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Scholarship creates new opportunities for philosophy students

Last updated December 2, 2014

By News administrator


Sarah Worth ’92 can give a lot of concrete reasons why you should major in philosophy.

Philosophy majors score the highest on the verbal and analytical writing sections of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Only biology majors beat them on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). No humanities major tops philosophy graduates in starting salary and percent salary increase to mid-career.

Now she can also give you one for why you should major in philosophy at Furman.

Beginning this year, the department began awarding scholarships to four incoming freshmen who have shown in interest in the field. The students split $72,000 annually for four years, and at least according to information on that is far and away the largest grant awarded to incoming undergraduate philosophy students in the country.

“That’s huge. That’s a big chunk of change to be able to go study philosophy,” Worth, the Furman Philosophy Department chair, says. “The huge benefit is we can get people in the door their freshman year knowing that this is what they want to do, so we can compete for some of the best students in the country.”

The inaugural recipients are Sarah Byrd ’18 of Fairhope, Ala., Abby Dow ’18 of Sacramento, Calif., Allie Johnson ’18 of Columbia, S.C., and Kathleen Smith ’18 of Butler, Pa. Byrd and Smith have already said they plan to be philosophy majors, but another thing that makes these scholarships unique is that they don’t have to. Either way, the money is guaranteed.

“They have to take a minimum of four courses, and they have to have one of us an advisor,” Worth said. “We have to involve them, but we don’t actually require them to major. . . We don’t want to tie people with their scholarships to the department.”

Smith said the money helped push her in Furman’s direction, and her early experience has been even better than she had hoped.

“The scholarship was kind of secondary to location I guess, but it was definitely something that locked up my interest,” she said. “I love the class I’m in right now. I’m just in introductory philosophy, but it’s been really great . . . I want to work with families in crisis, and I hope to do that through law so it matches nicely with my career goals.”

Dow wanted to go to school in the Southeast after her parents elected to move to Tennessee, and she first heard of Furman when she Googled “best liberal-arts schools in the South.” She’s not committed to a major yet, but philosophy is a real possibility.

“I like that you get to question some of the bigger things, questions like why instead of facts and challenging you to think bigger and have an open mind,” she said. “I’m in Dr. Worth’s intro to philosophy right now, and it’s my favorite class at Furman.”

Worth says there are currently about 60 philosophy majors at Furman, and over her 16 years she’s seen the number as low as 35 and as high as 70. That’s an excellent range, but her goal is always to make things better. The scholarships will only help.

“Most often people don’t come to college thinking they’re going to major in philosophy because they’ve never had it and they don’t know what it is. Our best chance (was) getting somebody from an intro class,” she said. “I want to raise the level of the kids. I want to raise the level of what we can do with them—more publications, more conference papers, just continue to grow the health of the department.”

With seven faculty members, Furman has shown a commitment to philosophy. Worth says that shows in the quality of graduates being churned out, who are turning abstract thinking into tangible real-world accomplishment.

“They go into the clergy, go into law. It’s just really good preparation for a whole bunch of things,” she said. “My standard line about philosophy is we teach people to read difficult things, to write clearly about those difficult concepts and to be able to articulate various positions about things. Those are very good job skills.”

For more on the Furman philosophy department click here.




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