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The Value of an Arts & Sciences Foundation to a CIO

The university where I serve is currently undergoing a comprehensive strategic planning effort. With some embarrassment I admit I love the process of working on strategy, goals, long-term, big-picture, therefore I need to forewarn that in the coming weeks there will likely be numerous quick, ‘lightning bulb’ posts coming your way. They might have zero to do with technology.

You’ve been warned.

Yesterday at the university we had a guest speaker who was pretty fabulous. He has a history with The Chronicle and is an author with insight on higher education. The overarching question throughout the workshop seemed to be – Considering the current climate, to remain sustainable and competitive, what do we as an institution need to focus on? Which led to a plethora of topics, ideas, questions, and serious ‘thinking cap’ moments for me.

There has been much discussion and press on the topic of traditional education – affordability, sustainability, accessibility, what does the future hold? There has also been in the not-too-distant-past a laser-like focus on trade- and professional-concentrations which often made my mind wander to, “But what about the Arts and Sciences?”

In total disclosure, I didn’t necessarily have a traditional college experience. I took a couple of years off to ‘find myself’, live life, struggle and eventually come to the realization that, wow, I need to finish my education. Which possibly made me appreciate it more. As an entering freshman, I immediately found myself drawn to the Communication department. Did I want to go into Media? Journalism? Broadcasting? Unsure. But I knew I’d found my home the minute I entered the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR. The rest is mostly history, but how does this even make sense? I’m a Chief Information Officer.

People sometimes look perplexed when they discover my undergraduate degree is in Communication as opposed to something computer- or technical-related. It never phases me as my confidence in the value of the Arts and Sciences degree, specifically Communication-based, could not be higher.
How did I end up a CIO? Fresh out of college I never imagined my life would take me toward the field of technology, but in hindsight the years feel like a natural progression. A path that I followed with interest. My mind hasn’t always been open to change and growth and risk. It is plausible that my early college experience and exposure brought that out in me. That, in my opinion, is the intrinsic benefit of an education in the Arts and Sciences. Your most formative (and freeing and mind-blowing) years are your college days. Whether you are in a residential situation or a commuter working full-time, your undergraduate ‘career’ is a time of reflection, immersion, and introduction to every side of every coin, not just what feels ‘comfy’. You’re thrust into situations that knock the wind out of you. By design. You are forced to ask the questions that hurt a little which inevitably lead to answers that change your outlook and tolerance and appreciation.

Kind of like – your professional career. And adult life. As a technology leader, the pace of technology sets the pace of the leader. I need to be able to forecast, respond, formulate, process, manage, envision, troubleshoot, communicate, implement, and guess which part if often missing and most appreciated – the communication piece. Technology without communication is acronyms and a language few understand and, more importantly, care about. These days technology is social and sales and marketing and driving and championing. Those high-touch skills? Required in Arts and Sciences. Daily. With every assignment. I remember my first controversial speech (terrifying) and the applause that followed (awkward). Nonverbal communication, inter- and intra-personal communication skills – I still use this. I apply these skills every day and my guess is, anyone in any field, could benefit from these skills as well.

College exposed me to the world outside my own mind. Arts and Sciences catapulted me outside my comfort zone. Communication forced me to be a player and an active participant in life. Never underestimate the power of a liberal arts college experience. Open your mind first. You have plenty of time to find your area of focus. Enjoy your journey.

Show me your future and I’ll share with you the power of Arts and Sciences. It really is the perfect base to your next life tier.


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