Teresa Amott
Photo by Kent Kriegshauser

We hear much talk today about the need for "disruption" in higher education, but those of us who study the history of our venerable institutions know quite a bit about disruption. Since 1837, Knox has faced multiple disruptions and thrived because we are flexible, nimble, and adaptable.

Still, since the Great Recession brought on by the financial collapse of 2008, colleges and universities have faced increased scrutiny about the value of higher education. And liberal arts institutions, in particular, have been criticized as too costly and for not preparing students for the workplace. We are seen as impractical, irrelevant, and elitist. Yet, the evidence of the career paths of liberally educated graduates points very much in the opposite direction. Today, our graduates are much sought-after by employers because of the skills of the future they bring to the workforce.

Surveys show that employers are much less interested in a student's major than they are in the combination of specific and broad knowledge and skills. These skills include oral and written communication, collaboration and teamwork, ethical judgment, critical and creative thinking, as well as the ability to analyze and solve complex problems, locate and evaluate information, engage current technologies, and work with people from different backgrounds. The application of knowledge and skills in the real world, as realized through internships, independent research, and off-campus studies, is more important than ever before.

A Knox education is helping to create changemakers for the 21st century.

I recently read a column by David Brooks in The New York Times entitled "Everyone a Changemaker," arguing that we are in a historical transition in which computers can now (or will soon be able to) do almost any job that requires repetitive skills. And if this is the case, what types of jobs will be available for humans in the future? What types of skills will we need to succeed in this new economy?

Brooks says we will need "changemakers." Citing social entrepreneur Bill Drayton, Brooks defines these as "people who can see the patterns around them, identify the problems in any situation, figure out ways to solve the problem, organize fluid teams, lead collective action, and then continually adapt as situations change." To me, that sounds like the definition of a Knox College graduate.

When I talk to parents, I tell them that Knox educates students for the future by preparing them for jobs that don't exist today, and that we focus on nurturing human skills, such as emotional intelligence, curiosity, creativity, adaptability, resilience, and critical thinking. As we say at Knox, we provide a human-powered education, one uniquely suited for success in a world of rapidly evolving technology. Our faculty engage directly with students both in and out of the classroom, and students put their knowledge to the test in hands-on applications and real-world situations. Our students live and learn with individuals with vastly different backgrounds from their own, form clubs with them, debate with them, travel the world with them, collaborate and create with them. In short, a Knox education is helping to create changemakers for the 21st century.

How we teach and learn with today's students has adapted to the new demands, and our faculty at Knox have been actively engaged in this process over the last two years, resulting in new approaches and areas of study, a new bachelor of science degree, and new immersive study opportunities. While "changemaker" may be a new term, I believe that liberal arts colleges like Knox have not only produced changemakers throughout their history but also practiced the art of changemaking as well, responding to the world around us and ensuring that our graduates are prepared to find success no matter what the future brings.

—Teresa Amott