Liberal Studies program excites students

August 1, 2012 - 9:25am

Students in the Comox Valley and other north Island areas can expand their minds, study ancient classics and earn a university degree close to home.

Vancouver Island University, in partnership with North Island College (NIC), is offering upper-level Liberal Studies courses at NIC’s Comox Valley campus in September, and seats are available.

“Students can take the classes at NIC’s Comox Valley campus but receive a degree credential from VIU,” says Maureen Okun, chair of the VIU Liberal Studies program. This partnership makes post-secondary education accessible to many students, including those who live in northern Vancouver Island communities.”

A Liberal Studies degree is an interesting alternative to a traditional degree in a single discipline, says Okun.

“The program draws its rich content from influential works in the humanities, arts and sciences, and treats it in a way that brings out the connections among different disciplines,” she explains. “Together, through seminar discussions in small classes, professors and students examine how the culture we are immersed in has developed out of a diverse legacy, from Ancient Hebraic and Greek traditions to the 21st century.

“Along the way we grapple, as our cultural forebears did, with questions such as what are we, and what should we be? What do we value? What should we value? What does it mean to live a good life? The program challenges students to develop their own understanding of these questions against the fascinating backdrop of the last 3,000 years.”

The small class sizes allow for open, inclusive discussion where students develop strong relationships with each other and their instructors. Students also explore their creative side through hands-on activities in art and science, such as making illuminated manuscripts or observing astronomical phenomena.

Liberal Studies is a discipline that fosters personal development, adds Okun. Students develop crucial skills in communication, teamwork, self-reliance, critical analysis and creative expression. “These skills are at a premium in today’s workforce,” she adds.

Graduates from the program find employment in a variety of careers including law, public service, architecture, business, art, education and the media – anywhere that a broad education is recognized as an important asset.

“Our graduates have successfully entered postgraduate and professional schools in law, architecture, public administration, education, marine archaeology, communications, folklore studies, English, history, women’s studies, philosophy and so on, usually without having to complete a qualifying year,” adds Okun. “Many proceed to post-degree programs in elementary or secondary education, and several are working in ESL and adult education.”

Okun says one of the highlights of the Liberal Studies program for many students is the study abroad component.

“We’ve offered upper level Liberal Studies courses in Florence, Italy for more than 12 years,” says Okun. “Students love studying the Renaissance in the heart of its birthplace. We hear over and over how much it enriches their educational experience.”

Liberal Studies graduate Virginia Philipson of the Comox Valley says spending a month living and studying in Florence “was one of my best experiences ever.”

“The entire program is wonderful,” she says. “I never would have read such incredible texts, or had the chance to discuss and debate a multitude of ideas with classmates and professors if I hadn’t completed this program. I appreciate that we were encouraged to make our own judgments and interpretations when writing essays. It was great training in critical thinking.”

Philipson is now working as a freelance writer with academic publisher Broadview Press.

NIC and VIU have been collaborating on the delivery of the Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies at the Comox Valley campus since 1996.

The six-credit core courses involve the analysis of interesting and significant works (in literature, philosophy, theology, science, social science, art, and music), and all four courses together ensure a varied and deep exposure to the western cultural tradition from ancient times to the present day.

The three-credit companion courses include laboratories, enquiry seminars, and art and music workshops. They support the understanding, gathered in the core courses, of a particular historical period.

Courses are team taught by professors from both institutions with a wide range of academic backgrounds; the professors together with students form a community intent on maximizing the learning of all. In participatory seminars students develop the skills in communication and critical thinking that are so prized in graduate school and in today’s professions.

Okun says elective courses in Liberal Studies may also appeal to those currently studying specific disciplines, “because taking any Liberal Studies courses will greatly increase students’ general cultural awareness and skill set.”

For information on Liberal Studies courses offered at NIC’s Comox Valley campus or at VIU in Nanaimo, contact Okun at 250-753-3245 (local 2174) for further details or visit

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