Oberlin's Center for Engaged Liberal Arts Extends Learning Beyond the Classroom

November 18, 2022

Communications Staff

Students sitting around a conference table with computers.
A conference room in the new Center for Engaged Liberal Arts.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Oberlin’s new Center for Engaged Liberal Arts (CELA) officially opened in Mudd Center in fall 2022, seamlessly connecting a range of experiential learning areas. CELA’s mission is to empower Oberlin College and Conservatory students to pursue opportunities beyond the classroom that enrich and complement their academic pursuits and position them to launch into meaningful post-graduate life.  

The center, located on the garden level of Mudd, encompasses Academic Peer Advising; the Bonner Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Teaching, and Research; Career Exploration and Development, Digital Portfolio Program, Entrepreneurship, Fellowships and Awards, Study Away, Undergraduate Research, and Winter Term. Through individual mentoring, peer advising, and collaborative programming, CELA staff make visible a wide array of experiential learning options—from a Winter Term micro-internship to funded summer research. 

In addition to bringing awareness to myriad co-curricular opportunities, CELA helps students plan ahead, seize opportunities, craft their educational narratives, and tell their stories to audiences within and beyond the college. Taking a developmental approach, CELA organizes programs into a framework of “explore, experience, launch” to guide students through initial exploration, transformative experiences, and professional pursuits. 

CELA’s emphasis on collaboration and commitment to framing a cohesive educational narrative for students is also critical to the success of Oberlin’s signature programming for each class year. The blueprint for connected learning begins with incoming students’ experiences in a Peer Advising Leaders cohort and the closely aligned First-Year Seminar Program, which introduces students to liberal arts learning. The Sophomore Opportunities and Academic Resources (SOAR) program guides second-years through the process of declaring a major and crafting an academic and cocurricular plan. The Junior Practicum focuses on career exploration and putting skills into practice. 

David Kamitsuka, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, articulates the philosophy of engaged liberal arts as an extension of the classical liberal arts model, attuned to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. 

“Classical liberal arts provide intellectual breadth and depth in the richness of humanistic, scientific and artistic inquiry, awakening students to the excitement of lifelong learning. An engaged liberal arts education draws on the dynamism of intellectual inquiry and puts it in the service of addressing the major challenges of contemporary life,” says Kamitsuka. “Through a model of education that helps students move between the theoretical and the applied, the classroom and real-world settings, engaged liberal arts helps students acquire the judgment, wisdom, practical skills, and sense of purpose essential for Obies to lead in our complex world.”

CELA's location in Mudd Center symbolizes this union of theory and practice, says Laura Baudot, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Terrell Main Library houses a rich history of knowledge; CELA grounds this knowledge, helping students to put rich tradition in dialogue with practice and to reflect on the complex relationship between learning and doing.”

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