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‘Humanities essential for today’s economy’

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  • Published : Nov 11, 2010 - 17:46
  • Updated : Nov 11, 2010 - 17:46
Shunning the humanities in favor of more specialized fields of study is very short sighted, according to the president of a leading women’s liberal arts college in the United States.

“A global perspective is needed to succeed in the 21st century and the humanities is essential to attaining a global perspective,” said Carol Christ, president of Smith College, in an interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday. “The world today requires globally educated executives who understand another culture,” she said.

Writing well, critical thinking and speaking well are also important, and in today’s fast-changing world it is critical to be able to move among different disciplines things that are emphasized in liberal arts education, she noted.

“In fact, studying the humanities makes better scientists, because it allows them to explore different ways of thinking about solving a problem,” said Christ, citing Thomas Cech, a Nobel laureate in chemistry.
Carol Christ

Smith College, founded in 1875, is one of the largest women’s colleges in the U.S. with an enrollment of 2,800. While it remains resolutely dedicated to educating women, the college, located in Northampton, Massachusetts, has changed enormously over the years.

“Today, it is much more global. We are moving toward having 12 percent of our student body coming from abroad in the next two years. Currently, we have 160 foreign students on campus,” she said. Smith also ranks first in the U.S. in terms of the number of students studying abroad for a full year.

Smith College boasts a very strong science and engineering program, and 30 percent of the students major in the sciences, a percentage far higher than that of co-ed institutions.

“We also emphasize social leadership among our students. We want to make a difference in the world,” said Christ.

In fact, women’s empowerment is one of the most important aspects of a women’s college experience. “Smith teaches women to have a sense of capacity for leadership,” Christ said. This emphasis on women’s leadership may explain the disproportionate percentage of women leaders who come from women’s colleges, she said.

The college, which is known for having produced two U.S. first ladies, is also the alma mater of Gloria Steinem, the founder of the Ms. Magazine and feminist leader, and Shelly Lazarus, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, as well as three current U.S. congresswomen.

“Without fully using the entrepreneurial and professional power of women, you are cutting off half of the talent of a country,” said Christ.

On the second leg of her six-city tour through Asia where she is meeting with alumnae and parents of current students, Christ hosted a Smith Club panel discussion on the role of women in the new economy at the Hyundai Card auditorium in Yeouido, Seoul, on Thursday.

By Kim Hoo-ran (khooran@heraldcorp.com)