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Purposeful Conversations Take Off

By Amanda Whitbred


Elizabeth Grossman ’92 (left) and Mark Hanis ’04 shared thoughts on the value of a Swarthmore education.

In an era when the value of a liberal arts education is often debated, how is Swarthmore meeting the challenge? This was one of the issues explored by a panel of alumni and faculty members at a regional alumni event in Washington, D.C., April 24, attended by more than 50 alumni and guests.

The panel discussion, moderated by President Rebecca Chopp, was one in a series of Conversations of Purpose events held around the country this spring, inspired by the sesquicentennial book Swarthmore College: A Community of Purpose. The book focuses on the key values that serve as the cornerstones of the College’s identity—from academic rigor to improving society.

Examining the status of these cornerstones in the 21st century has inspired debate about interdisciplinary collaboration, the Honors Program, and the key role alumni play in helping recent graduates find positions in which they can apply the critical-thinking skills they developed at Swarthmore.

“The single biggest challenge facing Swarthmore is for us to ensure our students can go into the workforce,” said President Chopp. “Our alumni are key to addressing that challenge.” One simple solution, proposed by panelist Mark Hanis ’04, director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact at Georgetown University, was for “more alumni to show up for events like this one.”

During a question-and-answer period toward the end of the program, panelist Elizabeth Grossman ’92, director of civil projects for the technology and civic engagement group at Microsoft, astutely observed that alumni are the “proof points” that a Swarthmore education in particular, and a liberal arts education in general, is exceptional preparation for finding fulfilling employment after graduation.

This observation built on fellow panelist and Professor of Biology Amy Cheng Vollmer’s opening remarks: “A major in anything at Swarthmore can prepare you for anything,” she said.

Conversations of Purpose were held this spring in Los Angeles; Denver; New York City Washington, D.C.; and Boston. More Conversations will occur around the country this fall. Visit for more information.

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