The Next Generation

A vision for Dartmouth’s future.

by Steven Adelberg | 5/18/18 3:10am

When Eric Libre ’85 arrived for his first year at Dartmouth in 1981, he found a school that was outdoorsy, down-to-earth, health-focused and thoroughly Greek. He absorbed all he could in his 150-student pre-medicine lecture classes while the biology and chemistry majors around him furiously scribbled their notes. But Eric Libre wanted more from his Dartmouth experience than what a one-dimensional focus on STEM could offer him. He pursued his passions in the humanities, socratically engaging with the origins of modern culture through history and Italian. He worked hard, using his D-Plan to secure off-campus work and research opportunities at the National Institute of Health and at local hospitals. When it came time to pick a major on his premed track, Eric Libre excitedly told the biology department head of his plans to combine STEM and the humanities through a new bioethics major — the professor told him he “wasn’t sure that fits” under premed. Under pressure but unwilling to give up on a liberal arts education, Eric Libre majored in history modified with Italian before heading to a top medical school in 1985.

Michael Libre ’18 came to Dartmouth 33 years later, pursuing similar passions for medicine and history. He experienced a diverse college, one defined by a rich network of subcultures that united around a common commitment to intellectual curiosity and a budding social consciousness. Michael Libre saw little conflict between premed and history — the research skills learned in one field enhanced critical analysis in the other. Dartmouth actively supported every step of his research process, first at the Geisel School of Medicine and then at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Three weeks away from graduation, Michael Libre ’18 stands poised to graduate premed with a major in history and plenty of research to his name.

The stories of Eric Libre and Michael Libre stand as testaments to the dramatic changes Dartmouth has seen in the last four decades. The College is becoming more pluralistic, interdisciplinary, research-focused and socially aware. This exhilarating progress should be a source of pride and a reminder of everyone’s responsibility. It is now the duty of every member of the Dartmouth community to chart the course of the coming decades of the College’s development. In 2018, Dartmouth offers students wide-ranging academic freedoms and opportunities, but could do much more to champion the generation, synthesis and application of new knowledge for the benefit of all. As Dartmouth prepares to serve the next generation, the College must elevate research to an essential pillar of the Dartmouth experience, vigorously apply liberal arts principles within STEM and redouble community outreach campaigns.

As Dartmouth jockeys for recognition in the information age and searches for new ways to incorporate experiential learning into the Dartmouth experience, the College could achieve several goals simultaneously by guaranteeing research opportunities to all undergraduates. Experiential learning has tremendous pedagogical potential; it accelerates learning, increases engagement, personalizes learning and allows students to connect theory and practice. Research furthers the goals of the liberal arts — the two are complimentary teaching tools, not competing models. Students who leave Dartmouth without performing any research cheat themselves of the full liberal arts experience. Dartmouth must seize the opportunity to bring more students under the research umbrella. By making research a distributive requirement or even dedicating an entire term of the D-Plan to research, Dartmouth could extend the interdisciplinary benefits of research to all undergraduates. Dartmouth has the resources to ensure universal access to research — by leveraging the ingenuity of the full student body, Dartmouth can achieve its vision of international impact and recognition.

Such a radical move toward the research university model must be accompanied by a new, unapologetically liberal arts approach to the sciences. STEM at Dartmouth languishes outside the liberal arts umbrella, with triple-digit class sizes and a focus, especially in introductory courses, on rote knowledge transmission. Scientific laws and theories involve facts, yes, but facts are best understood through active discussion and personal engagement. Science is a community, a dynamic conversation of scholarship that critically evaluates hypotheses and takes no authority’s word as fact. Science suffers through the application of one code of values in the real world and another in the classroom. Smaller class sizes and an emphasis on discussion would better prepare students for scientific scholarship while providing interdisciplinary opportunities for students to connect class discussions to other fields. A liberal arts approach to STEM could revolutionize scientific education and push Dartmouth’s commitment to the liberal arts beyond traditional barriers.

This enhanced Dartmouth education can be integrated with a renewed sense of social responsibility to drive positive change on a local and global scale. Dartmouth students are newly engaged with the big issues of today, doing their best to understand the underlying dynamics of issues like global health but not volunteering en masse to fight the local opioid epidemic. While small student groups like the Dartmouth Coalition for Global Health are making some efforts to improve local health, broad student body awareness has yet to translate to large-scale, sustained action against serious social issues. That latency could and should change. By marshaling the resources and leadership needed for large-scale campaigns for tangible progress, students and administrative leaders can drive a self-reinforcing development of the College and the larger community.

While this promising future for Dartmouth is within reach, it is far from certain. Progress is anything but inevitable, an elusive goal achievable only through sustained effort and an unwavering commitment to Dartmouth’s values — administration, faculty and student body alike must come together to forge this future from Dartmouth’s long past of success. Today, the fate of the next generation stands in the balance: will they enjoy an open, interdisciplinary Dartmouth of impact, or will they lose the hard-won progress made in decades past? The choice is ours as we prepare Dartmouth for the next generation.