Liberal Arts Navigator pinpoints students’ academic interests




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Reports show that students in technical fields can readily enhance their academic portfolios by adding courses in the social sciences, humanities and the arts. But identifying courses that align with a student’s professional goals can be challenging for those unfamiliar with liberal arts. With the launch of a new digital tool, RIT’s College of Liberal Arts has virtually taken the “guesswork” out of course selection.

The Liberal Arts Navigator, an interactive GPS-like tool designed to pinpoint students’ perfect coursework match, suggests viable options for academic immersions based on students’ individual areas of interest. Think of it as Match.com for academia.

The College of Liberal Arts offers more than 50 immersions, or three-course concentrations within a theme or discipline, which can prove daunting to students with many different interests.

“The goal of this tool is to match students with the immersion that fits them best,” said Amy Lyman, admissions liaison for the College of Liberal Arts and one of the creators of the Navigator. “Many students default to the courses they know or the ones that have a direct connection to their majors. The Navigator helps open their eyes to the many immersion possibilities that are available.”

The program, created in partnership with Broken Myth Studios and available to the public, was first discussed in 2013 as part of a class project that explored the perception of liberal arts by technologically focused students.

Since every RIT student is required to have a general education component in their academic portfolio, the program appeals to students enrolled in all colleges who are interested in taking additional liberal arts coursework to support their interests outside of their current disciplines. The computer program asks students to answer a series of questions and walks them through a proposed course of study for an immersion or career path. College representatives add, however, that the computerized tool is not meant to replace one-on-one academic advising. Instead, it’s meant to enhance the time students spend with their advisers who also receive copies of the results.

“This digital advising tool is truly unique and one-of-a-kind. It was designed specifically for RIT students with their needs in mind,” said John Smithgall, assistant dean and director for student services. “The potential outcomes for our students are great. We hope the tool will help students gain a deeper appreciation for the liberal arts and how their studies will enrich their lives both personally and professionally.”

College of Liberal Arts Dean James Winebrake agrees.

“The great problems of today are interdisciplinary in nature,” he said. “Companies, nonprofits, and the public sector are demanding professionals who are multi-faceted and adept not only in technical skills, but also in the liberal arts. This tool will help students find a path that is right for them.”

Smithgall also stressed the multidisciplinary nature of the program.

“In developing this tool, we consulted advisers and faculty from both technical and non-technical disciplines and discussed the many ways that different fields overlap and contribute to each other. Those discussions were extremely helpful in educating everyone about the possibilities that exist for curricular integration.”

The program officially launched a few weeks ago, just in time for students registering for fall courses.

Patrick Finnerty, a first-year industrial engineering major from Horseheads, N.Y, was pleasantly surprised by the results.

“The immersion that the tool recommended for me was environmental studies,” he said. “I found that really interesting and I will definitely follow up on this with my academic adviser.”