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Swarthmore Salon

Endowed in 2014 by James ’79 and Anahita Naficy Lovelace, the Frank Aydelotte Foundation for the Advancement of the Liberal Arts celebrates and supports Swarthmore’s dynamic intellectual community in myriad ways, according to Senior Associate Director for Program Development Pam Shropshire and outgoing Director Eric Jensen, professor of astronomy. (Each faculty director term lasts three years; this month’s incoming faculty co-directors are English literature’s Rachel Buurma ’99 and history’s Timothy Burke.)

PAM SHROPSHIRE: Before Swarthmore, I worked for nonprofits focused on arts and culture, the humanities, and education. I was drawn to the Aydelotte Foundation because I want to build relationships.

ERIC JENSEN: I come from the faculty, where we all have our individual disciplines and research, but we care about connecting across disciplines. It’s important to have a structure like the Aydelotte Foundation that explicitly pays attention to and supports that. 

It acts as a catalyst for intellectual exploration and engagement. We aim to inspire a greater understanding of, appreciation for, and participation in the liberal arts. 

That applies to two different but related spheres: on campus and in the outside world. An interesting future possibility for the Foundation is to look outward at the growth of liberal arts education in countries beyond the United States. There are liberal arts campuses springing up in India, China, and Africa—like Patrick Awuah ’89 founding Ashesi University College in Ghana—in countries where the approach to college education had been very different. Continuing to connect our faculty and students to these other places could yield rich opportunities and collaborations.

On campus, I’m excited about the launch of a new pilot: The Frank 5 Fellows—in recognition of Frank Aydelotte, Swarthmore’s seventh president—will showcase five alums under 30 undertaking interesting, inspiring work across different fields. Through their stories, we aim to expand our conversations with diverse public audiences and ground these conversations in shared values and beliefs. 

Another great initiative is spearheaded by Grace Ledbetter, a classics and philosophy professor who’s part of the Foundation. Faculty meet for dinner and a discussion of one faculty member’s scholarly work. Those conversations can feel like a luxury, but they’re an important part of making us stronger educators and more connected colleagues. I’ve heard faculty say these dinners are exactly the kind of thing they hoped they’d be able to do when they came to Swarthmore.

Our goal is to demystify the liberal arts and give voice to those who champion its mission of empowering students with the interdisciplinary knowledge, insight, and experience they need to become leaders for the common good.

That leadership is crucial—so many of the problems we wrestle with as a society are multifaceted. For example, I’m trained as an astronomer, but I’ve shifted some of my teaching time toward environmental studies and climate change. It’s a complex issue that requires input and insight from a lot of different disciplines. Working together, the way we do at Swarthmore, to find solutions that take advantage of the entire scope of human knowledge enriches and elevates us all.