Inaugural celebration praises liberal arts on campus in Ampersand Week

Dean Jen Smith of the College of Arts & Sciences took the opportunity to emphasize the “and” of her undergraduate school at the inaugural “Ampersand Week.”

From Feb. 21-28, Arts & Sciences hosted the week to celebrate the liberal arts on campus and give students a chance to celebrate the unique flexibility of the college.

Arts & Sciences is one of the dominant academic presences at Washington University, as more than 70 percent of all University courses are taught by Arts & Sciences faculty. With such a sizeable group, however, Smith believes that fostering a sense of community is of the utmost importance.

“It is such a struggle to build community for Arts & Sciences…because we run the risk of being everything and nothing, so we are trying to find where are the places where we can come together, and that was what the week was trying to do,” Smith said.

Ampersand Week attempted to foster a sense of discovery and curiosity with events such as “When I’m 64” at Tuesday Tea @ 3, where people could see a picture of themselves at age 64 generated by special age-progression software; Ice Cream and Innovation, which featured an Arts & Sciences alumnus; and “Celebrating Curiosity” with NPR’s “Radiolab” hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich.

“What really encapsulates who we are is that ‘and,’ the ampersand in the middle. Arts & Sciences is the place where you can study physics and poetry or psychology and Spanish or American Culture Studies and International and Area Studies. So we’re really about that bringing together,” Smith said.

Smith added that she was very happy with the week’s unfolding and felt the eclectic lineup of events fit well with the heart of what it means to be a member of the Arts & Sciences community.

“Though we are made up of dozens of unique fields, we in Arts & Sciences are united by our relentless drive to understand the world around us. We ask questions and push against the boundaries of the known world. We know that complex challenges require more than one approach and one solution, and we take joy in the journey of discovery,” Smith said.

The week culminated with a presentation by Abumrad and Krulwich, whose syndicated public radio program “Radiolab” is a long-running Peabody Award-winning show that explores topics of a scientific and philosophical nature and most of all encourages a sense of curiosity. “Radiolab” brands itself as a place “where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”

Smith noted how well the “Radiolab” presentation tied in with the purpose of Arts & Sciences.

“It was a way of celebrating who we are and to get that message that we are about curiosity and discovery and integration, and that’s the ‘and’ piece [of Arts & Sciences],” Smith said.

Senior Antea DeMarsilis felt that “Radiolab” was a perfect cap for Ampersand Week.

“Robert [Krulwich] and Jad [Abumbrad] encourage restless curiosity through connection with other people and ideas, which is what my liberal arts education through Arts & Sciences has come to mean to me. That’s why I think it was the right event to end Ampersand week,” DeMarsilis said.

When asked if there were a single takeaway message from the week, Smith said that she hopes students understand the importance of the liberal arts college.

“The whole of Arts & Sciences is much greater than the sum of its parts, and our strength comes from how we interact and what you can learn when you look at things from multiple perspectives and disciplines,” Smith said.

Smith is looking forward to hosting Ampersand Week again next year and hopes that as the years go on, student involvement will increase in the planning and executing of the celebration.

“There was a faculty committee that worked with ArtSci communications [to plan the week], but having some student voices in planning would help us be a little more confident that we’re going in the right direction,” Smith said.

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Alex SiegmanComment