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Block Break 3 Newsletter

Dear Parents and Alumni, 

As we enter uncharted technological territory, I know one question on many of our minds is, “how can we prepare our students for jobs that don’t yet exist?” Recent scholarship suggests that — contrary to its “impractical” reputation — a liberal arts education is the best way to equip students for the future. 

I’d like to share a few recent reads from my bookshelf that highlight the relevance of the liberal arts in our digital age. In a Harvard Business Review article, Dov Seidman argues that as computers fill more jobs, our society is shifting from a “knowledge economy” to a “human economy,” or one that values emotional intelligence and creativity. Another study by Harvard Professor David Deming indicates that employers increasingly value social skills over technical skills alone. 

In his book “You Can Do Anything,” George Anders argues that as technology outsources routine jobs, “humanist” skills are becoming increasingly marketable. He describes “curiosity, creativity, and empathy” as the skills that set liberal arts students apart, especially in the tech sector. Similarly, in his book “Robot-Proof,” Joseph Aoun suggests that higher education should adapt to technological evolution by emphasizing creativity and flexibility in its curriculum. 

These readings resonated with me because fostering creativity and collaboration in our students is a major priority at CC. This year, in particular, we’ve implemented several initiatives to encourage innovation both in and out of the classroom. 

We’re offering new interdisciplinary courses to cultivate problem-solving skills and flexibility. One example is Creativity and Logic, a First-Year Experience (FYE) course co-taught by Ryan Bañagale (Music) and Dan Johnson (Economics). In this course, students worked in teams to develop creative solutions to current problems facing our community. The class also spent a week participating in the “Risk Project” at our Baca Campus, where they engaged in activities to encourage risk tolerance and mindfulness. 

Our partnership with the Fine Arts Center has also opened up opportunities for creativity. During Block 2, FAC Artist-in-Residence Raven Chacon co-taught Song, Poetry, and Performance in the Southwest with Carrie Ruiz (Spanish) and Vicki 

FYE student Honor Miles ’21 looks at the works he chose for the student-curated exhibit at the Fine Arts Center.
Photo by Jennifer Coombes.

Levine (Music). This bilingual course was both an intercultural and interdisciplinary collaboration, and students were encouraged to design original projects — from multimedia videos to installation art. Additionally, leaders at the FAC created a new space this year, the UnBlocked Gallery, which enables classes to synthesize their learning by curating their art exhibits. 

Field study is another integral part of the Block Plan and provides an excellent opportunity for students to collaborate and apply their learning to real-world issues. This block, Mark Smith’s Economics of International Climate Policy class spent two weeks learning the theory behind climate policy, then traveled to Bonn, Germany, for the UN’s Framework on Climate Change meeting. During their two weeks in Germany, the students posed a research question, attended sessions related to their topic, and created a final project to inform our campus about the issue. Our 2017 Field Study Journal highlights several other examples of field study courses. 

We also believe it’s essential to provide students with opportunities to design their own intellectual adventures. The Venture Grant Program, endowed by the Keller Family Foundation, allows students to imagine an original research project and receive funding to pursue it. This block, we held our annual Keller Venture Grant Forum, where several students presented their findings. The students brought insights from across the globe, with topics ranging from organic farming in Cuba to refugee integration in Germany. 

The Keller Venture Grant Forum 2017. 
Photo by Jennifer Coombes.

It’s also been an exciting year for Innovation at CC, with the recently opened Innovation space at 232 E. Cache La Poudre St. and several new initiatives in the works! This January, Innovation is piloting a Big Idea Half-Block course, to mentor students in the startup process in preparation for this spring’s Big Idea competition. Innovation at CC is also sponsoring the Innovative Minds Series, which brings inspirational young alumni to speak on campus. In this block’s Innovative Minds talk, Alan Ricks ’05, COO and co-founder of MASS Design Group, spoke on promoting social justice through architecture. 

Looking towards the future, we’re currently planning more ways to prepare our students for an evolving world. During their meeting this November, the Board of Trustees approved an addendum to CC’s strategic plan that emphasizes building connections — throughout students’ college experience and as they transition into their careers.

Through these opportunities to innovate and build connections both in and out of the classroom, we hope to promote creativity, resilience, collaborative skills, and comfort with ambiguity. I believe that these “liberal arts skills” will help our students to excel in our complex and changing society.

If you have some free time over the holidays, I encourage you to take a look at the above readings and our Strategic Plan Addendum draft. As key members of our community, I’m eager to hear your feedback! 

Warm regards,

President Jill Tiefenthaler