Liberal education at its best

Posted: February 27, 2015 at 10:18 am, Last Updated: February 27, 2015 at 11:08 am

10960224_10153206367112223_7587001692217766555_oIt was terrific last week to see two dear colleagues, Lance Liotta and Paul D’Andrea, honored in Richmond among 13 Virginia Outstanding Faculty. The honors included nothing less than a recognition on the floor of the Senate, laudatory remarks by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and individual awards delivered by the director of the State Council of Higher Education and the Secretary of Education.

Our two honorees couldn’t be more different: Lance Liotta (on the far left in the picture at left) is University Professor of Systems Biology and Paul D’Andrea (on the far right in the picture at left) is Clarence Robinson professor of theater and English literature. One mentors future scientists to find new cures for cancer. The other inspires students to explore their humanity through literature. Together they represent what higher education is all about.

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In case you’re not familiar with their backgrounds, here are some highlights.

Dr. Liotta is co-founder and co-director of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine, where he also is medical director. He is recognized internationally for his research in cancer, proteomics, and biotechnology. He has published dozens of articles in the world’s most prestigious journals, about a dozen of which have been cited more than 1,000 times each (an accomplishment few scientists ever come close to). He and his colleagues have run numerous clinical trials and have invented and patented medical technologies used around the world. Companies like Ceres Nanosciences and Theranostics Health have spun off from his lab.

“Instead of following the current scientific vogue, we want our trainees to launch the next viral idea,” Dr. Liotta said in the award materials. “We create new technology, not just because it is cool, and not just because it inspires our students, but because it can be used to ask, and answer, questions in biology and medicine that have never been possible before.”

IMG_1766Dr. D’Andrea is increasing understanding of another kind. He is a teacher, scholar, artistic director, producer, institution-builder, and internationally recognized playwright. He has created 23 courses and has helped create many of the Mason institutions devoted to the arts, including the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and the Center for the Arts. His adaptation of Nathan the Wise, a classic plea for religious tolerance, opened two weeks after 9/11 and has been played, filmed, and broadcast around the world.

“Teaching in the arts and the humanities involves the transfer of imaginative energy from the work of art to a human being, from Leonardo or Shakespeare to you,” Dr. D’Andrea told the Outstanding Faculty Awards organizers. “I am good at facilitating that. I teach because I love my subject matter. I care, I share, I serve.”

Many times each day, I am reminded of our university’s impact in the lives of our students, and of our responsibility to help them fulfill their potential and grow as professionals, as citizens, and as human beings.

At Mason, we are proud of the economic value of our degrees for our students — they have better employment and salaries than our peers and among the lowest student loan default rates in the nation. But our true purpose goes well beyond that. The central notion of a liberal education, and the reason why American higher education stands out around the world, is because of our commitment to helping students grow as free, critical thinkers who are curious about science and culture and who are willing to challenge their beliefs and actively engage in creating a freer, more just, and prosperous society.

Congratulations to Drs. Liotta and D’Andrea for their commitment to our students, and for fulfilling our mission at the highest level.

Write to presidentstaff at scullen1@gmu.edu

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