All posts by Dr. Steven Moser

Dr. Steven Moser

Guest Contributor Series: Ann Marie Kinnell on the Liberal Arts

Kinnell, Ann MarieBy Ann Marie Kinnell, Chair
Department of Anthropology and Sociology
College of Arts and Letters

If you read the news, either in the general press (NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times) or the academic press (Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed), there is a disconcerting feeling that all is not well with higher education. The cost – and value – of a college education are areas of increasing concern. As a parent of a daughter headed off to college in a little over a year, I understand the worries parents and students have. I admit that I am more than a little concerned about the cost of tuition, not to mention textbooks, art supplies (she’ll be an art major), and room and board. In addition to the general question of the value of college is the more narrow concern about the value of the liberal arts. If students are going to college, and spending a lot of money to do so, what should be their major? Will they be able to support themselves financially if they pursue a liberal arts major rather than a professional or technical major? This conversation is certainly not new. I, myself, when I announced to my parents in my second year of college that I had changed my major to sociology, was asked what are you going to do with that and wouldn’t it be a good idea to also take some business courses? I did, in fact, take some organizational management classes; but, I loved my sociology classes and I love that I can now share those classes with my own students. However, my experience was literally a lifetime ago for my students. Is a degree in anthropology or sociology, or any liberal arts major, still “worth it” in 2015?

In the abstract, the answer is definitely yes. If you look at employer surveys, the skills that employers want are the skills students learn in liberal arts majors. In recent studies[1], a majority of employers have identified the abilities to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems as very important. They also want students who understand and can work with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. And, they want students who have the ability to apply the knowledge they learn in real world settings. Anthropology and sociology majors learn these skills in spades. Starting with the introductory classes, they are asked what it means to be a part of a group, a culture, a society. They are confronted with complex social problems and asked how they can be addressed. They write and apply what they learn in class to the world around them. They learn specific research skills, conduct their own research, and present that research to their peers and at conferences. They complete internships with local organizations and field schools where they literally get to dig things up.

But in the concrete, as a faculty, we still want to know that we send our students out into the world and that they do well. They find jobs that they love, or at least really like, and they are able to support themselves financially. As a department, we have implemented an alumni survey to find out how our students fare once they graduate. I would like to share a few of their responses:

From an anthropology major (BA 2014) who is now an ESL teacher: “Anthropology helped me to become more aware of the people, cultures, and situations around me. As an ESL teacher I have a classroom filled with diversity and all of the complexities that stem from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. The sensitivity and understanding granted to me by the professors within the Anthropology and Sociology department… helps me to maintain an inclusive and compassionate style of teaching.”

From a sociology major (BA 2010) who is working for a nonprofit that coordinates services for the homeless: “I wouldn’t say my degree in sociology has impacted me in such a way others might think. I’m certainly not a sociologist by traditional definitions. But, through my undergraduate studies I found my passion for social justice and gained the tools needed to succeed. Sociology has gifted me a foundation for understanding complex social issues and a curiosity to view the world with a nuanced sociological lens.”

From an anthropology major (BA 2010) who is a trainer for an information technology company: “This degree gave the opportunity to learn about so many different cultures and interact with a larger variety of people than I ever would have on my own. This has made adjusting to a professional position within a worldwide company much easier.”

From a sociology major (BA 2011) who is working as a college enrollment specialist: “I’ve bounced around in a few different jobs until I landed my current one. I love my current job. I work in education helping troubled students figure out what path they want to take for their lives. I work with a very diverse student population, and I think that the different sociology classes I took definitely help me to be more empathetic towards my students despite the fact that I’ve never experienced a lot of things they often go through.”

Our students graduate with both general and technical skills and end up in a variety of different careers. In the liberal arts, there are many paths and many destinations. I would like to conclude with one last quote from a student (Sociology BA 2004) who wrote on her survey, “if you enjoy the classes and are passionate about the subject matter, then go for it. You never know where your degree or your life will lead.” Well said!

 

[1] For more information and links to these studies, go to the AACU website: http://www.aacu.org/leap/public-opinion-research

Dr. Steven Moser

John Green and David Levithan at Southern Miss

Continuing our guest blog series, I’m pleased to present a contribution by Eric Tribunella, Chair of the Department of English.  Dr.  Tribunella has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on such topics as the Golden Age of children’s literature, young adult literature, British children’s literature, trauma theory and children’s literature, children’s literature before 1865, and lesbian and gay literature. He also frequently teaches courses on literary criticism and theory.

He has published aricles in such journals as Children’s Literature Annual, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, The Lion and the Unicorn: A Critical Journal of Children’s Literature, and Children’s Literature in Education. His recent article “Between Boys: Edward Stevenson’s Left to Themselves (1891) and the Birth of Gay Children’s Literature” received the Children’s Literature Association Article Award in 2014. His essay on sexuality in children’s and young adult literature was recently published in the Cambridge History of Lesbian and Gay Literature (Cambridge UP, 2014).

Steven R. Moser, Dean


John Green and David Levithan at Southern Miss

By Eric L. Tribunella, Chair
Department of English
College of Arts and Letters

When I speak to prospective students at recruitment events, one fact about Southern Miss that almost always excites future English majors is that we are home to the original manuscripts of John Green, the award-winning author of young adult (YA) fiction. Known for novels such as Looking for Alaska (2005) and The Fault in Our Stars (2012), Green won the 2006 Printz Award, given yearly to the best work of fiction for young adults, and his books now routinely top bestseller lists upon publication.

Green donated his papers, including drafts of his book manuscripts, to the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at Southern Miss after visiting campus in 2009 for the Kaigler Children’s Book Festival. One of the largest archives of children’s literature in North America, the de Grummond Collection holds over 160,000 books, the earliest of which dates to the year 1530, as well as manuscripts and illustrations from over 1,300 writers and artists. Undergraduate and graduate students from the English department are able to make use of this extraordinary resource, and we have students who come to Southern Miss specifically to study children’s and young adult literature. On February 10, a group of English students and faculty visited the de Grummond Collection to examine the Green manuscripts and talk about the research opportunities they present.

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Ellen Ruffin, de Grummond curator (left) Eric Tribunela, English (2nd from left)

The de Grummond curator, Ellen Ruffin, shared with us the manuscript for Green’s novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010), which was co-written with David Levithan, another major figure in YA literature known for books such as Boy Meets Boy (2003) and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2006). Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a YA novel about two teenagers who share a name, one straight and one gay, and how their lives intersect through their relationship with a boy named Tiny. Since the book was co-authored, its manuscript is especially interesting in terms of how the alternate chapters contributed by Green and Levithan fit together to form a coherent whole. The comments from Green’s editor at Dutton Books, Julie Strauss-Gabel, can be found in the margins of the manuscript, and reading the drafts alongside the published novel can shed light on Green and Levithan’s collaboration and writing process.

As students and scholars of literature, we are interested in how works are composed and take shape. Members of the English department at USM, where we also have a strong emphasis in creative writing, are especially attuned to the issue of craft, and having access to a writer’s manuscripts makes it possible for us to study how a book moves through the drafting process. This kind of archival research can be particularly productive for children’s and YA literature scholars, since some people wrongly assume that writing for youth lacks complexity or artistry. Studying manuscripts like Green and Levithan’s provides a unique opportunity to correct this misperception and contribute to the field of literary knowledge.

It is exciting for students to be able to hold original manuscripts in their hands. English doctoral student Paige Gray noted that “it is honor for USM to house Green’s papers, since he is such a major figure in the publishing world.” Gray added that “it is especially exciting that Southern Miss students can be among the first scholars to study Green’s manuscripts and drafts. Doing so will provide an important insight into young adult literature and culture in the early decades of the twenty-first century.” The group discussed the many possible research projects that could be undertaken with the manuscripts. For instance, we spent time talking about how Green’s editor helped the authors craft the voice of their characters and sequence the events of the narrative. Dr. Alexandra Valint, the English department’s Victorian literature specialist, studies multi-narrator novels and also teaches children’s and YA literature. She compared the editor’s comments on the Will Grayson manuscript to the kind of feedback nineteenth-century readers offered in response to serialized installments of literary works.

David Levithan will be visiting campus this semester to speak at the Kaigler Book Festival on April 10, and students and faculty are looking forward to the opportunity to hear directly from Green’s co-author on Will Grayson. Scholars travel from around the world to visit the de Grummond Collection, but students who attend Southern Miss simply have to walk over to McCain Library to take advantage of its amazing holdings and guest lecturers.

 

Dr. Steven Moser

Preconceptions by Dr. David M. Holley

Beginning this December, I’ve asked faculty in the college to serve as guests contributors to the college blog.  David M. Holley, Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion begins this series.

Steven R. Moser, Dean


Holley, David (8-2014)Surprising facts can overturn your preconceptions, but only if you let them. Sometimes we deny or ignore things that don’t fit into what we already think. Here is a surprising fact:

A study reported in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago compared salaries of people between ten to fifteen years after leaving college. The comparison involved a ranking of salaries according to undergraduate majors (considering only people without a graduate degree). Out of a list of 50 undergraduate majors, philosophy majors had the 16th highest salary. Degrees such as engineering and computer science were ahead of philosophy in the mid-career salaries ranking, but philosophy was ahead of business majors such as management, accounting, and information technology. Starting salaries for philosophy majors were lower than for many of these fields, but eventually philosophy majors were making higher salaries.

When you have a surprising fact, the explanation may not be simple. There could be many factors at work. One factor that comes to mind is that there are fewer philosophy graduates than graduates of many of the other fields to which they were compared. It is also relevant that philosophy majors on the average tend to be pretty bright, so we can’t attribute the advances in salary only to the fact that they studied philosophy in college.

Even so, it seems startling that a college major we wouldn’t associate with making money leads to this kind of result. So how can it be explained? I think the most obvious explanation is that philosophy majors are pretty good at learning new things and that some of the skills they developed are helpful for succeeding in a variety of fields. If you can learn to read and understand a complex philosophical text, you can probably learn to digest the information in business reports. If you can find the logical flaws or questionable assumptions in a defense of a philosophical position, you should be able to recognize the weaknesses of a new administrative proposal. If you have formed the habit of looking at things from a variety of perspectives, you may be able to come up with novel approaches to an organizational problem.

I don’t mean to minimize the importance of technical knowledge. People who do advance in their fields have to acquire quite a bit of that. But anyone who thinks that you can learn what you need in college to be successful seriously underestimates the importance of learning on the job and being able to adapt to the unexpected. When we think of preparing for something other than an entry-level job, we need to be thinking of things like the capacity for being creative and analytical and adaptable.

One of our recent philosophy graduates who went on to a major law school in another state wrote back that he knew hardly anything about the law when he arrived, but that did not matter because his philosophy major had taught him how to think. That’s the sort of thing we like to hear, and faculty in our department hear something like it often enough that we’re inclined to think there is some truth in it.

Most people don’t choose philosophy as a major because they think it will help them earn a high salary. I would be startled if someone came to us acknowledging this kind of motivation. But when I think of the kinds of things we teach our majors to do, it seems clear to me that the skills they learn can be adapted to many types of work, and sometimes a byproduct of doing a job well is financial success.

 

 

 

 

– Dr. David M. Holley, Chair
Department of Philosophy and Religion

Dr. Steven Moser

A Changing Landscape

Each year, the College of Arts and Letters provides instruction to approximately 3,000 majors and delivers a significant portion of the general education courses to all undergraduates at The University of Southern Mississippi. Across the college we enroll students of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of academic preparation. Most of our students are seeking enhanced skills or college degrees that will prepare them for well-paying jobs. Our mission is to prepare these students, not for their first jobs, but for their careers—where success is measured by the ability to think critically as a problem-solver and communicate effectively through written and spoken words. To achieve this, we nurture in them an understanding of lessons of the past, an appreciation for the richness of difference, an awareness of the challenges we face now, and an understanding of the skills they will need to adapt in the future.

We stand at a pivotal moment in the history of the college, as well as the institution and the state as a whole. A growing body of research has documented a national decline in educational attainment at the very time when our economic competitiveness in Mississippi and across the region is increasingly tied to a well-educated citizenry. So, we’ve begun a journey to redefine our roles as agents of transformative learning, with proactive and intentional strategies that encourage students of all backgrounds and all learning styles to be successful in the classroom, and in life. We are transforming our story—a story told in every department, in every school, for every student, regardless of their background or educational goals. That story is one of access, support, guidance, and personal and academic success in which students leave us well-prepared for their futures. The faculty has risen to meet the challenge of a changing student landscape: technology has presented great benefits and unforeseen challenges, and the average student can be both underprepared and cutting-edge. Undergraduate success initiatives, fully underway, provide a level of access and support never before presented in such a consistent, integrative fashion. Undergraduate research is now common among all our disciplines, and faculty mentoring is a fundamental tenet of our way of doing business.

Our focus has moved to better connect courses with educational goals and, therefore, provide a clearer path to completion. We are reaching out to students who stumble well before it is too late, and they fail. And we are adapting to the changing landscape of student readiness without sacrificing standards or rigor.

Take a moment to review the work of our faculty and students here.

Dr. Steven Moser

…and so it begins…

This fall we welcome approximately 3,000 returning and new students to the College of Arts and Letters.  Those students have chosen to study for undergraduate and graduate degrees in our diverse array of programs in the arts, humanities and social sciences, and in our many collaborative interdisciplinary programs.

The back-to-school season is always an exciting one for our students, faculty and staff, and me personally.  I am proud of our A&L community and anticipate another stellar year.  Indeed, we will need to raise the bar even higher as we begin to focus on our strategic goals – anchored in our  student success and profile expansion efforts.  So I encourage everyone to:

Consider the positive individual difference we can make as we, the faculty and staff,  work to realize our greatest potential.

There are many ways a college conveys its core values.  In an issue of Liberal Education, Jack Meacham and Jerry Gaff noted that it is important that we “do what we say and say what we do.” Our public declaration found in our college and school/department strategic goals is our guide and those declarations share some of the same key words and phrases like “excellence in scholarship, focus on student success, and innovation in the classroom.”  Without a clear path forward and a positive commitment to the journey, it is unlikely that our strategic plans will emerge in practice.  Our faculty places us well to continue the tradition of developing innovative opportunities for our students and producing meaningful scholarship.  Moving forward together is critical to this endeavor as we shift “what has been to what could be”.

Take pause along the way to consider.

I am amazed at how quickly time passes as we move from one academic season to the next.  It seems that with the new and ever changing technology that has pervaded our lives, we spend a great deal of time in gear and racing ahead at full throttle. The pace we have adopted in our modern-day lives often influences how quickly we come to some of the decisions we make on issues in our own lives and those as a faculty across the college.  Yet in our endeavors in creative and scholarly research, we are committed to thoughtful consideration and a measured and deliberate tempo to produce the great body of work seen in the college.  I encourage the same discipline seen in our scholarship efforts as we adapt to an ever-changing constituent need.  We must be nimble and flexible, but also thoughtful and deliberate in the decisions that we will have to make in the months and years to come as we strive for relevance and the ability to sustain or increase the impact we have had  for our students and the community we serve.

Let us move forward together.  Welcome back!