Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Importance of a Liberal Arts Education

At COP 21, I learned how important it is in today’s society to attend a liberal arts college and receive an interdisciplinary education.  I am a senior chemistry major and environmental science minor and have had to take courses outside of my discipline in order to fulfill graduation requirements.  I enjoyed the history, English, and other classes I had to take, but did not really understand why I would need them.  Today proved why it is important to take classes outside of your comfort zone.
I attended the last part of a presentation sponsored by the United States Delegation at the USA pavilion about climate change technologies.  There were three speakers (I saw the last one) talking about new inventions or technologies that are needed to measure greenhouse gas concentrations and collect “better” data (increase signal to noise ratio).  The key point the final speaker was trying to make is that we need to gather more data and improve the accuracy and precision of the instruments.  He was all about increasing monitoring so we know exactly what is happening to the Earth’s atmosphere at any given moment.

During the question and answer session, an individual from Kenya asked a very important question.  He wanted to know how the scientists knew which data sets were important and how this would help the negotiation process; essentially, how the researchers would explain their data to the delegates so they could use that information to create climate policy.  The researchers did not understand the question!  The individual had to repeat it three times before they almost understood what he was asking, and started to explain how the data is important in weather forecasting and creating better models (more science).  It astounded me that these three brilliant and important scientists, who have been doing research in their field for a long time, did not know how to respond to a question asking how they assisted the negotiation process.  The scientists just wanted to gather more data, and thought the numbers spoke for themselves.  A very important aspect of climate change research is being able to explain what the data means, and how it can be used to create climate policy.  Just stating that the amount of carbon dioxide is increasing or the oceans are warming would not provide much direction in how to create legislation, because the policy makers might not see a problem until the impacts are explained to them.  What I learned at Moravian College in multiple classes, especially a climate change course taught by a biologist and a musician, is how important it is to be able to explain science to an audience that does not have as much background as me in a way that they would understand.  If I cannot do this, then I cannot engage people outside of my discipline in conversation or assist them in making important decisions.  This is vital in climate change research, because the policy makers are relying on scientific findings to tell them that increased amounts of carbon dioxide will lead to warming, which can cause glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise, flooding cities which can cause casualties and lead to mass migration.  This is what the delegates need to know, and these scientists did not understand how they play a part in the process.  While the data might seem obvious to the researchers, it might not be to people in the delegation because they do not have the background to interpret it.

Having this experience made me glad that I went to Moravian, because I had the familiarity of understanding different disciplines’ ways of thinking and explaining research.  It is important to have a liberal arts education, because it provides an interdisciplinary background for success in a globally connected world.  So, thank you Moravian for this opportunity, and providing me with the knowledge that if one day I am doing climate change research and am asked a question on how to explain my research, I will be able to in a way that someone who was not a scientist could understand.   


  1. Great defense of the liberal arts!

  2. A good opening line [At COP 21, I learned how important it is in today’s society to attend a liberal arts college and receive an interdisciplinary education]!

    This is a point I've raised with President Grigsby (& President Byerly of Lafayette) — not in relation to scientists explaining their findings, but the many ways a liberal arts education is so critical for society.