The Last Word
Coming Full Circle
by Denise Bauer ’85
April 1, 2011
Illustration by Hadi Farahani
As a first-generation college freshman, I vividly remember being told the values of a liberal-arts education when I arrived at Dickinson. The ideas seemed so lofty and irrelevant to me at the time, but I took it on faith that they probably were true.
I embarked on the path my advisor recommended, following my interests and curiosities when selecting the required courses, the kinds of activities I got involved with and the new friends that I made. (There were times when that meant not following the path recommended to me, too, as when I chose to go to Paris rather than Toulouse my junior year.) Luckily, I had inherited an open mind and broad tolerance from my family. That, combined with my drive to learn and achieve—classic markers of most Dickinson students—made me ripe for all that Dickinson had to offer.
Looking back, I can see how Dickinson shaped my adult life in immeasurable ways: the enduring friendships, the habit of lifelong learning and the ability to understand myself as an individual and in the context of an ever-changing and interconnected world.
It’s been wonderful to see how my Dickinson friends have navigated their lives similarly. Recently I learned that some nearby neighbors in my small town were alumni. Their lives also bore the mark of that wide-ranging education, broad worldview and civic mindedness that is so familiar to us.
I have come to an even fuller understanding of the power of a Dickinson education through my career in higher education. Dickinson has an impressive presence on the national level. I see this in my current position as an associate dean who supervises a liberal-arts faculty and curriculum and manages a travel-study program to several national and international destinations.
A key part of this role is to communicate and champion the values of liberal arts in a professional setting, explaining to other administrators and faculty why writing, math, foreign languages and history are critical components of our students’ education. How interesting that I am now the one telling others of the values of a liberal-arts education!
Recently I traveled to France to develop a relationship with a college in Chateau-Thierry in the Champagne region in the north of France. It had been 27 years since I was a student studying in France, but when the offer was made, I immediately jumped on a plane and went.
Although initially it was an abrupt re-entry to an environment where I was the “foreigner,” I soon was communicating quite well in French and collaborating with relative ease and comfort with French faculty and administrators on the creation of an academic program between our colleges. I was delighted to be able to also interact with French students and answer their questions about American culture and life. A few months earlier, I had traveled to Spain in a similar capacity.
It was very gratifying to discover this latent ability to engage in intercultural work and to do so with such great enthusiasm, joy and skill. I owe this in large part to the legacy of my Dickinson education.
Although I have traveled and even studied abroad since Dickinson and have earned higher degrees since my B.A., it was my undergraduate experience in the liberal arts that sparked my intellectual development and forged in me a capacity to grow, learn, adapt and thrive in a variety of settings, both local and global. I am indebted to my Dickinson education for these enduring lessons, for the person it has allowed me to become and for this feeling of having come full circle in my life from that first day at Dickinson so long ago.
Denise Bauer ’85 is the associate dean of liberal arts at The Culinary Institute of America. She was a French and art-history major at Dickinson. After Dickinson, she earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in arts and humanities education at New York University. Today she lives in New Paltz, N.Y., with daughter Marygrace and son Thomas.