Reshaping Liberal Arts

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Like moths to a lightbulb, students are drawn to the video cameras, teleprompter, and eight high-end editing stations in the new Wilson Hall Media Studio.

Conducting interviews, creating newscasts, and engaging in other hands-on projects is now a key part of Media Studies students’ coursework. Reade Pickert (Col ’18), who is pursuing a career in journalism, is making good use of the studio’s equipment to produce news packages in her multimedia reporting class.

“Before the new studio was set up, Clemons could not keep up with the constant demand for cameras,” she said. “Now, with all this great equipment, I was able to edit a piece for the Miller Center’s American Forum.”

Similarly, the nearby Maker Studio in Wilson Hall offers students from the McIntire Department of Music and other creative disciplines in the College access to 3-D printers, woodworking tools, and electronic equipment. Veronica Lam (Col ’18), a music major, is now free to pursue technical projects that exercise her creativity. “Right now, I’m working on creating an ensemble of analog synthesizers—shaped like baby heads!” she exclaimed.

Deep Change, Deeper Purpose

Both of these new studio spaces benefit from a recent gift supporting UVA’s efforts to transform liberal arts and science education. Private equity investment firm leader Thompson Dean (Col ’79) has committed more than $40 million to the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. Announced last September, Dean’s gift supports a series of teaching- and research-based curriculum initiatives within the largest of the University’s 11 schools.

“Thanks to Tom, we can invest more in areas that not only support academic excellence, but excellence with a deeper purpose,” said Ian Baucom, Buckner W. Clay Dean of Arts & Sciences.

“UVA needs to continue leading innovations in 21st-century liberal arts and sciences education,” Dean said. “Generations of the College’s graduates have gone on to serve as leaders across a wide spectrum of professions, and this gift is designed to build on that legacy. I hope others will join me in supporting this effort.”

New Opportunities for Collaborative Learning

Another example of Dean’s vision at work can be found on the second floor of New Cabell Hall, where 24 work stations in the new Language Lab are filled by students recording conversations in Spanish, Japanese, and Farsi, among other languages. A nearby collaborative learning space offers teaching assistants and students from the College’s world language programs room for meetings, group projects, and guest lectures.

“Learning doesn’t happen only in a formal classroom,” said Judy Giering, director of Learning Design & Technology. “With new spaces like these, we’re able to extend the learning experience in creative ways. We’re making this new space for language students as international as possible.”

To Sa Rang Kim (Col ’17), the biggest benefit of the language lab is the instructor’s one-on-one feedback. “As a Korean student learning English, I’ve realized that it’s not only about learning a skill but also gaining the ability to absorb different cultures and values,” she said. “This semester, I’m also taking Chinese and Japanese.”

Dalton Applegate (Engr ’20) also treasures the individualized feedback he receives from his professor. “As an engineering student, I need to be able to communicate with people around the world,” he said. “There is so much that I don’t know—and may never know—unless I study the languages of other cultures.”

“UVA needs to continue leading innovations in 21st-century liberal arts and sciences education.”

—Thompson Dean

Funding for Coming Changes

The College is now introducing comprehensive changes to its undergraduate curriculum. This decision, approved by a faculty vote last spring, marks the first comprehensive changes to the Arts & Sciences curriculum in more than 40 years.

The new curriculum’s first component, “Engagement” courses, is supported by seed funding from the Dean gift. These courses will prepare students to explore connections between their work and different disciplines, departments, and majors as soon as they arrive on Grounds. Tailored to the first year of study, the courses examine four distinct ways to garner knowledge: Aesthetic Engagement; Empirical and Scientific Engagement; Ethical Engagement; and Engaging Difference.

Sarah Betzer, associate professor of art history, said Dean’s gift is helping to lay critical groundwork in designing the new curriculum. “It’s such a wonderful shot in the arm for all the College faculty’s work to rethink and revitalize the general education curriculum for UVA’s third century.”


Dean is among UVA’s top 10 all-time supporters and has commited more than $52 million to the University. In addition to his recent gift to the College, he has

  • Served on the College Foundation Board
  • Invested in the South Lawn Project (resulting in the Dean Commons Building naming in his honor)
  • Funded an endowed professorship in Asian studies
  • Contributed to the Department of Athletics
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