On the Spot with College of Liberal Arts Dean Heidi Bostic
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Dean of the UNH College of Liberal Arts Heidi Bostic was hired this year and just began as dean this fall semester. The New Hampshire had a one-on-one conversation with the new dean where she laid out her vision for liberal arts as a whole and, specifically, its future at the university. The following interview has been edited for space and clarity.
Q: Can you talk about what you did before becoming the Dean of COLA? Why did you want this position? What are your goals for COLA at UNH?
A: I started out as a faculty member, first in women’s studies and then in French. My area of specialization in graduate school was French literature, especially the 18th century. And I never intended on moving into a leadership role, formally and in the university, but I sort of got pulled in to some leadership roles on a smaller scale and then served as an interim chair of a large interdisciplinary department and found that I got a lot of satisfaction in that kind of work. What I loved about it was having a broader impact.
Q: Why did you want this position?
A: When the opportunity presented itself to come to UNH, I was intrigued for a couple of reasons. One is really the mission of UNH. The public land grant mission really resonates with my values because it’s about engaging in the world, about the liberal arts having an…impact in broader society and really the notion that higher education is a public good. It’s there to serve the people of the state, the nation and the world. And seeks to give students a chance to attend college who may not have had an opportunity to… What was appealing about UNH was that when I met faculty members, staff members and students I was so impressed by the overall quality of the people here… Faculty are excellent teachers and instructors and scholars… One of my big interests has always been how to connect the different disciplines, how to help students who may not be majoring in the liberal arts understand the value of a liberal arts education.
Q: What do you see as the value of liberal arts to someone who isn’t in the college? How should UNH promote that?
A: I think the testimonials about the power of the liberal arts are even stronger when they’re not coming from the dean…. I’ve had several folks come to visit me in my office who own businesses, they’re managers in businesses, and they have said, “I am desperate to hire people with liberal arts skills.” That is people who can communicate effectively, who can write clearly and effectively, who can get up in front of clients and make presentations, who solve problems and work in teams, who can make persuasive arguments [and] who have those people skills. It’s been so interesting to me because it’s echoing in some national surveys in what employers look for in [whom] they hire and it’s precisely that. People who have all of those capacities in addition to having the skill at embracing diversity and being able to handle difference really well, and make decisions in complex environments. I see UNH as a place where liberal arts is poised for greatness… I think that one of the challenges we have is getting the message across about the value of liberal arts. Maybe a student wants to get a major in the college of liberal arts but their family may be hesitant because there isn’t a one-to-one correlation between getting a degree and a job. That actually is a strength because when you graduate you have a world of opportunity.
Q: What did you see lacking in COLA and what did you want to improve upon?
A: I am really excited for the focus on career and professional success on campus… What I think we need to do is really get the word [out] about COLA. We’re such a diverse college that we have to tell our story and we have to help the public understand the value of what we do. One idea that has gained traction is the idea of grand challenges. Nationally, and at UNH, professors of [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] (STEM) have said we need help addressing the problems of our day. Whether it’s climate change, whether it’s health care or urbanization. Underlying all the problems are the questions of human life. Who am I? How ought we to live, both as persons, and in groups and in communities? The way that COLA is positioned at UNH is ideal for success, in part because of New Hampshire’s position as first in the nation primary status. There’s so much interest in the political system and politics. How we can foster healthy disagreements and conversations. We need to talk about all of what happens and make sure it’s not a well-kept secret. If people in New Hampshire have one shortcoming, they tend to be too modest… We need to learn how to trumpet our accomplishments.
Throughout the rest of our conversation Dean Bostic talked about the goals of COLA going forward. She broke them down into four main goals. The first: creating pathways for students. That means going into, during and after UNH. That means attracting liberal arts majors, helping those students along their way and then supporting them in post-college endeavors. The second is focused on faculty. That means funding research and publicizing faculty accomplishments. The third is to focus on raising more funds and resources and the final goal is about telling others what COLA is and what they wish to be.