Preparing Students to Change the World
From the Dean, Fall 2010/Winter 2011
You can change the world. We can show you how. We use this phrase to convey to prospective students the importance and value of a great undergraduate education within USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
The phrase resonates with the extraordinary idealism and ambition of the current group of students who apply to the world’s leading institutions of higher education. The tagline echoes the commitment expressed in our university’s mission statement to play “an increasingly important role in the development of the nation and the world … for many centuries to come” by ensuring that our research, scholarship and academic programs “advance knowledge and at the same time address issues critical to our community, the nation and the world.”
More recently, I underscored these values within the College community when we initiated our Problems Without Passports program (highlighted in the Fall 2008 issue of this magazine) and our new College 2020 initiative, which you will read about in the pages that follow.
You see, we are not an Ivory Tower. We do not seek to create an insulated community engaged in forms of inquiry that are disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life. Of course, all scholarly advances depend on an environment of inquiry that is not beholden to calculations of immediate practical benefit. But we are also aware that, in the end, both fundamental and applied research play an essential role in human progress. Underlying all inquiry in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences is the hope that our new discoveries and insights will be the driving force for a better future in our community and our world.
In this issue of USC College Magazine, you will learn more about some members of our community — faculty, students and alumni — who are working to change the world for the better. In some cases, the efforts address challenges that have become urgent in our local community and in our nation, such as immigrant integration and gang violence. In other cases, the expertise we have in USC College has led to efforts to address challenges in other parts of the world, such as the aftermath of the genocide in Cambodia and the need for medical procedures in the developing world.
I hope you enjoy meeting these impressive members of the Trojan Family. But I also want to make a more general point: the role that we play in changing the world is not merely a matter of actual community engagement; it is an essential and everyday feature of every faculty member’s scholarship and every student’s academic experience.
As we look back on history, every development we consider “progress” is linked to some new idea or discovery within the fields of study that characterize the world of Letters, Arts & Sciences. Philosophers, novelists and poets illuminate new ways of thinking about justice, freedom and the goals of a good life. Social scientists give us a new perspective on the importance of social capital, the best distribution of resources and the elements of a well-functioning democracy. Natural scientists establish the foundations for understanding and appreciating the world of physics, biology and chemistry.
Letters. Arts. Sciences. They have always been the path to a better future. This is because, to prepare for making any sort of contribution to our world, it is vital that we understand the changing dynamics of social life, the natural world and the mysteries of the human condition.
My first year as dean I met a young man who had just graduated from USC College and was in his first semester as a medical student. He told me that the most important courses he took as an undergraduate were not his science courses, but were rather his philosophy courses. He was already representing his class on the medical school’s ethics committee, and he believed that he was going to be a better doctor precisely because he was forced to think as hard and rigorously about questions of ethics and human values as he did about chemistry, biology and physiology.
The best preparation for smart and ambitious young people who want to change the world is immersion, as undergraduates and then as graduate students, in the world of Letters, Arts & Sciences.
Dean of USC College
Anna H. Bing Dean’s Chair