by Aaron Smale
Unless this is your first semester at University of Nevada, Reno, you’ve probably had a conversation about the importance of Core Humanities — and other required liberal arts or humanities courses — to your college education. Does it help you have a more fulfilling, enriching and comprehensive education? Will it help you to get a job, with all of its supposed critical thinking tips and tricks? Will it make you a better person?
I’ve heard all of these questions discussed in and out of the classroom by various students, mostly from a liberal arts or humanities background. Each time someone will bring up how an engineering, science or math major needs required courses in the humanities so they can learn how to engage with people outside of the lab, their job, or the classroom. Each time, someone will bring up that college is necessary to help you live a complete and engaging existence.
I’m not cut out for it, but once upon a time I was planning on becoming an environmental engineer. I was all set to start an education that would guarantee me a lucrative career, educational prestige and respect, and a confidence in myself that I had made the right choice in my chosen major. A question that never came up was: “Am I going to be able to talk to people? Will I be able to make friends?” Not that these things aren’t important to me, but I’m sick of people thinking that college is a training ground for how to interact with people and build relationships. College can be an enriching and rewarding experience. It can teach you skills that you can carry into a new job or career. It can broaden your horizons.
But college isn’t the only place where you can learn about these things. Your whole life experience stretches outside the boundaries of a campus: you’ll make mistakes that you hope no one finds out about, you’ll make and lose friends, you’ll have a job, you’ll get fired, you’ll laugh and you’ll learn. But college won’t be the condition that all of this teeters on. For the most part, college fits into your life without defining you. Your friends, family, interests and hobbies aren’t delineated or dictated by your college experience, and if you need college to figure out how to talk to people or get a job, then you have bigger problems on your hands.
For example, the first time I threw a party — against the wishes of my landlord — was because my best friend at the time dared me to do so. We hadn’t met at college, but at work at some little café. This was the same friend that knocked me unconscious with a sucker punch about a year later. Suffice to say, I choose my friends a little differently now. Before coming to UNR, I also spent the better part of a year getting into the “rave” scene — a snap decision that led me to do some stupid things and meet some questionable people. Outside of college, I also fell head over heels for a girl who neglected to tell me she was in a committed relationship for years beforehand. For all the mistakes that I’ve made outside of college, I’ve made the decision to try learning from them instead of regretting them, applying them to my life instead of being ashamed of them.
Majors in subjects such as math or engineering may seem daunting because of the heavy commitment to schoolwork and studying that is required, but let’s stop pretending that students who choose these paths are alien robots incapable of human interaction, shall we? Part of the appeal of college is that you can learn the skills that are essential to your dream career, skills that may help you to interact in the business world, and skills that help you to navigate some of the more complicated facets of establishing professional relationships. Outside of that however, college isn’t exactly a substitute for living your own life, interacting with the things that you care about, or setting your own path — complete with all your mistakes and successes.
Aaron Smale studies English. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.