Briar Cliff University Professor Jeff Gard could not be more passionate in his belief that a liberal arts college education sets a person on a path to adaptive success as they move through life.
Gard asserts that college students who steep themselves in liberal arts courses will exit the graduation ceremony with a broad mind frame, which will serve them well in a world where they may shift jobs or careers since “there are no more straight paths anymore.”
“If you have that broad base, you can adapt with the times,” said Gard, who is in his sixth year as a professor for writing courses at BCU. “Versatility is a valuable skill. At the end of a liberal arts education, a Briar Cliff graduate will succeed. They will figure it out.”
Gard is the chair of the Arts & Humanities Department, a position he assumed three years ago after a redesigned department, which includes courses in english, writing, literature, Spanish, music, and art. The team of professors in the Arts & Humanities Department includes five full-time professors, one half-time professor, and some periodic adjunct instructors.
Gard said the Arts & Humanities Department professors have a collegial relationship where they can boost others and discuss challenges that arise in the department. He said his prior professional career in the business world armed him with lots of expertise in process improvement, which Gard said serves him well in working with colleagues.
“I had no ambitions to be the chair, but due to faculty turnover, I fell into the role,” he said, adding that it is healthy to have changes in department chairs, so fresh ideas can emerge to best serve BCU.
Students leaving with a degree from the department are versed in becoming technical writers, journalists, and visual designers, along with working in public relations, content development, and as translators.
As for himself, Gard initially worked as a print journalist for a few years, then moved into technical writing. He does fiction writing in addition to his professor role and remains very enthusiastic when writing students discover the subject matter that they can’t wait to write about.
“I think I can teach students the practicality of writing," he said. "I want them to find a topic that they are passionate about. I don’t think one size fits all."
Gard’s early life and academic path centered around a 50-mile radius of Chicago and southern Wisconsin, where he was raised. He attended private schools, then earned his undergraduate degree in journalism from Trinity International University. His first experience at a public institution came with a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.
He has long been sold on the value of private educational institutions.
“A private school is more intimate,” Gard said. “Private universities are always about community and relationships.”
Gard said that is very true at Briar Cliff, where students benefit from small class sizes and professors frequently have an open-door policy of being accessible to students.
“You can really get to know your professors and build a personal relationship. I don't know that you get that in larger universities,” he said.
Gard teaches many freshmen in writing classes and genuinely relishes that “I am one of the first faces they are going to see.”
He added that the proof of the strength of the professor-teacher relationship at BCU is seen on both sides of the equation, as former students will stop by as upperclassmen to catch up, while the group of professors at May commencement ceremonies are beaming to see so many graduates they came to know.
This is part of a series of Faculty Stories profiling all the chairs of BCU academic departments in 2023.