You’re sitting in the middle of a pristine lake, surrounded by evergreen trees and picturesque, snow-capped mountains. Look up, and the red-orange sky begins to turn a vivid blue; look down, and you can see a school of fish nipping at the surface of the calm water.
To your right, you hear the sound of a train chugging around the perimeter of the lake, a long trail of black and gray smoke following behind. As you watch it move steadily past, it begins to turn left, making its way impossibly toward the water and toward you. Suddenly it hits the shoreline, kicking up a huge wake and picking up speed as it comes directly your way. You start to look around, wondering if you should move or whether this is just a trick of the imagination. As the engine gets closer, your pulse quickens—it’s right on you—and as you brace for the impact, the train explodes into a flock of birds, darting past you in an overwhelming swarm.
You have just had your first experience with the awe-inducing, sometimes disorienting, technology of virtual reality. This two-minute scenario exists for no other reason than to show you how quickly you can lose yourself in a world of beauty and surrealism.
And you’re hooked.
This is how Transylvania business professor Adam Evans likes to introduce visitors in his office to the capabilities of a system that is taking over his curriculum—a wave of the future that will soon inhabit homes around the world in the same way that televisions and smartphones forced themselves in and never relented.
“It’s new, and it’s coming,” he says. “The possibilities are endless.”
You can’t spend long talking to somebody about Transylvania without hearing about the value of its liberal arts education. At its core, Transy aims to provide students a balance of breadth of knowledge and depth of discovery that will allow them to carve their own paths in a world that rarely rewards the status quo.
Much like that virtual train, a Transy graduate is encouraged to go “off the rails” and take on their lives and careers from angles that they may never have expected. Change comes at you quickly—will you get out of the way, or face it head on? Evans knows which option he wants his students to choose:
“Rather than just READ about it, it’s time for us to BE about it.”
Laura Bryan, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the university, points to a quote from Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman, who lays out a vision for how we ought to think about teaching today’s student:
“A liberal education is designed to prepare you not for one profession, but for any profession—including those not yet invented.”
But if we can’t anticipate those future professions, how can we prepare our students?
Ten years ago, the idea of social media was limited to college students swapping photos of each other on Facebook or pouring out their hearts in an online journal. Today major companies employ entire teams of social media experts to communicate with their current and potential clients over a variety of platforms, furthering their brands, dealing with crises and making themselves more accessible to the public.
"Rather than READ about it, it's time for us to BE about it." —Adam Evans, business professorIf you look up social media job openings for J.P Morgan, for example, you’ll notice that there is a conspicuous omission under the list of qualifications—a college degree in any specific field. Instead it lists skills tantamount to the task at hand, skills like “passion,” “confidence,” “creativity” and “an entrepreneurial spirit.”
But Transylvania doesn’t offer any courses in passion. Fortunately for our students, we do offer professors with their fingers on the pulse of progress who are willing to go outside the normal and show how a formal liberal arts education can translate into a fulfilling career—even one not yet invented.
“Many surveys with employers have demonstrated that they want to hire individuals who have similar characteristics to graduates of a liberal arts institution—creative, complex, thinker, team player, communicator, problem solver,” says Bryan.
Kelly Hieronymus ’13 was a philosophy major and studio art minor who picked up a job bartending at then-fledgling West Sixth Brewing a couple of blocks from campus during her senior year. While working with her advisor, philosophy professor Jack Furlong, she discovered an interest in marketing and began researching the influence of imagery in social media.
She jumped in to help the West Sixth owners develop their brand on social media through photography and targeted content.
“I remember having all of these interactions as a bartender that I started to translate in class,” she says. “Being a bartender, you’re kind of putting on a show. People are watching you and responding to you and behaving in accordance with your behavior. I started noticing those things in parallel with some of the stuff we were talking about in Senior Seminar, and Jack helped facilitate me taking those concepts we learned in class and translating them to real life.”
It may sound unusual on the surface, but she began thinking about marketing like a philosopher. She looked at postmodern philosophical principles through the lens of social media and the interactions people have with their digital selves. As the brewery grew, they began to lean on her knowledge more and more, and three years ago she was officially hired full-time as the company’s creative director, managing West Sixth’s brand and marketing strategies.
“My professors helped create an example to engage myself in the community while I was in school,” Hieronymus says. “The encouragement I got from Dr. Furlong, and from Zoe Strecker and Sharon Brown and others, gave me a lot of confidence to do what I loved to do.”