Elizabeth Coleman, a visionary educator and former president of Bennington College, will present a talk entitled “Teaching: A Noble Art,” on March 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech.
The event, hosted by the Academy of Teaching Excellence in Virginia Tech’s Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research, is free and open to the public. A separate forum discussion with Coleman will be held for Virginia Tech faculty, administrators, and students earlier that afternoon, at 3:30 p.m. in the Squires Recital Salon.
Coleman served as Bennington College’s ninth president from 1987 to 2013. She is widely recognized as an early and outspoken champion of cross-disciplinary education — bucking the trend to push students toward increasingly narrow areas of study and instead advocating an approach that dynamically combines disciplines to address the great problems of our day.
“As one moves up the ladder, values other than technical competence are viewed with increasing suspicion,” she said in a 2009 TED Talk, “A Call to Reinvent Liberal Arts Education,” which has since garnered more than a half million views. “Questions such as, ‘What kind of a world are we making? What kind of a world should we be making? What kind of a world can we be making?’ are treated with more and more skepticism, and move off the table.”
At Bennington, Coleman was credited with building a vibrant cross-disciplinary learning environment in which students and faculty embraced higher education as an active pursuit and a “performing art.” Her vision calls for a broadened perspective, one-on-one interactions between professors and students, deep engagement with primary sources, highly individual majors, and an emphasis on civic mindedness.
Coleman’s foresight for a new kind of liberal arts education has been recognized nationally by her place on the Select Committee of the Association of American Colleges and the board of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Coleman has also served on the Council for a Community of Democracies and as chair of the Vermont Rhodes Scholarship Trust.
A former consultant to the Annenberg Corporation on a public broadcasting project, she currently serves on the boards of the Neurosciences Institute; the Annapolis Group, an organization of leading independent liberal arts colleges; the Committee for Economic Development; and the Council of Advisors for the European College of Liberal Arts.
“Dr. Coleman’s message is especially relevant to our discussion and vision of the VT-shaped leader at Virginia Tech,” said the chair of the Academy of Teaching Excellence, Terry Clements, who is also professor and chair of Virginia Tech’s Landscape Architecture Program in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. “It should resonate with educators beyond our campus, as we all face the challenge of preparing students to tackle increasingly complex global problems using a more holistic, interdisciplinary approach.”