Students and faculty at the state's only public liberal arts university are hoping to revolutionize ideas about education and learning by integrating concepts first developed in the 15th century into modern day life.
This retro-advance of knowledge will be on display at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma Festival of Arts and Ideas on Monday and Tuesday on its Chickasha campus during an annual gathering of students, faculty and community in a collision of education and entertainment.
The year's festival will focus on the polymath — people commonly associated with the renaissance period who gained mastery over multiple disciplines and fields.
In a world of technology-fueled specialization in education, USAO educators like Rob Vollmar are hoping to inspire a generation of new thinkers by promoting wide-lens concepts that led to some of the most fundamental changes in human history.
But Vollmar said the larger implications of the polymath shouldn't frighten possible festival goers.
“Our curriculum, university and this festival are set up to appeal to people with curious minds,” Vollmar said. “That's really all you need, just a degree of curiosity and a willingness to learn about some new things.”
The two-day festival begins each night at 7:30 p.m. and will be held in USAO's ballroom. Speakers with different educational backgrounds will pair up for presentation topics ranging from neuroscience of the creative mind, actresses who led double lives as inventors, to a detailed look at possibly the most recognized early polymath — Pythagoras, a Greek scientist, philosopher and mathematician.
Vollmar said the presentations will be interactive and easy to follow. They will also match the fundamental mission USAO offers its students.
“It's in our DNA,” Vollmar said. “Every four-year degree seeking student who comes here is well-grounded in world history, American history, economics, science, math; the whole nine yards.”
Kaitlyn Worner, a USAO junior seeking a mathematics and business degree, said that philosophy is what drew her to the university. She is the only student presenter at the festival, where she and a close friend will discuss the inner workings of mathematicians who used literature as a second tool for presenting and exploring their ideas.
“If you're too specialized, you're going to be studying one thing over and over again, and of course you'll be really good at that,” Worner said. “But then you'll lose the insight in other areas and you won't be able to relate to others who have different views and experiences. I think that's one of the great things about liberal arts.”
Rhenada Finch, the staff accompanist for the USAO music department, has served as the festival coordinator since its inception in 2007. What began as a music series focused on classical composers has evolved into a festival that's inspired a new curriculum.
“You get some really varied perspectives, because it's people from different fields talking about the same topic,” Finch said. “Our goal is to have something else in the fall; basically an interdisciplinary class that has the students do research similar to what presenters do at the festival.”
Worner said she hopes people in the community come out to see what the festival has to offer.
“It's really quite enlightening,” Worner said. “It gets you to think as well as being entertaining.”
IF YOU GO
The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma's Festival of Arts and Ideas