A Liberal Arts Education
Emma Jenkins '19 walks into the pub with a certain air of windswept vitality that only comes from having a little seawater seep into your bones every now and then. Jenkins is quintessentially Eckerd. She’s the Resident Advisor of Delta Ibsen, a student ambassador, an Eckerd College Emergency Response Team member, and, like many Eckerd students, Jenkins is a science major. Indeed, it is ironic that in a school renowned for providing such a valuable liberal arts education, the most popular majors are in the STEM fields. And in this dichotomy too, Emma Jenkins is representative of Eckerd because her second major is philosophy.
I asked myself, what is it about Eckerd that facilitates the weaving of natural sciences so effortlessly with the humanities? And why is this combination important to both the future scientists and the future philosophers of the world? I wanted to hear from someone in whom, both science and philosophy coexist peacefully, to try and get to the bottom of the question.
Q: “So, let’s start easy. Why did you decide to major in biochemistry and philosophy?”
Emma: “I always wanted to go to medical school, that was always my end goal. […] I’ve always liked the human body because it’s so amazing to think that each cell that makes up the human body does a specific thing and that specific thing along with a trillion other things results in you. And then you think about the science and you’re like, ‘Yeah it’s cool’ and then you’re like ‘Oh my god! I’m the implication of all of these things working together and what does that even mean?’”
Q: “It is kind of crazy! And it does seem to fit into philosophy really well actually. With that in mind, has your philosophy major overlapped at all with your biochemistry major? In what ways have you found them to be connected?”
Emma: “If you were to just take science classes you would just have that…focus on the world, and you would think that science is the only thing that can answer all the questions. But then you take philosophy classes and art classes and humanities classes and you learn that there are a lot of holes in science, and I feel like that’s kind of where the discussion of philosophical topics comes into play. It fills the holes that science can’t answer. Obviously with science you can only work with what you have in front of you, what you know to be true, and what you can figure out from already known things. And that’s not how the world works.”
Q: “Do you think that’s it’s important for scientists to take philosophy and art and humanities classes?”
Emma: “It’s important for everyone to have a well-rounded understanding [of systems of knowledge], but I think it’s especially important for scientists, so as to not get bogged down in the specifics of whatever their research is, because if you just focus on the tiny details you’re not going to see the whole big picture. And if you get into this cycle of “why am I even doing this anymore?” then it doesn’t really matter anymore. So, I think it’s good for scientists to have that big picture.”
Q: “In what ways have you found Eckerd specifically well-suited to providing you with the ‘big-picture?’”
Emma: “One class I took last spring semester was the Philosophy of Religion, and it was probably the farthest you could get from science ever. My mentor was just like ‘Yeah…okay,’ but the professor [Professor Foltz] knew everybody in class was a religious studies, philosophy, or creative writing major and I was the only biochemistry major. [Because of that] he would always pick on me and ask, ‘What’s your input on these subjects?’ He would relate topics back to science and say, ‘But don’t you see the hole in your reasoning?’ I would say, ‘Yes! I do see it now! Oh my gosh, science is not infallible!’ And it was really interesting to see that because I would tell my friends, who are also biochem majors, and they would say, ‘It’s science, it’s fact’ but I’d reply, ‘No there is so much more to life!’”
And thus, Emma Jenkins helped me to understand that, especially at a small liberal arts college like Eckerd, the end goal has always been for our students to experience the kind of paradigm shifts Jenkins experienced in her spring philosophy course; that regardless if you think you are a “science kid” or an “art kid,” the best way to learn about who you are is to challenge yourself across multiple disciplines, even if your mentor looks at you a little strange.