
Graden said he is astounded by the caliber of students who attend UI. Recently, he said he spoke with a student in international studies.
“This kid blew me out of my chair, this kid is a superstar. He could be anywhere on the planet,” Graden said. “This is a kid who could be at Harvard or Stanford or Yale, but he’s here.”
The student is Zach Lien, a senior at UI. Lien said he originally planned to be a physics major, but soon found himself at the crossroads between social sciences and STEM. He said he made his final decision based on the fact that the social sciences are always changing.
“I thought that it’s something that will be constantly developing and require adaptation, and it would allow me to be more involved,” Lien said.
He said the liberal arts will give him the opportunity to interact with people and the world more readily. Lien said that one of the biggest worries from students thinking about the social sciences is job security. He said often it’s hard to visualize the careers that exist in liberal arts fields because they’re less tangible than other fields.
“As long as people interact, I’m in business. As long as there is diplomacy, international conflicts, peace, I’m going to have a career and love every day of it,” Lien said.
Graden said the opportunities for students are endless — they just have to think outside of the box.
“The opportunities are unbound, moving across disciplines, within the liberal arts and to the sciences too,” he said.
Carly Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Idaho_Scotty