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University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
College of Letters and Science
800 Algoma Blvd.
Oshkosh, WI 54901-8660

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Phone: (920) 424-1222

2016-17 Liberal Arts Scholarship Recipients

The essay prompt for the 2016-17 Liberal Arts Scholarship Competition was as follows:

The legendary peace activist Mahatma Gandhi, a five-time Nobel Prize nominee, insisted that “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Nelson Mandela, a Nobel Prize winner, pointed to the importance of education in helping “you” bring about this change: “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” With these two statements in mind, discuss how your liberal arts education is preparing you to be an effective agent of the change you wish to see in the world.

Please click the boxes below to see the essays of the award recipients.

Emma Jensen- COLS Recipient

I’m originally from North Dakota. With less than 800,000 people in it, it’s a state that is easy to ignore or forget entirely. While it has been and will continue to be the butt of many jokes, usually revolving around uneducated farmers and whether or not it’s still a territory, most North Dakotans have a sense of pride when they talk about their state. People from North Dakota are seen as hard working, loyal, honest, and kind. In fact, in 2013 North Dakota was ranked as the happiest state to live by Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, and many of its cities constantly rank as the best place to grow up or a raise a family. Yes, I would say that many people underestimate North Dakota – but not always in the right way.
For years, I’ve heard residents of my home state talk about how North Dakota is a throwback to simpler times – the “good ol’ days.” But for non-residents and ex-residents, North Dakota’s insistence on living in the past isn’t a good thing; it is a return to oppression in many different forms that many residents refuse to acknowledge. To give more specific examples, I would like to share my experience while working for a farmer’s wife in North Dakota this past summer.
The farmer’s wife I worked for is an avid churchgoer who is often a part of food drives, fundraising, and giving donations to those less fortunate than her. Most people view her as an ideal member of their community and often look to her for advice. But I was around when she watched the news. I have heard the disgust in her voice as she refers to transgender people as “messed up,” seen how she condemns the people of the Muslim faith, and I listened to her condemn immigrants, homeless people, and even some of her close relatives for not having as much money as her own family which she blames on mere laziness. I wish I could say her and her family´s thinking was the exception for North Dakotans, but it is decidedly the norm.
Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I do not hate the people of North Dakota and I do not think I’m better than them. While I disagree with many common beliefs within the state, I recognize that an open mind and a willingness to discuss issues is the only way to move towards a more peaceful world. To use another Nelson Mandela quote: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” It is easy to dismiss people who think and feel differently than you as crazy or unintelligent, or do the opposite and do or say nothing. It is an entirely different feat to listen, discuss, and work toward solutions together.
Before I came to UW Oshkosh, I was afraid to voice opinions that differed from anything that people around me thought. Even my immediate family often disagrees with my beliefs, and it’s incredibly straining to go against my biggest support system. But I can honestly say that my liberal arts education at UWO has given me so much more than a mere appreciation for the world and its people. It has given me my voice. Before I took Introduction to Social Justice, I didn’t know it was okay to be an LGBTQ ally. Before I took Ethics, I didn’t know it was okay to be Pro-Choice. Before I took Ecosphere in Crisis, I couldn’t have confidently said Climate Change is a fact. Before I took Biological Anthropology, I could have told you little to nothing about evolution. If I wouldn’t have attended a liberal arts university like UWO, I would not have taken any of those courses, and I honestly would not be the person I am today.
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Because my liberal arts education has given me the confidence to discuss my views, I no longer avoid difficult conversations. Even though most holidays consist of my relatives agreeing with each other on most issues, I work to encourage discussion, rather than arguments. In many cases, I will not end up changing their minds, and they will not change mine, but these discussions encourage a path to understanding. When individuals stop questioning why they hold their beliefs, that is when our world becomes complacent. For me, being able to have intelligent, meaningful conversations and finding our similarities is the first step to achieving peace and understanding in our world.
Too often, our world focuses on “Who is right?” rather than “How can we make this right?” I spent most my life believing that I was wrong, and everyone around me was right; I spent a smaller portion of it convincing myself that I was right, and that other people were wrong. At this point in my life, I can’t tell you if my viewpoint of the world is correct. There is so much more I have yet to experience in this world, and my liberal arts education has encouraged me to never stop learning or searching for answers. It has encouraged me to become a global citizen, rather than being exclusively involved in my immediate surroundings. Maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal that a young woman from North Dakota finally believes that her voice is worth hearing, but it has made all the difference in how I view the world. I cannot tell you if my views of the world are right, but I can tell you that I wish for a world that future generations will be proud to inherit. I believe most people share that vision, and the only way to accomplish it is to work together. My education has helped me see that starting conversations and asking questions is the first step in initiating the change I want to see in the world.

Rachel Whitrock- COEHS Recipient

I believe education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world because it is something that can never be taken away from you. When you learn something new, that knowledge is stored in your brain and stays with you throughout the rest of your life. Education is freedom and the key to innovation. As stated by Frederick Douglass “Once you know how to read, you will be forever free.” Reading gives us the ability to attain information without having to depend on the word of others, we can think for ourselves and come up with our own ideas. It’s from ideas like these that lead to innovations such as new technological inventions, medical advances, and solutions to worldwide problems. Freedom and innovation make countries like the United Stated stand tall above others.
All children in the United States have the right and opportunity to an education, and it is the role of a teacher to motivate, and inspire students to do something with it. Mohammed Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I believe my education major and Spanish minor are going to bring about positive change for my future students, their families, and my greater teaching community. By educating students, I will be shaping the future generations and preparing them for jobs which do not yet exist. This all starts with a teacher who has the energy, compassion, positive attitude, heart, and willingness to learn to create a safe, positive, inclusive environment where students feel empowered and valued.
With my Spanish minor I hope to assist Hispanic families and students in my teaching community overcome their language barrier. I believe every student has the right to learn, and something as little as a language barrier should not stand in the way of their confidence in their intelligence. In high school I worked with a class of four year olds over the summer who were learning to count and do basic addition. I noticed one of the Hispanic students was having a hard time staying on task and completing the activity. I thought about the brain power that was required of these children to not only remember the names of the numbers they had just learned, but to be able to identify how many cubes each number represented, and finally be able to add different piles of cubes together. I noticed the activity proved difficult enough for the other students whose first language was English. I couldn’t imagine how frustrating it must have been to try the activity for the first time in a second language. So I knelt down next to the student and asked him if he would like some help. He didn’t really answer me so I asked how he was feeling that day in Spanish. He had a pleasantly surprised expression on his face and answered “Bien”. I told him we could count the cubes in Spanish first and he agreed. So we practiced counting the blocks in Spanish, which he seemed to have a better grasp on, and then counted them again in English. By the end of class he had finished the activity just like the rest of his classmates. I realized by helping him, not only was he able to catch up to everyone else, but he now had an advantage over the other students because he knew how to do the activity in English and Spanish. It wasn’t that he struggled with math, or was any less intelligent than the others, it was a simple language barrier issue. That experience with that little boy is what has inspired me to become bilingual. With the growing Spanish population in our schools and communities I want to make certain all of my students understand what we are learning, and if they are having difficulty I want to be able to say “You know what? You are just as smart as everyone else here. You’re just going to have to work a little harder to get this. But once you do, and you will, you will be that much farther ahead.” So instead of viewing this language barrier as a problem I feel we should view it as an opportunity to challenge our students. I also feel being able to connect with parents who struggle to speak English would greatly impact their child’s education. The more involved a parent is, the better chance a child has at succeeding in school. I hope to form connections with parents and encourage them to take active roles in their child’s education by providing them with strategies to assist their child with homework, and volunteering opportunities in the classroom. I believe that by having a strong connection with their child’s teacher, they will feel more comfortable in their child’s school and as a result become more active in the classroom and community while improving their own language skills. By equipping students and families with the necessary tools they will need to make positive impacts on the world, I will be changing the world for the better one family at a time.
In conclusion, I agree with both Nelson Mandela and Gandhi’s famous quotes. Education truly is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world. And by passing this weapon on to future generations of leaders, I hope to equip my students with the skills and knowledge they will need to overcome obstacles, and make a difference in the world. I also know that wanting to make the world a better place starts with me, and I can’t imagine a more rewarding job than teaching. Not only do you impact the lives of your students and their families, but by empowering students and giving them the tools they need to change the world in their own way, I am impacting the community, nation, and world for the better. Who knows? My student might discover the cure for cancer. Invent a new product. Negotiate peace treaties in the Middle East. Fight crime to ensure the safety of our neighborhoods. Become America’s first female president. By cultivating their interests, and encouraging them to be the best versions of themselves, I will be able to impact the world long after I’ve left it.