Inspiring the Life of the Mind

Rollins’ Master of Liberal Studies program is an enriching experience that can create a community of learners and a cadre of capable leaders.

Professor of Philosophy and Religion Tom Cook (Photo by Scott Cook) Professor of Philosophy and Religion Tom Cook (Photo by Scott Cook)

The new director of Master of Liberal Studies (MLS) says the program represents the finest ideals of the liberal arts tradition by exploring the great ideas of human experience in their original context and in the way they illuminate current issues.

“This is the center of the Rollins mission,” says Tom Cook, professor of philosophy and religion, who was appointed to head the program earlier this year. “It is rigorous liberal arts learning and the quintessence of lifelong learning.”

As the new director, Cook wants to remind the campus and the greater community that despite an understandable interest and media spotlight on science and technology, the MLS program is still attracting those who cherish “the life of the mind.”

The program draws students from a variety of backgrounds, including teachers, business leaders, doctors, and lawyers. Cook says this shows that accomplished professionals often feel a need to strengthen their skills by broadening their knowledge. And the experience of understanding the various viewpoints of thinkers and of fellow students from many backgrounds can translate into becoming a more mature leader.

Because the entering students must take several core courses together—mostly during evening classes to accommodate busy professionals—they often wind up being affected by each other’s views about what is often termed the Western tradition of humanities.

The program takes between 2.5 and 4 years to complete. It includes a master’s thesis or project, which can take many forms, including research paper, novel, play, musical composition, or work of art.

Students say the learning experience can be life changing.

“Along with my Catholic faith and my choosing Linda as my wife, this is one of the handful of most important decisions in my life,” says Sandy Seay, who owns Seay Management Consultants, a full-service human resources management consulting firm.

Seay, who still maintains his company with six employees and approximately 300 clients nationwide, was so affected by the program that he continued his studies and now teaches an ancient humanities class at the Hamilton Holt School.

Seay said those in the liberal studies program often find themselves deeply affected by the thinkers they study. While the program also covers the rise of modern scientific thought, Seay found himself drawn to the wisdom of some of the ancients.

“Socrates put it this way: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ I would say that we all became more thoughtful.”

Patricia Schoene, who taught high school English before retiring, wanted to dig deeper into some new areas of knowledge. “I love the depth of study and the interdisciplinary approach,” Schoene says.

The challenges have delighted her. “I took the Milestones of Modern Science class and wrote a 21-page paper on quantum physics,” Schoene says. “I never studied physics in high school or college. The paper far exceeded the required length, but I had the luxury of researching questions about physics that I have had for years, but never had the time to explore.”

Schoene loves the way that liberal studies opens up new areas of thought. “I would recommend the program to anyone who enjoys learning. For people in the early stages of their career, the program provides a broad—but in-depth—understanding of the great ideas that have shaped our culture and our world.”

She believes it can make those people more creative thinkers and better problem solvers in a fast-changing workplace.

For Melanie Osborn ’04 ’12MLS, who is the office and facilities coordinator in the Olin Library, the Master in Liberal Studies did two important things.

“Professionally I gained an opportunity to teach at Valencia College, which I am currently doing. But for me, I gained a vast amount of knowledge and friends! It may seem ridiculous to say that this program really became about the people for me, but it really did.”

She and her fellow students even created a book club and a Facebook page to keep in touch. “It was so refreshing having a group of people who wanted to talk about literature, politics, religion, and have so much in common with each other, and yet all come from such different backgrounds.”