Four Lessons Learned From Trying to Change the World with a Liberal Arts Degree


Did you know that prior to founding an e-learning social enterprise, TechChange President Nick Martin did his undergraduate degree in Modern Poetry?

Nick recently returned to his alma mater, Swarthmore College, where he participated in a panel discussion on “What I Learned From Trying to Change the World” during the school’s alumni weekend. To an audience of approximately 150 people, Nick spoke with three fellow alumni representing the Peace Corps, Princeton University, and Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia on the lessons they learned in their respective social change industries.

United with the common threads of a liberal arts education at Swarthmore and careers driven by the desire to change the world, here are the pearls of wisdom they shared based on their social change careers so far:

Lesson 1:

“You learn the most and you learn the quickest when you get yourself out there.” -F.F. Quigley, Country Director, Thailand, Peace Corps

We often learn and gain the most from doing what we are afraid of. The impact of this lesson could not be truer and is something we always need to be urging ourselves to do.

Lesson 2:

“Be careful not to be too righteous” -Lourdes Rosado, Associate Director of Juvenile Law Center (Philadelphia, PA)

Be able to disagree with others while maintaining respect for them and their opinions. Sometimes the only way to achieve progress is by working with, and not against, those who challenge us.

Lesson 3:

“We need to take time to ask better questions.” -Carolyn Rouse, Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University

While Carolyn Rouse worked to establish a high school in the outskirts of Accra, Ghana, she learned that sometimes stability matters more than change. When looking to make the world a better place, we need to challenge assumptions, as not everything aligns clearly to a cut-and-dry cost-benefit analysis. With anything life, do not be afraid to ask questions and challenge the status quo.

Lesson 4:

“Community matters.” -Nick Martin, President & CEO, TechChange

We are shaped by the people we surround ourselves with. Whether hiring people to join your start-up or choosing your friends, the values and attitudes of those we associate ourselves with have a strong impact on the people we become.

To check out the entire talk, click here and fast forward to 32:30 to catch Nick’s segment.

Do you have a liberal arts education that you have applied to try to change the world? What lessons have you learned along the way? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @TechChange.

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