Celebrating 125 Years of Liberal Arts at Georgia Tech

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Georgia Tech has always been a place of innovation at the crossroads of technology and liberal arts, as embodied by the very men who were key in its founding:

  • John Fletcher Hanson, an industrialist who understood the need for technological and industrial, rather than agricultural, applications for economic progress.
  • Nathaniel Edwin Harris, a social scientist, an attorney and Georgia governor, who understood the need for knowledge and leadership in support of public policymaking, especially regarding more progressive ways to determine economic impact.
  • Henry Grady, a humanist, journalist and editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a very astute socio-political and economic critique, with a vision of the linkages between technology and human progress.

In other words, technology, social sciences, and humanities worked hand in hand at the founding of Georgia Tech, and they are continuing to do so over 125 years later as the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts (IAC) reaches new strengths in support of the excellence of Georgia Tech as a top tier 21stcentury global university.

“Our work is distinctive in that it bridges the traditional separation between the technological disciplines and the humanities and social sciences,” said Dean Jacqueline J. Royster.  “This approach constitutes a transformative element--both for the Institute and the world beyond—in enabling trans-boundary thinking, robust problem-solving, and innovative action.”

Royster’s remarks were made during the IAC Founder’s Day program March 13 which celebrated the 125th anniversary of liberal arts at Georgia Tech.  Her comments were reinforced by the program panel, One Georgia Tech:  The Liberal Arts and 21st Learning and Innovation,” which brought together Georgia Tech faculty and alums whose education and careers are intriguing models for transboundary learning, leadership, and innovation.

Panelist Douglas R. Hooker, is executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission.  He earned two degrees from Georgia Tech--a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s from the IAC School of Public Policy.

“I wish that every Georgia Tech student could study the intersection of technology and policy,” Hooker said, “because, eventually, as they mature, they will require that knowledge in everything they do.”

Panelist Nancy J. Nersessian is a professor of cognitive sciences who is jointly appointed in IAC School of Public Policy and the College of Computing.  She discussed how transboundary learning can be strengthened at Georgia Tech. 

“We need to teach this at the beginning with integrative freshman seminars. Whether science or art, the creative process is similar … innovation requires the ability to formulate a problem from different perspectives.”

Also speaking as part of the program was Georgia Tech President G. P. “Bud” Peterson.  He highlighted the “far-reaching impact” of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, citing examples of our global influence; our role as flag bearer for the Allen legacy of ethical, socially conscience, and socially responsible actions; and our strategic importance to the invitation to Georgia Tech in 2010 to join the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU).

“Congratulations on 125 years of liberal arts at Georgia Tech,” said Peterson.  Georgia Tech would not be where it is today without the legacy and ongoing pursuit of excellence of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.”

Considering such strengths, one might wonder whether one day the world might look back on this age of ubiquitous technologies and marvel at the notion that there was ever a time when any innovation was attempted without bringing to bear what we know and can do in the humanities and social sciences.  

“What we can be proud of right now,” said Royster, “is that Georgia Tech is an international leader in research and education, and, ever-increasingly, so is the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts with our quite interesting innovations at the crossroads.”

Click the related links to view the full Founder's Day program and participants, a historic timeline for the college, and our 125th anniversary video.  View photos from the Founder's Day celebration.


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Beth Godfrey
  • Created:03/28/2014
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016


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