Last year I went to a lecture in Phillips Auditorium titled: “The wolves and moose of Isle Royale: the world’s longest study of a predatory-prey system.” I’m an English major, but I went because Dr. Houghton said if I came and signed the thinly-populated list of attending students, I could earn extra credit in Biology 101 — which I sorely needed. So I wandered in quietly and found the room filled with eager science majors flipping open yellow notepads, prepared to scribble down all the gory details of the coming lecture. I scanned the room ‘till I found a fellow humanities major and met their gaze with a shrug that said: “better get this over with.”
Roughly five minutes into the lecture, I was hooked. I kept trying to convince myself that the predatory-prey system couldn’t possibly be this intriguing to someone as literature-minded as I, but it was no use. The speaker, Research Professor at Michigan Technological University Rolf Peterson, had with him a fascinating collection of film footage chronicling the battle for survival between the lumbering, giant moose and the cunning wolf packs that had to coordinate to successfully bring down their dangerous dinner.
It was fascinating. And it got me thinking. What other opportunities had I skipped over because they didn’t fit my “area of expertise” — if an undergraduate can ever use that phrase — or sound familiar enough? I never would have gone to a lecture on the predator-prey system if not for Dr. Houghton’s prompting, and yet it was remarkably enlightening.
On a campus as brimming full of developed talent as Hillsdale, it is intimidating to dabble in the unfamiliar. It is an ego-deflating experience to sit in a room surrounded by scientists who nod along with the terminology while I’m still trying to spell “hypothesis.” It is much more comfortable to sit in a lecture on poetry and pat myself on the back that I understand T.S. Eliot’s reference to the “bedded axle-tree.”
But there is such worth in sitting through a 50-minute discussion on Astronomy or a Q&A on the Korean War. Unlike a standard university, the goal at Hillsdale isn’t to find a niche and begin spinning your life around that one thing. There is worth in the well-rounded education — it produces a more complete person, a person whose personal achievements do not define them. The students who leave here instead should have well-developed skills augmented by a knowledge of the world around them.
This requires embracing those obscure opportunities that pop up around campus. It requires not turning away from the discussions that don’t directly align with your major or your career choice. There is worth in a biology major attending a discussion on “Art and the Media,” or a politics major signing up for a CCA on science fiction movies. Hillsdale College students have a multitude of classes available in their area of interest — it would hardly hurt to spend an hour out of the week learning something completely unfamiliar.
Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz says, “Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem.” So, yes, next semester I will be taking the CCA on the federal income tax. Should be fun.