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Some Alternate Views of the Intersection

David Rohr

By David Rohr '05, '12

Since Steve Jobs’ passing in 2011, plenty has been said about the Apple Inc. founder’s belief in technology intersecting with liberal arts. But what exactly does this intersection look like? Jobs’ reference point, of course, was Apple and products designed to give people easy, seamless access to an increasingly connected, and complicated world.

Mac computers, iPhones and iPads would let us live and enjoy life more freely and create more vigorously—reducing or eliminating the cumbersome aspects of work. For Apple, this intersection also means creating products that are beautiful and designed around human needs. Meshing the liberal arts with technology and modern life is indeed a lofty notion. And it is very open to interpretation by educators and employers alike.

More Than One Road To Success

Students, teachers, parents—in fact anyone with an interest in education—will likely look upon it in two fundamental ways:

  1. As the primary route to human fulfillment and personal liberation
  2. As a pathway to maximizing one’s employment potential.

With these measures of educational value in mind, most people would argue that MALS and other liberal arts programs fit the first criterion more closely. But if that’s the case why do undergraduate programs in the sciences, business and technical fields all require students to absorb a healthy dose of liberal arts, particularly in the early years? Maybe it is because a fully developed self is better equipped to deliver value, whether as a family member, friend, politician, computer programmer, or founder of a corporation.

The fact of the matter is that the liberal arts intersect with technology and every other facet of life, dozens or even hundreds of times per day. Artistic principles and expressions appear in the furnishings and product designs that populate our daily lives. Poetry and meter are present in public speaking, writing and every form of music from classics to blues to southern rock. Humanity’s vast cultural history is so ingrained in our practices as business people or consumers that we don’t even really notice its presence.

Mastering Potential

Pursuing a Master of Arts In Liberal Studies can take you in many different directions. It can help to round out an individual with professional or technical education from the undergraduate years. It will enrich you educationally and can pay off professionally. MALS is the one graduate program that lets you build a program of study around very personal interests. And it will give you a larger life platform from which to teach, write, sell, build or invent.

Of course, another advantage of liberal arts education is that it is timeless. Unlike certain other technical or professional education, liberal studies do not lose relevance as technologies or management principles change. Companies from Apple to local merchants and entrepreneurs have for a long time counted on liberal arts majors and they’ve been rewarded with the kind of freethinking, flexibility that creates innovation.

Steve Jobs often spoke about a calligraphy course he took at Reed College, a small liberal arts school in Oregon. He credited the class to an appreciation he gained for typography—something he ultimately brought first to the Mac computer. Up until that point, the necessity for proportional letter spacing and the ability to kern type had totally escaped the nascent computer industry’s imagination. Thanks to Jobs’ (albeit brief) liberal education, the fields of publishing, advertising and many other industries have been forever changed.

The point here is that we never seem to know when or where life’s roads will create the next intersection where “genius” might occur. But MALS can help make sure you are always ready.

David E. Rohr
Ithaca, New York
MA 2005 (Liberal Studies), MS 2012 (Management)


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