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Funny... I don't feel dead! If you've forgotten JMC - You weren't there!

An academy for wandering minstrels
Equipping lifelong learners to pursue personal and professional interests in art, activism, law, education, business, medicine, international affairs, social services, science, management, media, and more.
* Michigan State University's first, most experimental, and most innovative residential college *


How would you describe your JMC experience as preparation for your career(s)? As preparation for "life?" Talk about the "capacities" or "abilities" you have that were nurtured by your JMC experience.


After college, I moved to San Francisco in 73. I became involved in political organizing in that vibrant and culturally diverse city. JMC "traits" that were vital to who I became were openness, appreciation of diversity, tolerance for ambiguity, and a broad intellectual curiosity.

I know I was better equipped to deal with a wide-open environment like San Francisco in the 70's, 80's, and 90's because of the diversity and analytical skills I derived from my JMC experience that I would not have gotten from a more traditional course of study.

- David Brigode (Student: 1969 - 1973)


The JMC experience prepared me for my career in unique ways. For my "field of concentration" I took all the graduation requirements at that time for a BS degree in Geology. I went on to receive an MS degree in Geology from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1976 and have worked in various capacities within the petroleum industry for 28 years as a geologist and petrophysicist. JMC contributed to my career (and life) in some of the following ways:

  • The strong emphasis upon writing and critical thinking skills contributed to a competitive advantage over many other geoscientists and engineers by developing my ability to develop creative solutions beyond conventional ideas and to have the ability to express myself both orally and in writing.
  • The emphasis upon foreign language (in my case Spanish) and international study have been of enormous value in my career, especially as the petroleum business becomes increasingly global. My current employment has me participating in the analysis of petroleum reserves for clients around the world. For example, at present I have projects underway within the USA, Russia and Bolivia (in Spanish).
  • As preparation for life, the JMC emphasis upon "coping with ambiguity" and building your own career path turned out to be vital in the unstable employment trends of the past 30 years. During this time period I have worked for a major international oil company, a medium-size domestic oil company, and a small oil company as a geologist, for a temp agency as a network administrator, a gas utility company as a systems planning analyst within their IT department, an gas exploration company as a petrophysicist, and presently for an international petroleum consulting firm as a vice-president for geology and petrophysics for oil and gas reserve audits. Each job change was a quantum leap from the known into the unknown, and the ability to cope with these challenges I partially attribute to the training I received at JMC.
  • As preparation for life, JMC also opened my personal life and experiences to ideas and enrichment quite different to the narrow experiences and backgrounds of the majority of the technical people I deal with daily. A liberal arts background within the petroleum industry is quite rare and I relish the unique perspectives I’ve developed over the years in part due to the curricula at JMC.

- Paul M. Buehrle (Student: 1969 - 1973)


The one thing that I learned from the Justin Morrill College experience is that if you can obtain good communication skills (writing, reading, listening and speaking), one can do almost anything that you set your mind to do in life. That one capacity has let me accomplish rewarding and exciting experiences during my professional career, as well as in my personal life. I ended up working in an area to which I was not academically prepared, but I was able to perform very well through excellent communication skills.

Another aspect acquired attending Justin Morrill College was my ability to adapt to change, often times under difficult times. [This experience perhaps was not encountered as much by later students at Justin Morrill College, since much of the curriculum for the first year class was only decided from one term to the next in a process that involved faculty, staff and students.]

Having to learn another language in an intensified situation (two years in one year), and then being given the opportunity to be "dropped" into another culture where you no longer could rely on one’s native language to survive was also a great help in my ability to adapt to changes throughout my life. Having had that experience living in another culture has helped me to appreciate throughout my life that there are many perspectives on right and wrong, politically and socially. We were told by our Dean to understand and appreciate the fact that the world is our back yard, and we needed to be prepared to deal with a much smaller world into the future. That concept has remained with me throughout my post college life and I am richer for that ability to see the world with its similarities and differences.

- Dennis Hall (Student: 1965 - 1969)


Who I am as an adult is directly connected to my JMC experience. I grew up in a pretty typical midwestern wannabe middle class, with strong fundamentalist religious tendencies. JMC helped me sort out my values from the ones that I had absorbed without intending to, helped me find a vocation in teaching, and helped me learn to get along with others by accepting myself.

- Mark Harris (Student: 1973 - 1977)


My career, working with many doctoral dissertations for indexing and categorizing, was perfectly set up by my JMC experience. I need to be able to analyze a wide variety of topics and find the commonalities and the themes, and to recognize connections. My JMC experience involved doing much the same tasks.


- Steve (Taggart) Johgart (Student: 1973 - 1975)


For me, much of JMC was free form - which is excellent preparation for a life and a job for which I have had no formal training.

- Leonard Kaufmann (Student: 1967 - 1969)


My education at JMC gave me a cross-cultural, global perspective that was the perfect preparation for my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, and later as a graduate student in an MBA program majoring in Finance and International Business. The courses in JMC studied specific topics in depth rather than surveying a smattering of information across a field. This approach enabled me to easily deal with the "case study" method in business school, and has continued to shape my ability to analyze issues from all sides throughout my career and my life. My experience as a member of a peer group with an intellectual value set has helped me strive to seek similar environments throughout my life. I am now a financial officer of one the world’s major cultural institutions, and the values that led me here and enabled me to thrive were in part established by my experience at JMC.

- Carl Koivuniemi (Student: 1965 - 1969)


I think the opportunity to self direct my academic career was most important. I came to MSU thinking about journalism or TV. But the language requirement of 8 hours/quarter changed my direction and thinking. In addition the elective classes taught by people who chose to develop them,was another thing that led me to realize that history was my true interest. I was able to have a field of concentration outside of the general college requirements. If only I had had another year of undergraduate study I would probably have put together something in the area of African studies. Instead I just took as many classes as I could once I met Prof. Harold Marcus and had two of his African history courses. I knew by my junior year I wanted to study for a masters in library science. My JMC background prepared me for a chance to work at the Schomburg Collection at the New York Public Library, where I served as Acquisitions librarian for a year. When we moved to North Carolina, I ended up in special collections at the State Library, which prepared me to work in the North Carolina collection next at UNC-Chapel Hill. This prepared me for a move to my current position as Virginia Room Librarian at the Fairfax Co. Public Library in Virginia. Here I have become (after 23 years!) somewhat of an expert on local history and genealogy. This all evolved nicely from my ability to take courses that interested me and not be stuck with all kinds of departmental requirements.

I might add that one of my first courses at JMC was Dynamics of Underprivileged Communities with Dr. Alex Cade. He opened up to me a world I had never seen. He took us to visit Detroit and see the ethnicity there. When the Detroit riots occurred in 1967, I think I had a much better understanding of what was going on that most of my neighbors and friends in rural Berrien County. Again, he sparked an interest in me that led me to Harold Marcus and several other courses.

- Suzanne Levy (Student: 1965 - 1969)


I'd say my JMC experience was of minimal impact on my career, but of more than modest impact on my "life preparation".

Who knew, at the time I took advanced Spanish and eventually traveled to Colombia, that I would live in a world increasingly filled with a Spanish-speaking population? That is not merely some Malthusian or racist sentiment; rather, I lived and rode mass transit in Hispanic neighborhoods in Los Angeles and now have at least four surrounding households whose primary tongue is Spanish in Gaithersburg, Maryland. This I could hardly have foreseen.

More generally, I've encountered those whose undergraduate training was much more narrowly focused, and, as a consequence, whose college contemporaries were from a more limited set of folks than what I encountered at JMC. This could have resulted from any number of things (the myth of JMC as an "honors college" simply because it attracted a number of brighter students, the cultural transition of the '60's, the political disparity between my upbringing and that of my cohorts, or the freedom to move across very diverse majors with some ties to JMC throughout).

Most of all, I felt a freedom to question, to quarrel, and, ultimately, to choose a course to take - not by exactly the most efficient set of choices, but a more than adequate number.

- William McGarvey (Student: 1966 - 1971)


I was able to learn about the outside intellectual world after growing up in a small town and realize the breadth of knowledge, opinions and learning that was available. I picked MSU only because of JMC and a private college counselor's knowledge about it. I'm an independent minded person and traveling to the other side of the country by myself to a university that I hadn't seen except in the catalog was my style. So, I was ready for an adventure and was not particularly career minded at that time.

The experience was mind expanding as well as frustrating and scary to be challenged on some assumptions that I had grown up with. The classes were useful in that they integrated areas of knowledge that probably would be taught in separate classes in the larger university. The small class size and experience of the professors was truly a worthwhile experience. The experiences and things that I didn't derive the most benefit from were due in large part to my inability to take advantage of them--lack of maturity and experience to realize what I was missing.

The experience was very positive, worthwhile both for my career and life. The only negatives for me were the general phony-ness of the intellectual b.s. and arrogance that probably is the downside of aggregating this type of student group and the feeling of being swallowed up within such a big university and being isolated from the reality of living in society. I'm not blaming the program or university for this, this was just my experience which may have been due in large part to not having any outside connections physically nearby for periodic reality testing.

As far as preparing me for a career, as I had been forewarned by Dean Rohman, I was not. Although I could have entered the workforce, I obtained a Masters in Social Work and was in that field about 5 years before returning for another degree--MBA and then entering the business world. It was a journey that has led to my current career in which I own my own business in commercial real estate valuation and consultation.

- Joe Milkes (Student: 1967 - 1971)


As a faculty member at a relatively early point in my career, I found the interdisciplinary teaching and team teaching to be exciting and stimulating - and it was my perception that the students responded similarly. Over time, the creative problem solving skills I learned in that kind of teaching have stood me in good stead, as well as the conviction that "I can do anything" with a little preparation.

- Pamela Oestreicher (JMC faculty: 1976 - 1978)


It was great in that I was able to tailor a program around exactly what I was interested in. My field (marketing research) does require a "lifelong learning" approach to life and I think that’s one of the reasons JMC appealed to me in the first place (although I didn’t know my eventual field of concentration when I started). JMC also exposed me to curious and diverse people - which I think is also a plus in trying to understand consumer behavior.

As preparation for "life?" Talk about the "capacities" or "abilities" you have that were nurtured by your JMC experience.

To repeat, the lifelong learning thing, the concept that you don’t have to follow the menu, you can put something together ala carte that will work out even better. It encourages you to have the courage to follow your own path. I think I developed a more humanistic approach to life because that orientation is so common among fellow JMC students.

- Cleo Parker (Student: 1974 - 1978)


I cannot imagine how my life would have turned out without my experience at Justin Morrill College. It prepared me well for a career in military intelligence, including active use of the Russian I learned in JMC and the University at large and German, which I learned on active duty principally through the use of Soviet textbooks, an effort to reinforce my Russian, which brought good results for my skills in both languages.

I was a good student and a good writer when I arrived as a freshman. The cultural and intellectual atmosphere in JMC broadened my worldview and made me a better writer and a more perceptive analyst, capabilities which served me well in the Marine Corps and Navy and presently as an information security policy consultant.

- Charles K. Roberts (Student: 1966 - 1970)


A key part of success in every field is working with others, building networks and community, and JMC was wonderful at helping me begin to learn this. JMC gave me the experience of having various parts of life integrated, as opposed to all segments being separated.

- Nancy R. Shaffer (Student: 1972 - 1975)


As a result of my JMC experience, I became convinced I could learn anything. Ultimately, I went to law school, and became an appellate attorney. If you 'google' "Deborah Sirotkin Butler" these days you can get six pages. If you use any database of reported decisions, mine line up for you.

I have gone head to head with the state so many times I lose count. I fight for the constitution, and the rights of the poor, and have found that I can also take on large law firms because my ability to read, input new data, and write is in the top 1% and I feel that the top flight intellectual stimulation and writing experience at JMCS is part of where my intellectual courage and stamina were nurtured.

- Deborah Sirotkin Butler (JMC Student: 1966 - 1970)


After JMC I went to philosophy graduate school, then law school.  After a clerkship and two years as a big firm litigator, I taught at Tulane Law School for 17 years, until I retired early in 2000.  My writing and much of my teaching was interdisciplinary, involving not only law and philosophy, but also economics, political science, literary theory, American history, and corporate management. 

JMC in MSU gave me a superb interdisciplinary education.  I met many scholars doing interdisciplinary work, and it is very difficult for anyone to fully escape the culture of their primary discipline and see other fields from the inside.  I think I succeeded better than the vast majority I met, because my education in JMC was deeply interdisciplinary from the beginning.  Not only were JMC courses, mostly interdisciplinary and taught seminar style, good preparation for what was to come, but JMC gave me the flexibility to pursue several majors at once, so I never became fully captured by one discipline.  

A longer description of my course of studies will help explain how I ended with a BS in psychology and a BA from JMC with a concentration in philosophy.  I came to MSU a math/science jock with some perfect test scores and a few prizes in math competitions, but broad interests in the humanities as well.  The combination of Honors College and JMC allowed me to take almost any university course I wanted. 

My first term, I started the English department’s senior honors sequence in comparative literature--that year the topic was psychological criticism--and greatly enjoyed it.  I started to take upper level psych courses with similar content: abnormal, personality.  My second year the math department refused to allow me to take the senior calculus sequence before taking a more basic course (advanced placement only went so far in their eyes), and I looked for an alternative.  Jack Hunter from Operations Research had a great rep as a teacher, and gave a three course sequence for Math-Psych graduate students in math modeling in the social sciences running students through differential equations, matrix theory, and other topics useful in constructing models.  I completed those courses and the three course sequence on statistics and experimental design required for psych graduate students by the end of my second year.  I went back to fill in the required courses for a psych degree over the next two years.  

In the meantime I had taken Martin Benjamin’s JMC course on contemporary moral philosophy and fell in love with the field.  I took his seminar on Rawls in the philosophy department and kept going.  My JMC concentration became philosophy and ended up with what looked like a traditional set of philosophy courses for an honors major.  But JMC’s flexibility allowed me to get to two seemingly conventional majors in rather unusual ways, and to take advanced courses in other disciplines on the side.  At the end of 4 years I had 240 credits and two bachelors degrees.  

I think a good interdisciplinary scholar needs to do advanced work in at least two quite different disciplines.  A solid foundation in math certainly helps: I look at it as the most important language proficiency one can acquire.  Beyond that, every bit of breadth counts.  It is especially useful if one straddles the divides between the natural and social sciences, the empirical and interpretive social sciences, and any of the sciences and the humanities.  JMC got me started on all of that. 

Among my friends doing interdisciplinary work with whom I compared notes, I don’t think anyone had as good an undergraduate preparation for what we were doing as I did.        

- John Stick (Student: 1971 - 1975)


While a student in JMC I learned to handle a variety of different topics with ease. I was exposed to a wide range of learning methods and given a lot of responsibility in selecting and pursuing the goals I set for my life. In my current capacity as a training coordinator for the state of Michigan, I find that I am able to use a lot of the planning, coordinating, organizing, and in general "thinking ahead" skills that I learned and perfected all those many years ago. I also believe that the well-rounded education I received, as well as the ability to pursue a double major, prepared me for the flexibility I have used to be successful in the past 30 years. It has been common for me to go from one assignment to another in my position, and I have been able to manage new tasks without difficulty. I really believe that this is all a reflection of the entire JMC experience and the creativity that was used, and that we as students were encouraged to use, while in this program.

- Darlene Swartz-Hubsky (Student: 1969 - 1973)


One of the best things I got was the ability to study and learn on my own. That is a crucial skill for most careers. Too many people come into a career with one set of skills and do not try to expand their skills or develop new ones. Also, JMC gave me the ability to make connections between seemingly different fields of study/work. Here is an example from my own career.

I am a lawyer. I represent the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department, which has five water treatment plants and the largest sewage treatment plant in the U.S. In the early 1980’s I specialized in environmental law. Because cleaning up the environment requires a lot of work, I developed an expertise in construction contract law. Because cleaning up the environment costs a lot of money, I developed some expertise in municipal bond law. Because the bonds are paid off from rates paid by customers, I developed some expertise in utility rate law. I did attend some professional seminars, but much of the learning was done on my own in the library. At this point, I am not a real expert in any of the disciplines, but I am the person that can put together the work of the specialists. That makes me a unique and valuable person in the organization, because few other people have that skill.

I guess the point I need to make is that the one skill I learned at JMC was the ability to make connections between different fields. One thing JMC did a lot of was have two professors with different backgrounds teach one class from two perspectives, showing where their two fields intersected. There was a class on religion and psychology taught by professors of religion and psychology. There was a course on science and politics, taught by a physicist and a political scientist. There were others.

What I got from these classes was an ability to see and make connections between fields that most people think are entirely separate. This is a skill that continues to amaze my colleagues at work. I just shrug and say, that’s the way I was taught to think at JMC. In a world where most workers are encouraged to specialize, there is a critical need for people who know how to think outside the box of their own narrow specialty. Sadly, most specialists do not have the skills to do that. I got those skills from a JMC education.

Another aspect of JMC that was important was that the classes were at an advanced level and made no distinction between freshman and senior level classes. Persons from all four years could be in a class. There were no freshman survey classes. You were thrown in off the deep end and expected to do the work and learn. It was a challenge at the time, but it was a great preparation for life and a career. You had to be a highly motivated self-starter to flourish at JMC. That was important.

- Robert Walter (Student: 1969 - 1974)


JMC was configured to prepare us for 'vocation', not for 'career'. JMC was specifically geared to multidisciplinary breadth of perspective rather than narrow disciplinary depth. Finally, JMC's heuristic learning model and emphasis on project- or action-oriented coursework inculcated the confidence to step up and do things. These themes were clearly and unequivocally stated in Dean Rohman's introductory presentation to my incoming freshman class.

As it turned out, JMC's multidisciplinary perspective was the key to not only my eventual 'vocation' (studying human cognition and applying that knowledge to design) but also to my 'career' as a professional cognitive scientist / cognitive engineer. My Field of Concentration was customized to allow me to mix anthropology, psychology, and linguistics so as to focus on the issue of human sentience (what one would call 'cognition' today). In effect, I was enabled to study 'cognitive science' before such a field ever existed. Combined with my later degree in computer science, this background allowed me to pursue educational and professional opportunities in artificial intelligence, cognitive science, human-computer interaction, and cognitive engineering.

Technically, my JMC BA and my PhD (informatics, as that term is used in Europe) lie within the domain of social sciences, while my BS and MS (computer science) lie within the engineering domain. I am considered valuable today (as a name-brand asset in an otherwise faceless corporation) because this dual background allows me to bridge between technological and human aspects of a problem. In other words, JMC's multidisciplinary orientation has profited me (and I don't just mean in terms of personal satisfaction).

JMC trained me to learn, and once committed to undertake a lifelong vocation (and the mundane 'career' associated with it) I was well-equipped to pursue it. Nowadays, no one can expect to succeed professionally without constant retraining. Learning to learn is therefore the single most important thing an undergraduate education can impart.

JMC's emphasis on writing (and / or other forms of personal expression) has similarly served me well. I'm considered valuable enough as a writer, presenter, and trainer that I could easily serve out the rest of my 'career' on those bases alone.

Finally, JMC's heuristic learning model and curricular flexibility put the onus on me to learn to be proactive. Much of my 'success' comes from simply being the one who steps up and tries. JMC taught me to try…

In that welcoming speech to my new freshman class, Dean Rohman said the proper outcome to a JMC education was to produce something like an intellectual 'commando' - someone who when dropped into a new situation could immediately start operating effectively. Time and again his 'commando' metaphor has been applied by teachers, co-workers, and managers in describing what it is I do that they value and admire.

On paper, JMC may have seemed a risky 'short term investment' with respect to career opportunities. In my experience, it was the best 'long term investment' I could have made at that point in my life.


A Note on Post-Baccalaureate Education

JMC's description in the MSU Catalog initially and persistently emphasized the College was intended to provide a liberal education well-suited for people choosing pre-med, pre-law, and / or any field of graduate study. Many JMC students went on to such professional schooling later, as evidenced by the large number of attorneys who are JMC alumni. Assessing a 'liberal arts and sciences' program solely in terms of a baccalaureate degree is, therefore, an unnecessarily narrow perspective in a time when more and more students are intending to pursue post-baccalaureate studies.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


Well, my JMC experience probably had very little preparation for my career. Most of my working days were as a part owner of a small business with my brother. I learned to do such things as welding, machine operating, metal fabrication (none of which I learned in JMC), etc. Music was always a big thing at JMC, and I did learn to play the guitar there though, which I still do in oldies rock bands. JMC did have an effect on my musical ability, of which I had none until being there.

As preparation for life, JMC was huge though. I feel because of having attended JMC, I am very much more aware of the differences in peoples attitudes and ideals, and I have learned to respect opinions that I do not necessarily agree with. Because of JMC, I am a much more aware person than I would have ever been without JMC. I feel this may be because of many of the all night bull sessions with other JMC students at the time. I seriously believe that my JMC experience has given me the ability to be the kind of person who does not hold a grudge for very long. I think living in the JMC environment kind of made this necessary if you wanted to keep friends for long. You had to learn to get along with a lot of different kinds of people

- Larry Wickett (Student: 1965 - 1969; ongoing JMC experience til 1976)

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