President Lawrence tells Chamber of Commerce of Brandeis' commitment to community, liberal arts

Photo/Mike Lovett

President Lawrence addresses the Chamber of Commerce.

President Fred Lawrence outlined many significant contributions that Brandeis students make to Waltham schools, community organizations and causes to about 400 people who attended the Annual Meeting and Business Luncheon of the Waltham West Suburban Chamber of Commerce at the Westin Waltham-Boston Hotel on Monday, Jan. 9.

Delivering the meeting’s keynote address, he also made an impassioned case for the value of a liberal arts education.

Lawrence noted that Brandeis joined the Chamber in 1964, just 16 years after the university was founded. “We’re proud of the Chamber membership and what it represents. Three hundred Brandeis employees — staff and faculty — are Waltham residents, earning a total of $11.7 million annually,” he said.

“We’re also proud of our place in Waltham and our partnerships with organizations and programs in the city,” he said, adding that Brandeis students understand that they gain much from the community and are committed to giving back in return.

“We take seriously our commitment to be active members of the community,” Lawrence said. Brandeis students “really understand that this is just as much a part of their education as what goes on in the classroom,” and last year devoted 56,000 hours of community service to organizations serving greater Waltham.

He offered some specific examples of student involvement in the community, saying they embody the spirit of social justice that is a foundation of Brandeis. These include:

  • The Waltham Group, the largest student-run club at Brandeis, which has more than 600 student volunteers and partners with all 10 Waltham public schools and 16 Waltham-based non-profit organizations.
  • After school programs and tutoring, which serve roughly 425 youngsters from kindergarten through grade 12, including SAT prep and cultural and language instruction.
  • Activities and instruction that assist the community on issues such as transportation, elder care, adults with disabilities, children with autism, immigrant support, Haitian community literacy and community beautification.
  • Instruction in basic computer skills for adult English as Second Language Learners, in partnership with the United Way and the Charles River Public Internet Center.
  • Programs that focus on health and obesity through partnerships with Healthy Waltham, the Waltham Public Schools, the Joseph M. Smith Community Center and Mt. Auburn Hospital.
  • Staff support at the WATCH Tenant Advocacy Center, a free drop-in center that serves low income tenants.
  • An annual scholarship program for four city students to attend Brandeis.
  • Volunteers who collected more than 3,000 local food and non-perishable items for local shelters and prepared meals twice a month. 

Addressing the challenges facing higher education today, and the difficult choices confronting families as they weigh the value of a college investment, Lawrence urged the audience to look beyond the skills that today’s graduates need after commencement.

He said it is impossible to imagine the working world 30 years in the future, so solely teaching university students skills specific to today’s job market is unfair to those students. Instead, he said, educators must focus on developing areas of competence in their students that will prepare them to adapt to a rapidly evolving world – and an ever-changing workplace.

The ability to analyze information and solve problems, to communicate clearly, verbally and in writing and to think creatively will prepare graduates for the future, he said. We also want them to be who they are, to find inspiration in that, he added.

 “I believe with all my heart that a true liberal arts education is the most practical education there is,” Lawrence said.

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