Four secrets of liberal arts life at Luther

The ideas and viewpoints expressed in the posts on the Ideas and Creations blog are solely the view of the author(s). Luther College's mission statement calls us to "embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community," and to be "enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by the life of faith and learning." Alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the college are encouraged to express their views, model "good disagreement" and engage in respectful dialogue.

Two of my favorite forms of procrastination are: 1) making lists of tasks I should be doing and 2) reading articles full of lists. I have learned these articles are called "listicles" (a dreadful sort of made-up word, I know, it sounds a bit like a Listerine-flavored popsicle). Whatever the flavor, I am truly helpless to resist such useful listicles as "Nine New Ways With Essential Oils," "Four Fall Fashion Trends To Follow" or of course "10 Tricks to Stop Procrastinating."

So it seemed appropriate I offer my own Luther-flavored listicle about a few secrets I've learned, in my fifth year of teaching here:

4. Cross-pollination benefits all living things.

One of the many reasons I love teaching at a liberal arts college is how we encourage (and require) an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. As advisors, we believe strongly that students should sample a wide variety of courses and draw connections across the curriculum. As a college, faculty and staff work across the curriculum with colleagues in a number of ways. This January I'll get another opportunity for this cross-pollination, working with Professor Maren Johnson of Nordic Studies for our PAD 450 in Sweden and Norway. All of this breeds a more well-rounded person—student, faculty and staff. We discover connections—both academic and personal—as we explore new ideas together.

3. Failure is an essential part of discovery.

Several years ago, inventor Art Fry came to campus as part of this regular series. Fry just happened to invent this from a failed experiment. He offered a lot of great advice for our students, but what I remember the most was his idea that as we navigate our lives, we try things on, like slipping on someone else's suit. No one else's suit (or major or job) may fit us perfectly, and sometimes we need to tailor or adjust it. Other times we just need to look for a new suit altogether. So as we try on new classes or experiences, we may find some don't fit us at all. But this failure gives us great information and can inspire us to keep looking for that perfect fit. And in college, the stakes are lower as we choose or discard options—better to discover now, for example, that we enjoy creative writing more than data analysis, before a rent check depends on it.

2. Growth comes from challenge.

After we finish a long hike in Van Peenen Park, we might expect pain or soreness, while tiny muscles tear and then heal themselves. But we are often less patient with using our mental muscles and tend to push away when things get difficult. A good education challenges us—forcing us to question the status quo and sometimes develop a new way of thinking—and this work does not always come easily. Yet it is truly work worth doing.

1. Community makes it work.

In my 25-plus years in different work roles, from an editorial assistant in New York to a project manager in Chicago to a management consultant in Portland, I have never been a part of an organization with as a deep a sense of community as Luther.

For Luther's recent Homecoming, our downtown Water Street was decked out with blue-and-white Norse flags, and our community welcomed boisterous large gatherings filled with laughter as well as smaller, quieter moments of hugs and smiles among classmates who hold this place so dear and treasure the chance to return. Even this fall my senior students are already becoming wistful and nostalgic about the community they will miss.

In 2013, my first semester at Luther, at Fall Convocation our interim President addressed the class of 2017 and told them, "You belong." This simple yet powerful assertion comforted me also, as I was embarking on a big career transition from businessperson to professor. All my higher education experience had been at large state schools far from Iowa, and I had doubted whether I would ever feel that sense of belonging the way our students, alums and emeriti do.

Flash forward four years, to a few weeks ago, where I found myself browsing in the Union bookstore. I left with a new sweatshirt with LUTHER printed on it in proud, cobalt blue. You belong. This sense of community gets into your bones, settles into your heart.

It's our best-held secret, really, but one I hope we'll keep sharing.

Alexandra White

Alexandra White

Alexandra White, Luther College assistant professor of management, joined the Luther community after nearly 20 years working for a wide range of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, start-ups and management consulting groups. At Luther she teaches principles of management, data analysis for business decision making, project management, and introduction to business. In January 2018, she will co-teach PAD 450: Exploring the Ethics of Sustainable Organizations in Sweden and Norway.

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