Science, Mathematics Complete Core, Cultivate Lifelong Learners
Date published: Oct. 12, 2016
The University of Dallas strives to shape students into global citizens through study
of the liberal arts grounded in the Core curriculum. Science and mathematics, often
overlooked as liberal arts, are essential to this formation.
“Science in general and physics in particular are important components of the global
citizen’s repertoire, as those who make decisions increasingly must be aware of scientific
studies, technology and the ethical implications of their choices,” said Professor
and Chairwoman of Physics Sally Hicks.
According to Hicks, a liberal arts education should be about more than the acquisition
of useful knowledge and skills and the ability to communicate this knowledge. Rather,
the ultimate goal of the liberal arts should be to cultivate lifelong learners, who
always persist in thirsting for knowledge and, because of the knowledge they’ve gained
in the pursuit, are more adaptable to changes in their families, communities, churches,
jobs, countries and world.
“Moreover, the understanding of nature at the most fundamental level is truly liberating
to the mind of the lifelong learner because it opens up so many pathways to knowledge
that are not available to the scientifically illiterate,” said Hicks.
Senior physics major MacKenzie Warrens suggests that the same type of thinking students
would use in Core curriculum classes such as “Philosophy and the Ethical Life” or
“Understanding the Bible” to make connections between and among disciplines can also
be applied in science classes.
Warrens, who did research in UCLA’s physics department this past summer and plans
to apply to a doctoral program there in experimental atomic physics for next year,
appreciates that the Core curriculum has exposed her to so many different subjects.
The advantage for science and mathematics majors in studying the Core as well as for
other majors in studying science and mathematics seems to lie largely in the connections
to be made among all of the disciplines.
“UD is all about making connections,” said Warrens.
Most UD humanities majors choose to take Basic Ideas in Biology (“Baby Bio”) and astronomy
for their required science credits; both of these courses include labs.
“There is a hands-on emphasis,” said Constantin College Dean Jonathan J. Sanford.
“A great deal of instructional importance is given to science lab courses. They’re
the equivalent of writing-intensive courses — they’re not just about science, but teaching students how to do it. They develop an art, a skill: learning how to run an experiment and engage in
the testing of a hypothesis. We’re seeking to cultivate habits of mind, the intellectual
virtues proper to that area of inquiry — teaching students to experience the world
of nature not just as an abstract idea.”
Further, though, Sanford explained that students majoring in science, technology,
engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines should not think that by rigorous instruction
in one area alone they have become well-educated. Indeed, Warrens says that one of
her favorite things about being a physics major at UD is that UD physics majors, unlike
many physics majors elsewhere, are able to talk about a lot more than just physics.
“In fact, we try to avoid talking about physics when we’re not doing research, because
we have so much else to talk about,” she said. “For example, we can have really intelligent
conversations with our philosophy major friends.”
Similarly, humanities students should not overlook mathematics and the sciences.
“We are as teachers not unlike woodcarvers and other craftsmen, shaping hearts and
minds and thereby shaping humanity, carving out perfections: each student a living
cathedral moving toward encountering truth,” said Sanford. “Not having mathematics
and science is like missing an essential feature in that cathedral — the pews, the
windows, the floor.”
Additionally, the study of science and mathematics fuels the other disciplines, sparking
our curiosity and inspiring us.
“Physics is the study of the smallest through the largest objects of our universe,”
said Hicks. “These extremes pique the imagination and our sense of wonder, since who
cannot get excited by the idea of a quark or by looking at the planets through a telescope?
Great works of literature, poetry, art and even scholarly articles in business and
economics are filled with references to these structures and the interactions they
undergo. Obviously knowledge of physics plays an important role in the imagination
of others in very diverse fields.”
UD adds yet another component to the study of STEM subjects: that of faith.
“UD physics majors, with our study of Platonic, Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophies,
know there’s something more out there; we’re not nihilistic like others, but so much
more positive,” said Warrens.
“The truths of science and faith converge,” said Sanford. “The same God is the author
of both. The path beaten by scientists ultimately leads back to the Creator.”
In short, only a liberal arts education that includes science and mathematics can
be considered truly liberal.
“At other schools, there is a division between the sciences and the humanities,” said
Sanford. “Not here. In Constantin College, we have a number of different disciplines
that are often segregated. We’re standing against this disintegration of the sciences,
of everything, into specialized fields; we want to promote a truly universal, comprehensive
and liberal education.”