The Liberal Arts at Ottawa University
At Ottawa University’s residential campus in Ottawa, Kansas, liberal arts education is understood as an integrated discourse that blends focus and breadth, crucially grounded in critical thinking and learning that take place in the classroom, in conversations with professors and peers, and the engagement and interrogation of ideas.
To this end, all students at the residential campus experience a shared core curriculum consisting of four interdisciplinary seminars, as well as an array of course choices within each of eight breadth areas. The eight distribution courses and the three seminars comprise 38 credit hours toward graduation—which means that when students leave Ottawa, whether enrolled in a degree in business or education or human services or biology, students speak the truth when they assert that they have had a liberal arts education. A series of arts and cultural events complete students’ liberal arts experience.
Liberal Arts Studies Seminars
Two key seminar courses set the stage for and provide a culmination of a student’s liberal arts degree. First Year Seminar
is taken in the first semester of the student’s first year and is designed to evoke questions, develop habits of mind that lead to independent thinking, and orient students to the academic realities of college. Discussion and small group work are emphasized, and thematically-focused reading and writing assignments are required.
Group Problem Solving
is the liberal arts capstone course required for residential liberal arts majors. This interdisciplinary, student-driven course challenges seniors to investigate and address a complex social issue, testing their capacities as writers, thinkers, critics, and advocates. In the first half of the term, small groups of students identify an issue of significant interest and concern, conduct scholarly research on the issue, raise questions, and write about their conclusions in a paper defended before a jury of faculty. During the second half of the term, groups compose a response to that issue, arguing for particular solutions in a second paper, or designing a relevant project to realize specific goals (through community service, website development, collaboration with local entities, event coordination, documentary filmmaking, etc.) Again, papers and projects are justified and defended before a faculty board. As these seniors determine the course content and process, they engage with the world as agents of change.
This immersion in the liberal arts communicates to future employers that liberal arts majors have nimble minds, are not afraid to wrestle with complex ideas, and can adapt to the demands of a diverse and changing workplace.