For the Love of the Liberal Arts

December 4, 2012
By Tracey Quinlan Dougherty
From the 2012 Fall/Winter Magazine

Between the two of them, Scott Bok, C’81, W’81, L’84, and Roxanne Conisha Bok, C’81, have launched an investment banking firm, renovated an historic inn, started a horse farm, published a memoir and raised two children. What do they say helped make it possible? The intellectual curiosity they developed in their liberal arts courses in the College. That’s why they give back to SAS at every chance, supporting everything from a faculty chair in the humanities and student scholarships to the renovation of Bennett Hall and the establishment of the Integrated Studies Program (ISP). Through ISP, College students in the Benjamin Franklin Scholars program live together in Riepe College House and participate in courses specially designed to bring together the humanities, social sciences and sciences to examine the key concepts of our world. “We don’t like to be narrow in how we give our support,” says Scott Bok, a University trustee and former SAS overseer. “If you believe in the institution you should give them some latitude. We try to do whatever our circumstances allow and touch on as many aspects as possible.”

For both of them, the breadth of the liberal arts is what’s key. “Who knows what’s around the corner?” asks Roxanne Bok, who was an economics major. “This kind of education makes you a thinker who can be nimble and adjust.” Scott Bok, who majored in political science, echoes this, saying, “Whatever your career focus is, you really ought to have a core education in things like history, literature, philosophy and art in order to understand the world more broadly.”

The Boks are certainly not alone in their belief. Time and again donors to the School have underscored the value of the liberal arts to their own lives, to those of future students, to the University and to society as a whole.

Enriching Lives

Eric Levin, C’92, feels his double major in history and economics and minor in art history gave him much more than the skills to run his business: They spurred interests that enrich his life. “I never would have taken art history if it hadn’t been a requirement, but I loved it, and I continue to be interested in art to this day,” he says. “I wanted to pass that on to another student.” So he and his wife Jennifer Levin have created two scholarships to give College students from South Florida the same opportunity. Eric says he was influenced in part by the generosity of his father, Stephen Levin, C’67, who showed his own commitment to liberal education by endowing the annual Levin Family Dean’s Forum—SAS’s premier event showcasing leading intellectual figures and recognizing outstanding students—in Eric’s honor in 2008. “I was overwhelmed that he would do that,” Eric says. “I’d like to do the same thing for my children one day.”

Connecting Students to the World

Elizabeth Flynn Granville-Smith, C’91, WG’96, recently created a scholarship for College students and a fund for summer language study for participants in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business. Having majored in economics and history with a heavy emphasis on Latin American language and culture, she says she made her gift because she views the humanities, particularly language studies, as a “window into culture and background that builds a connection between people.” Now the managing director of an investment firm and a member of the Huntsman advisory board, she says, “For any young person coming out of college today, having language as part of their toolbox will allow them to be more productive and better at what they do because they’re going to be working in a global environment.”

Enriching the Campus Experience

Daniel Nir, C’82, W’82, and his wife Jill Braufman see an investment in the humanities as a boon to the entire Penn community. Their scholarship for College students participating in creative writing and their support for Kelly Writers House are vivid examples. “Attracting creative kids creates a strong cultural center,” Braufman says. “The richer and more varied a university like Penn is perceived to be makes it more appealing to a broader range of students, and that enriches everybody’s experience.” Nir agrees. “The people I met were the single biggest influence on me at Penn. When I graduated, someone I had met at school hired me and got me started in my career,” says the former history and marketing student who went on to found an asset management firm. “Expanding the breadth of students and faculty at the University changes the opportunities for all students to learn from different people with different interests.”

Impacting Society

When Jane Pollock, C’85, and her husband Philip Berney recently added to the scholarship they had established in memory of Philip’s father, Joseph H. Berney, W’53, they chose to designate it specifically for College students. Pollock, who’s worked in advertising and fundraising and is now working on a documentary and series of essays about breast cancer, sees the scholarship as a chance to impact not only an individual student but the larger society as well. “With a liberal arts education, who knows what students can become,” says the one-time intellectual history major. “Who knows what teacher will influence them, what subject, what article, or what poem. There’s that serendipity of not knowing what the spark will be, but it’s really exciting to know they’re going to have the opportunity to be sparked by something. No one knows what the future is, but if people are broadly prepared for it, maybe they’ll go out and do something specific and huge and incredible.”