Sept. 16, 2013Vol. 44, Issue 1

Arming Students for Success

Equipping students with creativity and analytical thinking skills for today’s emerging employment landscape is mission critical for new College of Humanities and Fine Arts Dean Robert Knight.

As the former interim associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, Knight has the skills and experience needed to achieve that vision. He previously chaired the music and theater department at Eau Claire for six years and served a short stint as interim dean of undergraduate studies.

But he also possesses a highly trained artistic sensibility that lends him valuable accessibility in a college with extensive public interface. He holds three music degrees, including a doctorate in voice performance from Northwestern University and a master’s in music theory from Indiana University, taught music for a number of years and was a professional vocalist and actor in a past life.

Knights says this combination of technical know-how and critical thinking capability is exactly the kind of skillset graduates need to survive in today’s marketplace.

“Performers must be nimble, creative and improvisational,” he says. “When something doesn’t go right onstage, do you freeze? These are the skills that we, as a college, hope to pass on.”

To drive home his point, Knight cites the observations in Bruce Nussbaum’s book Creative Intelligence, which purports that the currency for employers today is creativity. “It’s the habits of the mind,” he says, “the critical thinking skills that are fueling innovation today and that make a liberal arts education more relevant than ever.”

For example, he says, a history major could land a job as a historian on large-scale public works projects; a degree in Arabic might lead to a better job in international business; a bachelor’s in philosophy can provide the foundation for a doctorate in health care ethics, a field booming today.

Even science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students need communication and collaboration skills, he points out.

“As a college, we need to emphasize what a liberal arts education can do for students,” he says. “But this is the low-hanging fruit.”

His longer-term goals include finding ways to improve the college’s relevance and connectedness across campus by partnering with other colleges and departments. He has already started conversations with the College of Business for an expedited five-year bachelor’s/master’s degree program for music industry majors, and would like to see more language certificates offered for majors like nursing or engineering where it would be beneficial. English composition for freshmen could become a technical writing course, applicable to many degree programs and career fields.

“There are so many ways we can be of service to other departments,” he said. “Perhaps I’m in the honeymoon stage, but I’m looking forward to carving out those paths for collaboration.”

Though busy in his new job, Knight is still making time to perform. In October, he will sing the baritone solos in Mozart’s Requiem with the North Valley Chamber Chorale, directed by CSU, Chico music Professor David Sholz.

Sarah Langford, Public Affairs and Publications

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