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Liberal Arts in Action

Posted January 20, 2014 in News

By Taryn Akiyama ’14

On October 5, 2013, Claremont McKenna College (CMC) held the inauguration ceremony of Hiram Chodosh, the College’s fifth president. Students, parents, alumni, and faculty alike eagerly gathered in Bridges Auditorium to hear President Chodosh’s vision for CMC. President Chodosh boldly designated the inauguration theme: Liberal Arts in Action. During his inauguration address, he poetically declared, “Through the genetic infusion of liberal arts and leadership, CMC puts the Liberal Arts in Action… This double helix, has been, is, and will be the key to our success.”

If liberal arts and leadership are the interwoven double helix in President Chodosh’s vision of Liberal Arts in Action for CMC, then KLI is an integral part of the DNA. Firstly, the Liberal Arts aspect is epitomized at KLI through the Leadership Studies Sequence, a multi-disciplinary program for students interested in the study and practice of leadership. Jay Conger, KLI’s Institute Chair, explains, “When we think of leadership at KLI, we strive to represent all the walks of life that leaders come from – academics, government, industry, the arts, science and the social sectors. We also have a deep appreciation for the necessity of teaching leadership through the liberal arts. When you look at our Leadership Sequence courses, you see this in our offerings ranging from government to psychology to sociology to philosophy to religion.”

Secondly, the Action aspect refers to the application of leadership learning through the multitude of KLI programs. Conger adds, “Many of our workshops and courses teach students how to put into action their training in the liberal arts. As an Institute, we are well aligned with President Chodosh’s mission, and we expect to play an important role in making that vision a reality on our campus.”

Students furthermore support the view that KLI demonstrates the theme of Liberal Arts in Action. According to Karan Saggi ’14, one of KLI’s current Student Coordinators, “Liberal Arts in Action entails collaborating these different sets of skills into one practical approach. KLI brings together all aspects of this liberal arts education into the practice of leadership. Any student, irrespective of their focus of study, can realize and polish his leadership potential through KLI.”

As the inauguration speech continued, President Chodosh highlighted three vital capabilities that CMC seeks to produce in students through Liberal Arts in Action: Creativity of mind, Collaboration of community, and Courage of character. He posed the question, “Are we Creative enough to see the path, Collaborative enough to walk together, Courageous enough to take the first steps?”

At KLI, we believe the answer to this question is “Yes.” Since these three qualities are essential to effective leadership, we aim to cultivate them at KLI. Conger claims, “A central theme of leadership is change. Creativity and innovation are the foundations for any form of change. Collaboration is essential because of the complexity of today’s organizations. You have to collaborate effectively for any form of change to succeed. Finally, change implies an element of uncertainty. It takes Courage to move organizations and societies through change – in large part, because in change loss comes first. You have to have courage to step away from the status quo into the future.”

Ron Riggio, Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology, provides evidence for how KLI develops each of these three capabilities. First, “I think the many entrepreneurial initiatives (including both commercial and social entrepreneurship), as well as other leadership activities, help foster and leverage student Creativity.” Second, “I believe that KLI works hard to try to build an inclusive Community — the KLI family, which includes a very ‘open door’ policy so we can work with any of the CMC constituencies from students to faculty to staff and alumni.” Third, “We have designated ethics courses and we have components around ethics and Character in most of our programs, such as the Sophomore Leadership Experience.” Riggio, however, notes that despite these achievements, KLI can still improve, particularly by expanding upon its limited resources to leadership and to KLI.

As the inauguration speech neared its end, President Chodosh reiterated CMC’s core mission to nourish great leadership and concluded, “We must never lose sight of our primary objective: to grow the qualities we need in the next great generation. We have to do more than put the right students in CMC, we have to put the right CMC in our students.”

KLI is constantly evaluating how to prepare CMC students to be the most effective leaders for tomorrow’s challenges. Riggio deducts that the reason why KLI has grown in significance at CMC in recent years is because KLI “is so centrally aligned with the mission of the College. When President Chodosh talks about putting the right CMC in students, a big part of that CMC is about leadership — learning it, valuing good leadership, striving to achieve, etc.”

Saggi agrees that KLI is shaping students, himself included, to reach their utmost potential. He proclaims, “KLI’s mission aligns perfectly with this objective: To promote responsible, innovative leadership and develop outstanding leaders in public, private, and social sectors. When a freshman comes to CMC, he brings with him immense potential for intellectual growth and self-development. When a senior graduates from CMC, he not only takes with him four years of liberal arts education, but also the ability to practice effective, responsible leadership. I have been involved at KLI since sophomore year, and it is the best thing that has happened to me at CMC.”

Although KLI was only established twenty years ago, it has always been committed to President Chodosh’s theme of Liberal Arts in Action and the three vital capabilities of Creativity, Collaboration, and Courage. Not only is KLI a stellar example of how CMC exercises the theme of Liberal Arts in Action, but also is an example of CMC’s mission to breed effective and responsible leaders for the future.