A Faculty Is a Learning Community

Central College President Mark Putnam smiles during the annual Endowed Chairs Conference.We have a remarkable faculty at Central. Each year I look forward to attending our annual Endowed Chairs Conference. This event is an internal symposium for our faculty hosted by those who hold an endowed chair or distinguished professorship. The purpose is to share scholarly papers or presentations, teaching innovations and artistic performances.

There is such a warmth of community experienced in this setting as faculty members have the opportunity to engage in a learning community and collectively explore wide-ranging academic interests. These conversations have given rise to research collaborations, international education opportunities and mutual support for teaching excellence. I just marvel at the quality of their work and find such joy simply being present.

Some of the most interesting moments for me come from hearing faculty members explore topics outside their expertise. I see them become students again as scientists reflect on images in art history, musicians encounter emerging economic concepts and sociologists examine themes in literature. I remember one presentation I still don’t fully understand in which an economist, a computer scientist and a philosopher presented together on Bitcoin, each using a different lens. It was a wonderful manifestation of collaboration across disciplines.

From time to time, individual faculty members will present a “teaching gem” they have designed and implemented in the classroom, studio or lab. Sometimes these are ideas they obtained at a professional conference or through a journal within their discipline. The resulting conversation typically is an exploration of how that teaching innovation might be applied to a learning setting in a different discipline. This year I participated in a session in which a group sorting task was used to teach us about specific aspects of anatomy. Yet the point the presenters made was that such an approach could be used in many different disciplines in which a process, system or pattern is a target for learning.

Each year I am impressed as our newer faculty members become the teachers of our more experienced colleagues. I am continually warmed by the interest and affirmation senior members express in the work of those more recent to the profession. Our new faculty each brings a set of unique interests to explore and seek input from others on ideas they are generating. There is also a sense of appreciation for what everyone contributes to the intellectual and artistic life of our academic community.

There is something special about becoming a student again. We are reminded of the vast and expanding body of knowledge. We recall what it’s like to be a novice. We discover new connections among seemingly disparate ideas. A great faculty is really a community of learners who together embody a love for liberal learning.

At Central, we are blessed.

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