After four years of working in admissions and giving campus tours to prospective students, you could say I have my general tour “script” down to a science. I never fail to bring up some of our hallmark clichés: “Becoming Responsibly Engaged in the World”; the liberal arts education developing you as a whole person; and the curse that will inevitably haunt you if you walk under the bell tower alone.
I bought into the idea of these as a freshman, but I don’t think I fully understood and respected the significance of my Concordia education until my Neurochemistry capstone course. By the time our institution sends their students into the ‘real world,’ they expect us to meet our five goals for liberal learning.
- Instill a love for learning.
For those of you unfamiliar with Strengthsfinder 2.0, it is a personality assessment that provides you your top five strengths. The mission of this program is to identify people’s strengths and encourage us to capitalize on them, rather than trying to put our energy into improving our weaknesses.
I’ve taken this assessment four times, and ‘Learner’ has been in my top two every time. I’ve been a learner my entire life, as I am not afraid to ask questions and have a curiosity for most everything. While I may not have acquired this skill during my time at Concordia, it has been a natural motivator for success in my education.
What I appreciate most of this goal is that regardless of the struggles I’ve endured during my education, I still love to learn. This skill will be most useful for me as I commit to the profession of pharmacy. There will always be new medications, technology, and treatment guidelines that influence the field, and it will be my responsibility to educate myself when these changes occur post-pharmacy school.
- Develop foundational skills and transferable intellectual capacities.
This a great introductory point for our work in our capstone course. On our first day of class, I appreciated Dr. Mach’s humbleness in admitting she was not an expert in the topics we would be discussing, and that she would be learning alongside us. That distinction was important to the evolution of the course and allowed us to mature by taking our education into our own hands.
An insight to the structure of our course: the first few weeks covered a broad, but foundational understanding of the different types of receptors and pathways involved in the brain that are essential to discussing neurochemistry topics. We then moved into our weekly topics such as anxiety, ALS, marijuana, etc. Each week we read the paper, asked questions, researched and educated each other on the questions we posed, and finished the week by discussing the significance and interpretation of the science on that topic.
The structure of the course was initially frustrating, as we did not have our professor lecturing to us daily while we take notes. However, we gained independence by being accountable for our own work, knowing that we were responsible for educating each other. We also strengthened our research abilities, as our critical reason was necessary to weed through the good and bad sources on the internet.
This course has given me confidence in my problem-solving abilities that I will carry with me after this course ends. I now realize that I do not have to be the most experienced person on a topic to form a valid opinion given that I have conducted my own research. There is also humility in recognizing that we will never be fully knowledgeable on anything in life.
- Develop an understanding of disciplinary, interdisciplinary and intercultural perspectives and their connections.
I found my greatest appreciation for this goal through our community action project. In coalition with social work students, we were given the mission to educate the non-science community on the topic of opioid addiction. We found it challenging to target the Fargo-Moorhead community instead of campus alone, but it provided us an entry point to engage in dialogue and collaboration with diverse organizations affected by the opioid crisis.
It was liberating to see the strengths of people come alive when they are responsible for their area of expertise. That was most obvious when the social work student communicated the necessity of our discussion, or the neurochemistry student worded ‘the science’ in a way that wasn’t soaring over everyone’s heads. But it was also evident when we were working with Blue Cross Blue Shield, as their representative was clearly passionate and supportive of our discussion so that it would improve the health of our community.
- Cultivate an examined cultural, ethical, physical and spiritual self-understanding.
College is all about self-discovery: I’ve discovered my persistence and goal-orientation. I prefer a few honest and reliable friends over many surface-level relationships. I’ve relied on God when there seems to be nothing else to rely on. I’ve learned about my privilege and personal diversity, and how that can change depending on my environment.
While it’s generally a positive experience to say that you are closer to identifying “who you are” in college, I will admit that some of my discoveries have not been that warm and fuzzy. My personal struggles with the health of children in my life, the current state of our country, and learning about a parent’s role in a child’s health and development of illnesses such as autism and anxiety have all contributed to my increased resistance to wanting children of my own. I always imagined having my own family and children, but I have discovered the unknowns associated with bringing new life to the world are terrifying.
I consider myself an ethically sound person. However, our Friday discussions have muddled what is considered ethical in the field of neurochemical research, making it difficult to decide what is ethical and what is not. Take our autism discussion for instance: a classmate posed the argument that it is potentially unethical to cure autism, as there are people who accept their illness as part of their identity. To take that away from them would potentially result in an identity crisis and would drastically change who they are.
These discussions have solidified my ethical decision on this issue, as I will continue to emphasize a priority on identity, in the distinction they are a person with an illness, not an ill person. No one asks if it is ethical to cure cancer because they identify as a cancer patient. Solving neurodegenerative diseases should be less of a question of ethics and treated with the same level of concern as that of physical diseases. With questions of ethics were a large portion of our Friday discussions, I feel more confident in my ethical standpoint by addressing these difficult questions head-on.
- Encourage responsible participation in the world.
Given all our knowledge and skill sets we’ve attained in this capstone course and the rest of our education, we are not expected to remain stagnant and complacent about the topics we discussed. As my organic chemistry professor once said, “Just because you know how to make destructive things, does not mean you should. Use your powers for good.”
This semester, I would be in conversation with a friend about a topic we covered in this course, and eventually saying, “Hey, I actually wrote a blog post about this! Don’t worry, it’s not too loaded with science, but it gives you an idea of how the disease works.” By making our discipline interpretive and relatable to other disciplines, we can create meaning together. I find this most applicable to my career as a pharmacist, where it will be necessary for me to communicate complex ideas to a level where the patient is able to understand.
Upon completion of this course, I feel that I thoroughly understand the significance of our liberal learning goals and how they empower every Concordia student to be responsibly engaged in our world. I will leave you with a quote from one of our founding fathers, James Madison:
“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”