Here are some examples of the value of a liberal education. Click here to find out what this project is about!

What is the "Stories" project about?

On September 18, Vice Provost Aaron Brower issued the following invitation:

Dear Colleagues,

As many of your may know, several groups at UW-Madison are working to improve communication with various audiences (students, faculty, staff, alumni, etc.) about the Essential Learning Outcomes (ELOs) associated with the Wisconsin Experience, and modeled after AAC&U's national LEAP campaign.

I am contacting you today because we need your help to reach out to others about our students' experiences. We believe many of our students are ALREADY engaged in achieving the outcomes we have described, and that teachers and advisers already discuss the goals of achieving a broad and rich education with students and others.

Too help connect with these conversations, we would like to gather some of the stories being told. To do so, we're using an online survey tool to capture this information. To participate, please go to

That survey page includes an explanation of ELO and LEAP, an example of a story we've told, and space for you or your colleagues to share your stories.

You may enter as many examples as you like; if you wish, you may submit this survey again, sharing a different story with each submission. Or, if you find you can't convey your story within the 4,000 character text box limit, please email my colleague, Elaine Klein at

Please feel free to take your time to think about this, and please share this link with others who may have WI Experience stories to tell. We'll post a compilation of the stories we gather on the ELO/LEAP website provided above.

Thank you, in advance, for any contributions you may share,


Advisors, faculty members, students, and "family members" responded to this request. Most of our respondents work with students in an advising (61%) or instructional (33%) capacity. They convey these stories both while advising students, as well as while they're teaching, talking informally with students, or working with parents. Their stories appear below.



Stories from Students, About the Value of Liberal Learning

"I relate a story told to us by a physician and honors alumni that is posted on our website:" By Jerry Halverson, MD University of Wisconsin-Madison, Class of 1999.


"I found my liberal arts education of great value, in fact, I use what I learned in college every day of my life. Having a broad base of knowledge and experiences has served me very well in my career in medicine. Having had courses like foreign language, philosophy, political science, rhetoric, economics and writing have given me invaluable tools that enrich my career. Foreign language courses helped me to experience and understand cultuers that were very different from those in Wisconsin where I grew up. Those experiences have helped me understand and be more empathetic to my patients form different cultures. My philosophy courses taught me in many ways how to think through complex ideas and how to take in many types of conflicting information. In a career that is ever chaging, like medicine, an ongoing skepticism and ability to process information has been a boon. My political sciences courses taight me the value of being and active and how to advocate. I have used thoese skills to advocate for my patients and my profession at the local, state and national levels.

I use my rhetoric classes every day in lecturing to students or attempting to convince my patients that my treatment plan is the best way to go. My economics courses have helped me to understand the world that I live in with why hospitals and insurance companies make the decisions that they do. My writing and literature courses have helped me to write and publish papers in scientific journals. I have many colleagues that did not have the benefit of a liberal arts education (ie they had a very focused medical undergraduate experience) and they often miss the ability to see the whole picture - in a patient encounter, in a hospital or clinic scene, or a research protocol. Medical school and residency has provided plenty of time to hone in on the necessary knowledge and tools to become a physician. My liberal arts background has not only made me a better physician, but also a better communicator and a better citizen."


"I tell students about my partner who has a degree from a small liberal arts college in English. His major taught him how to communicate effectively with others both on the page and in person. In addition, he developed a wide range of skills by taking extensive German and French, studying abroad in the Ivory Coast, taking courses in economics and history where he learned about how the world works both intellectually and personally. While these learning experiences were invaluable to him in getting a job, they did not determine where he ended up working. Instead, his co-curricular love of cycling led him to the bicycle industry where he currently manages international sales for a local bike accessories company. He is responsible for several million dollars in sales a year and he does so by cultivating relationships with business owners and distributors around the world using the intellectual and personal skills he acquired from taking a wide range of courses and pursuing a challenging study abroad experience."


"I work with many students interested in medical school; sometimes these students are reluctant to take humanities and social science courses. I often tell students interested in medical school about a current UW-Madison senior who has strong feelings about how students interested in medicine should structure their premedical curriculum. I explain that he feel sstudents should complete most of the medical school prerequisites in the first two years of their undergraduate program so they are completely ready for the MCAT. I go on to share that this student followed this course, took the MCAt right before the beginning of his junior year, and scored a 36 (a very high score). Then I explain this student's rationale for advocating others follow the same track is that he is now free from the stress that accompanies the premedical curriculum and MCAT and has the freedom to take primarily humanities and social science courses. I end by stating that this student, one of the best I have seen, believes successful physicians must not only know the science behind medicine, but also understand the human condition in a way that allows them to meet the needs of the people they serve. When students hear about someone on a similar track who was highly successful and stressed the importance of humanities and social science courses, they seem to be more receptive to enrolling in these classes."


"I went to college expecting to be a math major and did well my first year, but in third semester calculus I received a D-, hardly promising for a math major. The same semester I was taking Psychology and was engaged by the material and subsequently have gone on to be a psychology professor. My specific focus in psychology came from a course in Physiological Psychology I might not have taken except that everyone raved about the teacher. Three of us had class conflicts and the prof agreed to tape record her lectures and even on tape she was so engaging that 2/3rds of us went on to graduate school in that field. In grad school I had few choices of seminars and took one on hearing. Much later in my career I became interest in research on acoustic communciation in animals and I have drawn heavily on a course I thought I would never use."


 "A recent graduate of our Honors program came to Madison intent on a pre-med program. Her first semester she took courses in Chemistry and Art History and was fascinated by both. She was less excited by biology and so she went on to be a double major in Art History and Chemistry completing a senior thesis in Chemistry. She applied to several graduate programs in Chemistry and is now attending Northwestern University where she is working with a professor who has close ties with the Art Institute of Chicago. She will be using her chemistry skills in the service of art restoration, a perfect blend of her two majors. And it was all due to two courses she took in her first year."


"A few years ago I worked with a student from a small town in Wisconsin who was interested in a career in journalism. By her second semester she was Features Editor at the Daily Cardinal and sure she would be a journalist. She took an anthropology course on primate behavior and became totally fascinated, switched majors to Anthropology and then worked on her senior thesis in my lab. Her thesis was published in a major journal a year after graduation and she was accepted in the most prestigious graduate program in her field. Subsequently, she has changed career goals, but one course changed her life trajectory. As an adviser I have encountered many other students who have told me that taking either the Psychology or Anthropology primate behavior courses has been a life and career-goal changing experience for them. The right teacher in the right course can make a big difference and lead to a very different career."


"I am not sure if this response will help, but here it goes. I myself am an alumni of Madison. My undergraduate is in Journalism and Anthropology. I got my Counseling Masters here as well. There is no doubt in my mind that the writing skills I obtained in the Journalism major helped me in my Masters program. It was a writing heavy program and almost all the other students in my cohort were psych majors. They hated the papers and got lower grades than I did because they couldn't easily construct a paper. I could not believe it. I got A's, they got B's, and I was learning the subject matter from scratch. So if a student think that their major does not relate to future goals, they could not be more wrong. With that said, I do not often tell "stories" in my Career Counseling appointments. I want the students to generate their own ideas. They are often surprised to rememeber that their aunt in Marketing had a Classics major or their best friend's mom owns her own business -- after getting a Sociology major. I find that when they generate their own stories about the value of a Liberal Arts degree they believe it more than if I told them."


"About fifteen years ago, my wife was on an airplane, making small talk with her neighbor, a man in his late 20s or early 30s. When she told him that she was an English professor, he said, Man, do I wish I had taken more English when I was in college. It turns out that the man was an engineer, about six years out of college, who had just received his first major promotion, and now served as a manager. Whereas he had spent his first six years crunching numbers in various ways, he now spent most of his time talking and writing, mostly writing. While he was an accomplished engineer and still relied on his engineering knowledge (both academic and vocational), the man had discovered that the real key to success in his current job (and the route to future advancement, too) was not necessarily going to be his knowledge of engineering, but his ability to explain complex engineering ideas to non-specialists. The man realized, six years out, that what he had learned in his liberal arts classes were indeed important. This man would have graduated from college in the late 1980s, and it's worth noting that engineering schools have since emphsized communication skills, probably in response to feedback like the man my wife met on the plane. While the educational institutions are coming around, it isn't always clear that students, their parents, and the general public get that point. The point is that the man had no way of knowing, when he was in college, what would be important in the long run. In the long run, his career would rise or fall largely on things he hadn't studied in college."


"A physician I know praises an Art History course she took many several years ago. That course taught her 'how to really see.' Because of it, she says, she can look closely and carefully at the individual parts of a work of art, to see and appreciate not just the image but also the texture and the colors. At the same time, she also learned to see the work in a larger context, and to how it intersects with history, culture, economics, faith, and so on. Her ability 'to really see' both the details and the larger context not only brings her joy, but it also helps her work with her patients, since she observes them more fully, too." (Shared by Elaine Klein)

Note: Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, found that the study of art and artistic concepts enhance physicians' clinical assessments. From that site:

"Basic physicial examination skills among medical students, residents and practicing physicians have been on the decline. Simple procedures that were routinely done by health care providers, such as careful inspection, are now often replaced by expensive laboratory tests and radiological exams. In an effort to change this trend, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) designed a pre-clinical course for Harvard Medical School students to enhance their diagnostic abilities and improve their visual acumen through close observation and guided discussion of fine art and artistic concepts and application of these new skills to clinical patient assessments. The researchers found that the students who took the course had a 38 percent increase in overall accurate visual observations of patients and art work compared to otehrwise similarly-trained control students in the study."
("BWH Research Finds Formal Art Observation Training Improves Medical Students' Visual Literacy and Diagnostic Skills," dated 7/10/08, available at

Several programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison connect with their students to capture stories about the value of liberal and integrative learning experiences. Among them:


How Advisors and Instructors Talk About Liberal Learning

"For those in education, especially elementary ed, it's fairly straightforward: you are a generalist as a teacher, and you will need to know a little bit about everything! For other students, I share that knowing about the world around them is crucial to be an active citizen, a critical consumer, a good human being, a friend, an effective parent - amont other roles they will fill once they leave. I also suggest that having to think about things and in ways that are outside your comfort zone makes you grow as a person. And, I say, you never know when this information will come in handy. I also share personal stories about my own experiences as an English major taking geology and astronomy, and how absolutely fascinating it is to look at the natural world when you know something about it. It's fascinating for its own sake, but it also helps you to understand the news of the day, and to understand, for example, how some things that appear to be "natural" disasters, aren't - like Katrina."


"The majority of students I see (and their parents) are usually worried about taking the 'wrong' courses; courses that 'don't count' for anything; and not graduating in time. One of the first things I do is break down the 120 required credits to show the student exactly how many credits of the required 120 are free choice electives. Students in L&S are usually surprised to see that this can be more than 50%. I point out that the free choices occupy more space on the transcript than the major, or the college requirements. We then talk about the transcript as a resume, or at least a record of academic life. I share my experience reviewing transcripts for grad programs: they are really read not only for the grades achieved, but for the choices made. I tell students that finding courses which engage them without the benefit of a check list is one of the necessary skills of a successful college student. It serves two purposes: 1) classes which engage one are likely to result in better grades and opportunities for letters of recommendations later on, and 2) discovering not only what subject, but what kinds of academic processes one engages with, contributes to the self-knowledge necessary to translate skills from an undergraduate academic career into a professional non-academic career. When a student knows that she has a quantitative memory, enjoys archival research, or data collection, helps her 'market' herself when it comes time to look for a job. In addition, following her passion helps her find her place in a complex world after college."


"Skills you learn in a course can apply to many other situations. You never know where you will end up and what skills you will use. It will help you appreciate the work of others to a greater degree."


"When encouraging students to reach out of their comfort area to take courses in other fields, I remind them that quite often, it's not the result but the process that is most important. For example, some courses teach discipline, or creativity, or analyzing vs. judging, or different ways of looking at history or culture. The re sult is most often and quite simply something that we all should know about the world. As a French advisor, one example is my encouragment of students to take a course such as Econ 101 to fulfill their QR-B requirements; I explain how impotant that course was to me in understanding, everyday, how economic forces will affect me and my community."


"I usually try to explain that the goal of Liberal Arts program is to produce well-rounded students, and while a major allows a student to focus on their area of greatest interest, the rest of their breadth requirements are there to prepare them for things they might not expect. A student may want to major in Poli Sci and go onto law school, but a time might come when they'll need a background in scientific research or communciations to practice their profession competently."


"To convey the importance of what students learn in those courses, I usually offer a link to a video in which my students describe these learning stories in their own words:"


"There are three main reasons I usually give: 1) Nowadays areas are not neatly separated, the interrelation between subjects is more pronounced every day and students need to be prepared in a variety of subjects if they want to maximize their opportunities. It is to their competitive advantage if they know as much as possible of as many subjects as possible. 2) How would they know their true calling if they only know a couple of subjects well? Perhaps their interest is partly based on culture, family influence, peer pressure, etc. Undergraduate studies is the time to explore and to learn how you really are, and what you really like. 3) Life is more than your job, you want to be prepared for life, not just to do a job. For that knowing a couple of subjects is not enough. Almost everyone I know who can play an instrument is exceedingly happy such is the case. But they are not musicians, they simply enjoy music. Same thing can happen with a variety of other subjects. Once you are older and have more responsibility, learning outside your subject is harder, undergraduate time is the time to do that."


"In my Masterpieces of Scandinavian Literature course, I tell them that I am teaching them survival skills for the media age. It is important to be careful readers who can sort through bias and assess sources. Here is an excerpt from a student email about my 19th Century Scandianvian Course: 'To be honest, before I took your course, I did not even know what countries were classified as Scandinavia (geography is not my strong suit). I see examples of it even in American pop culture. I do know if you have seen the movie Sweet November, but I believe the premise of the movie is an adaptation of Isak Dinesen's the Dreamers. A female who after a loss (Pellegrina her voice: Sarah Deaver her health) decides to spend the rest of their life fulfilling a chosen male's fantasy. The movie even has a Marcus. It was also interesting to see how a literary movement can be embraced by many nations. After completing your course, I enrolled in two other literature courses before graduating from the university.' "


"I often tell students that taking courses outside of their usual area of interest will help them understand their own discipline better and that being able to integrate information across multiple disciplines is important when discussing complex problems. To illustrate this, I tell a story about a group of students in a discussion section who were talking about climate change and the use of biofuels. I explain that the discussion was moving along in a fairly predictable and surface level fashion until one student commented that another class she was taking, a rural sociology course, was discussing the ramification of people moving farther and farther from city centers and that this movement and settlement patten could affect fuel consumption and climate change. This stimulated a great deal of conversation that went beyond just the science of creating effective biofuels to sociocultural factors that could support or inhibit the effetciveness of biofuels in controlling climate change. By integrating knowledge from two subject areas, the student not only created a great deal of interest in the discussion, but also helped other students understand a complex problem in new ways."

"I advise primarily science majors and many of these students would really like to take only science and technical courses. So I often get questions like, 'What is a Humanities course?' or 'Why do I need to take a Com B or Foreign Language?' My discussions with them include the need for them to be able to communicate well and work with a variety of people in any job/discipline while in shcool and later after graduation. From the global nature of science jobs/companies to communicating science findings to non-science parts of society, it is vitally important to be able to relate to otehrs, include one's own thinking or style in another's point of view or life experience, and broaden one's view and knowledge of history, cultures, divergent interests, and commonalities. This not only makes an individual more successful, it enriches a person's life and readies them for continued learning and personal growth."