LETTER: Celebrating the love of learning when resources are scarce


This letter to the editor was written by Justin Kastner is an associate professor of veterinary medicine and Cindy Logan is an associate professor and academic advisor. If you would like to write a letter to the Collegian, send us an email at letters@kstatecollegian.com or visit kstatecollegian.com/contact.

Let’s put it out there — a big question: Is it possible, in the midst of despair, to be animated by life-giving, joyful experiences?

This is the eventual — perhaps, inevitable? — question we mere humans face in health, in life and, many of us are finally (and perhaps reluctantly) admitting, in academic life.

It’s an important question. Perhaps it is a somewhat ironic or embarrassing question for academics—whether one is a faculty member, an undergraduate research enthusiast, an administrator or (like us) advocates for an honor society chapter supposedly devoted to the vitality and joy that comes with learning. Our honor society, Phi Kappa Phi, confesses a motto that goes, “let the love of learning rule humanity,” which we audibly recite every Spring when we initiate new members.

Most educators “out there” (whether in K-12, or higher education) insist that there is, indeed, the possibility of real joy in scholarship — an actual, within-reach experience for students of all ages (including those of us who self-identify as life-long learners) to experience the psychological benefits that accompany the learning of new things, the acquisition or honing of skills, and the use of such knowledge and skills for the betterment of society.

Yet educators can be forgiven if they have lost sight of aspirational statements about the love-of-learning. Indeed, those economically dependent upon an increasingly cash-strapped academic environment — whether we’re talking about an on-strike teacher in Denver, a worried budget-minded administrator at a public university, or a university instructor teaching in a dilapidated classroom — are not routinely penning love notes about the affections of learning.

We’d like to politely if not assertively sound an alarm about this because if we don’t rediscover the love of learning, we risk being consumed by (and spreading to others) any or all of a range of closely related emotions: despair, gloom, and de-spirited anguish come to mind.

In the case of the Phi Kappa Phi motto, we are beginning to wonder if the verb “let” is perhaps too timid. Is it enough to let the love of learning rule, or ought we to take action, do something or at least say something?

Today, we seek to write something — and shine some metaphorical light on what a handful of our university’s undergraduates and, significantly, their faculty mentors (supported by at least one unsung administrative hero) are doing to kindle a love of learning. Perhaps we can learn from them.

We certainly should applaud them.

Late last year, 16 K-State undergraduate students — including several high school graduates from Kansas towns as small as Silver Lake and as large as Kansas City — took the initiative to apply to present their work at next Wednesday’s (Feb. 20) Undergraduate Research Day at the Kansas State Capitol.

While only five could be selected to present in Topeka, we — as two officers in the K-State chapter of Phi Kappa Phi — celebrate all of them. Their applications spanned varied themes (listed below) from political science and King Arthur, to nutrition and animal science, to personal health and physical fitness. Their applications reflect a genuine love of learning, a love inspired by faculty mentors, incubated in university research laboratories, and nurtured in the craft of reading books, taking notes, and documenting one’s own thinking. These students accomplished their research outside of their normal classes, in some instances being paid and in others not being paid.

The faculty mentors who inspired and supported these 16 students are deserving of acclaim, and we have listed them below. Undergraduate research mentors are often not compensated, and even if they or their research programs benefit from the work of undergraduates, the extra work of teaching, training, overseeing, and mentoring these students often falls through the metaphorical cracks of promotion-and-tenure files (despite the right judgment by the university to make undergraduate research activity a goal). In this regard, we note the behind-the-scenes diligence of, amongst others, Tess Hobson (assistant director at the K-State Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Inquiry). Thank you, Tess.

Students who have participated in this research, we applaud you — all of you — for daring to fan the love-flame of learning. And faculty mentors — many, many thanks for playing your part in igniting and fanning into flame this same love. Thanks for reminding our campus that, whether or not one gets paid, it is possible to experience the joy of learning.

Justin Kastner is an associate professor of veterinary medicine and Cindy Logan is an associate professor and academic advisor. The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.