Liberal Arts Lessons

Karen M. Gil (photo by Donn Young)

It’s almost graduation time again, and we are excited for all of our seniors. I’d like to tell you the story of two Rachels, who are shining examples of the value of a Carolina liberal arts education.

Rachel Myrick ‘13, a political science and global studies major (and creative writing minor), has explored the subject of ethnic conflict from interdisciplinary perspectives in her UNC classes.

“My experiences in college have shaped not only my desire to be able to explore one subject in depth, but to also bring in different lenses from different disciplines,” she says. “I think it makes you a much better critical thinker.” As a new Rhodes Scholar, Rachel will be heading to Oxford after graduation.

Consider also Rachel Burton, a women’s studies graduate, now a major player in the biodiesel industry. She is co-founder of Piedmont Biofuels in Pittsboro, the first commercial-scale biodiesel plant of its kind in the United States.

You can read more about the two Rachels, along with other amazing alumni, faculty and students in this issue.

Dennis Whittle, a religious studies alum, is the Richards Donohoe Social Entrepreneur in Residence. He co-founded GlobalGiving, a pioneering website that encourages worldwide philanthropy. He says he learned entrepreneurial thinking from his religious studies professors at Carolina.

We also spotlight Tom Jensen, a political science and history graduate, who now heads the top-rated political polling firm in the nation. Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling has become a magnet for sharp Carolina liberal arts grads and interns.

In a series of stories called “Learning 2.0,” we look at how College faculty employ teaching methods that are engaging, experiential and entrepreneurial. One example is a new introductory entrepreneurship course that was co-taught by Chancellor Holden Thorp and a string of distinguished professors and entrepreneurs.

Chancellor Thorp is leaving Carolina at the end of June to become the next provost at Washington University in St. Louis. We pay tribute to Holden and Patti Thorp in this issue to thank them for the many ways in which they have strengthened Carolina and the College during their two decades in Chapel Hill.

We also honor biologist Pat Pukkila, founding director of the Office for Undergraduate Research, who retires in June. She has transformed the Carolina academic experience by advancing opportunities for undergraduates to work closely with faculty and graduate students on exciting research. Under her 14 years of leadership, the College’s approach to undergraduate research has become a national model.

Colleagues across the College are addressing big problems facing North Carolina and the world. Chemist Matt Redinbo is helping to stop the spread of killer staph infections caused by resistance to antibiotics. Urban Planning Expert Yan Song has been advising China on the long-term consequences of unbridled growth. Public Policy Professor Maryann Feldman has won global recognition for research on where and how innovative industries cluster. And Professor Daniel Gitterman has received one of North Carolina’s highest honors for his work as a senior adviser to former Governor Beverly Perdue.

This issue is brimming with examples of learning, discovery and engagement made possible by a combination of public and private support. As always, we are grateful to alumni and friends who recognize that a Carolina liberal arts and sciences education is more important than ever.

Karen M. Gil