Challenging Both Sides of the Brain

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Rebecca Keane
Communications Officer, Ivan Allen College

A young woman entering Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts asked how our curriculum would challenge her. Her SAT scores demonstrated equal strength in math and verbal skills. She wanted to know how the College would excite “both sides” of her brain.

Public Policy major Elle Kreel answered this question beautifully when explaining what she enjoys most about her major. “I love how public policy is a blend of theoretical and practical knowledge. The core classes explore the ethics and theory behind policy decisions, as well as the facts, the statistics, and the precedents. Both theoretical and empirical facets must be taken into account for a successful policy decision. This dual way of thinking is applicable far beyond policy-making,” said Elle. “It is a way to perceive and think about the world.”

Elle’s assessment reflects the experience of students matriculating in any of the College’s ten degree programs. Liberal Arts majors at Tech go beyond classic disciplines such as economics, history, and literature, to engage these subjects where they intersect with science and technology. Students take courses not just in sociology, but in the sociology of technology and medicine, not just in political science, but in the science of managing the global distribution of nuclear materials.

This practical, 21st-century approach to the liberal arts also benefits students from engineering, computing, and other colleges who take courses in the humanities and social sciences as part of their general education requirements. Georgia Tech’s unique approach to liberal arts develops students’ ability to synthesize and contextualize even as they employ their technical and quantitative skills.

Students like Elle find their classes engaging, challenging, and exciting. “I think the strength of Tech's engineering and other technical programs has added a truly unique perspective to classes [in my major] and to my degree,” said Elle. She appreciates the value of learning to think and work across multiple realms. “The perspectives of many individuals - engineers, politicians, business people, and policy-makers - are essential to solving real life policy dilemmas. A Tech liberal arts degree gives you an understanding of the inter-connectedness of all disciplines and how imperative it is to be able to work with individuals of differing academic backgrounds.”

Looking back on his undergraduate studies, alumnus Rizwan Ladha said he was glad he fully engaged the technical coursework characteristic of a Georgia Tech degree.

“I must constantly jump between technical issues and the policy world,” explained Rizwan Ladha, who earned a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and Modern Languages in 2007. “Because the Sam Nunn School [of International Affairs] fits so nicely into the larger Tech community, I took advantage of those mandatory computer science and mathematics courses . . . to learn more about the subject material.”

Rizwan says that this approach, combined with his major coursework, provided him with the foundation he needed to take a private sector consulting job after graduation. He was sent to India working on off-shoring and outsourcing issues and, later, managed online communications for the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. In short, Rizwan, like many of our graduates, finds that by challenging both sides of his brain, he is able to bridge the gap between science, engineering, and computing functions and the non-technical arenas in the work world.

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