The Colgate Scene
January 2005

A message from President Rebecca S. Chopp
The art of communication

The 2004 election season provided many opportunities for students to engage in debate and discussion. On election night, a mix of politically minded students gathered around a laptop to watch the results unfold at the Party Animals: Up All Night event in the Coop. [Photo by Aubrey Graham '06]

Politics, the election, and communication skills have been themes that shaped the fall at Colgate. More than 1,300 students gathered at the Coop on November 2 for an election event titled Party Animals: Up All Night. They watched election returns, talked politics, shared ideas, and feasted on foods from swing states: blueberry pie from Maine, Spam on crackers from Minnesota, Rocky Road ice cream from Colorado, and barbecue from Arizona. Music by Sarah Poulette '07, the Dischords, and Splendiforous, and comedy by Charred Goosebeak provided entertainment to students who represented all political parties. This party followed weeks of energetic debates, lectures, discussions, and political entertainment on topics ranging from healthcare to the war in Iraq.

A regional presidential election event held on October 16 featured a local congressional candidate and speakers from groups supporting students' voices in politics and discussing campaign finance reform, as well as members of the Colgate and Hamilton College debate societies, who debated the merits of the two primary presidential candidates in relation to college student interests. The College Republicans, College Democrats, the Political Student Network, Students for Environmental Action, and other groups sponsored the various events, all with help from staff and faculty. A great fall -- and a wonderful example of one of the key goals of our strategic plan: preparing students to be active citizens in the 21st century.

In developing the strategic plan for Colgate, we wanted to bring together our strengths as an institution with the needs of the 21st century. And one strong cable that connects Colgate's tradition with those needs is educating intelligent people who know how to communicate in many different places and fashions in diverse and global contexts. Communication skills may be the lifeblood for college students' many goals: from useful employment, to civic leadership, to living life well. Employers -- from bankers to media executives to land developers -- tell us they need smart people who know how to communicate.

Students on the Colgate Maroon-News staff go full steam in production mode. This year, the oldest college news weekly in the country has been revitalized with a fresh new look, upgraded technology, and a new online version, among other improvements. [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko] Across the curriculum, students develop their presentation skills in myriad ways. For example, every senior math major is required to choose an academic article, master the concepts in it, and make a public presentation on the topic at the weekly Undergraduate Math Seminar. Here, Nii Morton '05, a mathematics and computer science double major, fills the blackboard with a description of, and mathematical proof behind, the strategy for winning Connect-it Games (a class of connect-the-dots games). [Photo by Aubrey Graham '06]

Likewise, communication skills are essential for success in graduate and professional schools. Residential liberal arts colleges, since their inception, have taken pride in providing students the communication skills necessary for civic debate and -- to go to the root of the word communication -- the civic character and skills to shape a civic commons. Knowing how to communicate -- how to listen, understand, and express one's own thoughts -- graces the well-lived life, be it in the arts, in athletics, or in one's family and with one's friends.

Alumni often tell me about learning how to write from faculty members; about how they enjoyed being on the road with the debate team; and about how membership in clubs or residential houses facilitated problem solving. We all take great pride that many of our alumni find careers in media, marketing, education, politics, the communications industry, and the arts: careers determined by one's ability to communicate. Last year I had the pleasure of going into the offices of a major news magazine and meeting the CEO. She mentioned to me that she had just hired a Colgate graduate, and I said, "I imagine she is the best writer you have hired in recent years." She looked surprised, and said, "How did you know?" And I responded, "She is a Colgate alumna."

The tradition of learning the art of communication continues today at Colgate. Much of the strategic plan is about providing opportunities to practice communication skills. Faculty members are finding more ways to encourage group presentations, many of them using advanced technology. Rather than try to isolate communication skills in a "public speaking" class, we will ensure that writing, speaking, and other communication skills are present throughout the curriculum and are supported in residential and other extracurricular programs. A new Center for Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship will support these efforts, and our expanded and renovated library will include a global information commons to encourage students to master technological communication.

And then there are all the extracurricular and social options! This fall, Colgate has been "communication central" as our students have engaged in political discussions, expanded our debate program, and explored the arts of political dialogue. The SGA has been working on communication on campus and encouraging better communication between the senators and the groups they represent. The student newspaper, The Colgate Maroon-News, has upgraded technology, provided new education resources for reporters, and even started a literary magazine called Sanatorium.

Debate, which has a long and wonderful history at Colgate but in recent years was low-key, is experiencing a rebirth. Our debate team is on the road having competed at, among other places, Williams, Swarthmore, Smith, Wesleyan, Harvard, and Oxford. At the Hart House University of Toronto British Parliamentary championships, Colgate won the best novice speaker and the best novice team awards. And, as you read this, our team will have returned from the World Championship Debate Tournament in Malaysia. Our new debate coach, Miranda Weigler, is helping the team sponsor all sorts of on-campus debates, on a wide range of topics from the meaning of the word "diversity" to the success of the long-distance college relationship. She has also organized public speaking workshops in order to provide any student the opportunity to engage in debate, learn communication skills, and enjoy the arts of democracy.

In sum, communication is one way we are working to carry Colgate's tradition into the 21st century: we will provide multiple opportunities for students to learn and practice communication skills that will support their careers, allow them to be civic leaders who are community builders, and to enjoy their lives. As future Colgate alumni, they will continue our traditions and add their own new expressions, experiences, and successes to them.

Top of page
Table of contents
<< Previous: Fashion, fads Next: The right fit >>