Calvin College

CALVIN - Minds in the Making

Strengthening Liberal Arts Education by Embracing Place and Particularity

Assessing Liberal Arts and Place from Multiple Perspectives: Research Findings


The participants in this study offered multiple perspectives on the importance of emphasizing place in liberal arts education.  Faculty articulated that an emphasis on place offers opportunities to enlarge the scholarly imagination.  Interviews with students indicated that place-based pedagogical strategies within the liberal arts curriculum deepened their understanding of theoretical course content and fostered within them an ethic of care.  Alumni identified how their liberal arts education benefited them in preparing them to be active community leaders with a concern for their place, but they also described the limitations and barriers liberal arts colleges face and suggested ways for liberal arts colleges to become strategic partners in their communities.  City and community leaders illustrated how the students and faculty from liberal arts institutions make valuable contributions to a place and offered challenges for liberal arts colleges to consider if they hope to broaden their impact.

This study demonstrates that liberal arts colleges can have both a global and a local impact if they are intentional and visionary.  As one faculty member said, “We are realizing that caring about place and being locally involved is a transferable skill. So we may not be educating students to [only] care about or to stay in Grand Rapids, but we hope that we’re opening their eyes to the complexity of systemic issues, environmental issues, just social structures throughout, and teaching them to love it, but also teaching them to care about it.  So we’re hoping the caring about particularity, the particulars of a place transfers in a much more global way.”