White Paper III

The Collegiate University: The Liberal Arts and The Professions

The third in a series of four white papers. Published March 11, 2009.

“We should work to usher in an era when interdisciplinary departments, programs, and centers do not supplant or replace the traditional disciplines but serve instead to create pathways and intersections, bringing faculty and students together for the common endeavor of intellectual exchange … When no one discipline or method is privileged over another and all the disciplines are connected, students learn to be critical, syncretic, original thinkers who interrogate authority to find the best and most viable answers regardless of the question.”

Ethan Kleinberg, Liberal Education
Winter, 2008, Vol. 94, No. 1

“It is a truism, but the more educated you are, the more options you will have in a flat world.”

Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat


Wake Forest juniors Marcus Keely ('10), in blue sweater, Austin Jones ('10), in light blue shirt, Ben McGeever ('10), in white shirt, and John Tucker ('10), in green, outside Reynolda Hall on Hearn Plaza on Monday, July 28, 2008.

The same characteristics that make it difficult to place Wake Forest in a single category of universities also give it great strength and the potential to grow stronger: the University’s size and configuration, carefully sculpted over the years, are assets that serve us well and hold the keys to our distinctive place as a collegiate university in a diverse and competitive higher educational environment.

Wake Forest has long been recognized for the breadth and depth of its commitment to excellence in liberal arts education; and a constellation of strong graduate and professional programs have established national academic reputations within their respective disciplines. All our schools — intimate in scale — have remained faithful to Wake Forest’s principles of attention to the individual, the teacher-scholar model, and service to others. Thus, emerging as a priority within our strategic plan is the opportunity to reinforce the inherent connections among the liberal arts college and the graduate and professional schools, giving each of our schools and departments more tools with which to work. The combination of Wake Forest’s size with the academic and co-curricular assets of a much larger institution positions the University uniquely to benefit from strengthening these connections. Success in fulfilling this priority — leveraging strong assets that already exist and selectively creating new ones — will result in richer teaching, learning, research, and service experiences, and therefore better preparation of all students for the world in which they will live, work, and serve.

To create new advantages by forging stronger links between and among all schools within the University, our strategic activities will focus on nurturing creative interdisciplinary collaboration; building a nationally-recognized mentoring program; enriching international studies programs; and developing career services that reflect both our attention to each individual and the challenge of an evolving work world.

Creating Advantage Through Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Professor in class

Building new bridges among schools and disciplines at Wake Forest is a timely initiative. Given the complexity and rapid convergence of global issues, government policies, science and technology, health care advances and costs, environmental concerns, and business challenges, universities have more responsibility than ever to ensure that our graduates are prepared to think both analytically and creatively. Indeed, throughout academe, there is renewed recognition that “siloed” learning misses abundant opportunities to broaden and deepen students … understanding of a primary disciplinary topic.

To foster new interdisciplinary courses and collaboration and create an environment that encourages faculty members to pursue projects and curricula that draw together different fields of study, we are taking several key steps.

Building on a Strong Tradition: Mentoring

Few Wake Forest traditions offer a more promising means to enrich student outcomes than does the practice of mentoring. Many alumni anecdotes from our first campus in Wake Forest, North Carolina, indicate the impact that faculty and administration mentors have had on students from the University’s earliest days. Once again, the relatively small size of our campus population and classes makes it easier for students and faculty to know one another and, thus, for informal mentoring to happen frequently. In recent years, more emphasis on faculty-student research has created further opportunity for students to expand their academic and career opportunities with the interest and guidance of interested, dedicated faculty members.

In a broader sense, the need for effective mentoring is urgent. Citizens of today’s society — while enjoying easier and more accessible means of communications than ever — are paradoxically more isolated than ever, with mobility and career demands fraying ties to family, neighborhood, and social organizations. A strong mentoring relationship can be an enormously valuable constant to young people as they navigate the opportunities and decisions that emerge during college and post-graduate education.

Wake Forest can establish a nationally-recognized mentoring program through more purposeful coordination of what we already do using resources already available to us, and selectively adding enhancements. Mentoring can become a distinctive program for students in all of our schools, engaging faculty, staff, and alumni in the effort.

To strengthen a mentoring culture and provide every Wake Forest student with a mentored experience through research, internships, public scholarship, and international study and service, we are implementing a number of actions.

Developing Global Perspectives: International Studies

Over the past decade, Wake Forest has been recognized as one of the nation’s top universities in the percentage of its students who study abroad before graduation. The Institute for International Education’s Open Doors Report in 2008 ranked Wake Forest third among doctoral universities with the highest percentage of undergraduates studying abroad. Sixty-five percent of our students earned credits in 2006-07 for courses pursued in other countries. Today, we offer more than 400 semester, summer, and year-long study opportunities in 200 cities in more than 70 countries. Increasingly, graduate and professional school students are eager to study in another culture.

Service trips to international locations — typically shorter in duration — also give students an opportunity to observe, participate in, and learn from other cultures. Living in the global community of today and tomorrow requires that students, faculty, and staff be informed about and prepared for international study, and our plan adds several new steps to enhance our international studies programs.

Successful Launches: Robust Career Planning and Placement Services

Student and professor

As we strengthen the academic benefits we offer our students, we must concurrently strengthen their opportunities to embark on careers and offer effective, specific preparation for entering the work world.


We must be creative stewards of the abundant academic assets that have been carefully created at Wake Forest. Wise development of many intersections among disciplines and schools — integrated with a signature mentoring program, robust international studies, and career services that begin in the freshman year — will magnify these assets. It will enable our students to approach complex questions from multiple, well-informed perspectives, and prepare them more effectively for post-graduate life. Of equal importance, this augmented interdisciplinary approach will also give our faculty members richer opportunities to discover new knowledge through collaboration and to develop further their skills as teachers and mentors.

The fourth white paper on Wake Forest’s strategic plan focuses on the opportunity to reinforce the inherent connections among the liberal arts college and the graduate and professional schools.