David A. Reingold, Justin S. Morrill Dean of Liberal
Arts, believes Cornerstone will be an important part
of the Purdue experience. “I am very excited about the
opportunity Cornerstone offers to enhance the educational
experience of all Purdue students,” he says. “The liberal
arts can be an integral feature of what defines Purdue
graduates and reinforces the centrality of the liberal arts to
In 2015, Purdue President Mitch Daniels sent an open
letter that challenged the University to reassess not only its
practices but also its basic operating philosophies.
“Our land-grant assignment, and frankly that of any
institution claiming to deliver ‘higher education,’ is not
limited to the teaching that produces scientific or technical
expertise. Our task calls up to produce citizens, men and
women who are able to think reflectively and creatively not
only at the workplace but also to thrive in those domains of
well-being,” Daniels wrote.
In touting the value of liberal arts education, Daniels
noted that Purdue leaders were working to redefine the
current core curriculum to “make sure future Boilermakers
do not leave West Lafayette without having encountered
the essential facts and ideas central to the preservation and
success of a free society.” Disturbed by the large percentage
of Purdue students who graduate without courses that
explore these ideas, for the past two years, he has encouraged
incoming students to HELP themselves during their time
at Purdue. The mnemonic stands for history, economics,
literature, and philosophy. Daniels charges all Purdue
students to take at least one course in each of those areas.
Enter the Cornerstone Program
Pitts points out that even though many students come to
Purdue to study in the “hard sciences,” this new certificate
option facilitates the well-rounded coursework Daniels
“Often amidst their difficult programs, [these ‘hard
science’ students] have little contact with the arts and
humanities, the social sciences, or the disciplines of
philosophy, political science, and history,” she says.
“Obtaining a Cornerstone certificate ensures purposeful
and in-depth exposure to problem-solving skills that deal
with global problems they are already studying, but from a
“Practically, Cornerstone does not require much
additional coursework because many of the courses are in
the University and other colleges’ cores.”
There are benefits for the faculty involved in
Cornerstone, too. Kain says most curricular initiatives
happen at the disciplinary, departmental, or program
level—for good reason. “Yet working across units to
imagine a new integrated option in the liberal arts, for
students of quite different majors, has given me a broader
perspective on undergraduate education, and a deeper
understanding and appreciation of my colleagues in other
departments,” he says.
One main reason faculty involved believe that
Cornerstone will be successful is that it is integrated into a
student’s chosen course of study.
“Learning how to learn and collaborate effectively is the
ideal preparation for the varied and unpredictable career
paths that are normal in the 21st century,” Syson says.
Kain points to the profound changes and “disruptions”
that shape life in the 21st century. “As much as we need
highly trained experts in various professions, we need
leaders of all kinds that are reflective and creative and wise,
and as individuals, we better be prepared for complicated
career trajectories that we haven’t yet imagined,” he says.
“An integrated liberal arts education can inspire us, teach
us how to grapple with puzzles and disagreements and
By Dorothy Wallheimer. Artwork by Jarrod Hurt (page 21).
Purdue president Mitch Daniels welcomes University
advisors to a luncheon previewing Cornerstone Integrated
Liberal Arts. Photo by John Underwood.