Klawe Promotes Liberal Arts In Speech At Pakistani University


Man and woman smile together and take selfie
HMC President Maria Klawe poses for a selfie with Habib University President Wasif Rizvi. Klawe visited Habib to give a speech to students Tuesday. (Courtesy of Habib University)

Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe gave a lecture Tuesday at Habib University in Karachi, Pakistan, titled “The Importance of a Broad Education: The story of building an innovative university and impacting society.”

Habib is Pakistan’s first of just a few liberal arts universities. Inspired by HMC, it has a core curriculum that exposes students to the humanities, arts, and natural and social sciences. It was chartered in 2012 and will graduate its first class this year.

The speech was part of Habib’s annual Yohsin Lecture Series, designed to bring distinguished scholars, artists, and critics to Habib to engage with the university’s faculty and students, according to the series’ website.

“‘Yohsin’ is a verb that comes from Habib’s motto relating to grace, generosity, and excellence,” the website states. “The Yohsin Lecture Series is thus meant to promote thought that approaches these qualities.”

Klawe wrote in an email to TSL that her talk discussed “the importance of a broad education in preparing graduates to understand the impact of their work on society,” which echoes HMC’s mission statement.

During her speech, Klawe described HMC’s founding story and the origin of its mission statement. The founding president, Joe Platt, objected to the development of the atomic bomb, and was one of the few physicists in the United States that refused to work on the Manhattan Project.

Platt founded HMC “to educate scientists engineers and mathematicians who’d be leaders in their field and understand the impact of their work on society,” Klawe said in her talk.

During the lecture, Klawe revealed many personal elements of her journey from a young undergraduate at HMC to becoming its president — her trip to Pakistan for the speech was not her first time in the country.

Klawe dropped out of school for 21 months to travel across India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, before going back to HMC and continuing on to get a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Alberta.

“I loved being in those countries, and I will say I was very skinny,” Klawe said. “The thinnest I’ve ever been in my life … the person and I who were traveling together, we were living on about a dollar a day, and that included travel, and so we were eating maybe a banana a day,” Klawe said.

Klawe eventually discovered that her passion was to “change the culture of science and engineering so everybody feels welcome and supported; that region or gender or race, country of origin — those things are irrelevant, they don’t matter. But the way most places function, if you’re female, or black, or gay, or Muslim, you’re not going to feel like you belong.”

Klawe’s lecture is the latest element of a partnership between Habib and HMC, which started when Habib President Wasif Rizvi visited Klawe in Claremont about two years ago.

“Habib University was already in discussions with Pitzer about a possible collaboration, and was looking at our CS and engineering programs as well,” Klawe wrote in her email to TSL. “Since we are one of a very small number of liberal arts colleges with CS and engineering majors, [Rizvi] was interested in how our educational approaches might transfer to Habib University.”

Last year, HMC held a teleconferencing session with Habib faculty to discuss pedagogical techniques and practices.

“It included faculty from many different departments and I very much enjoyed hearing about what they were doing with their students,” HMC Associate Dean for Faculty Development Rachel Levy wrote in an email to TSL.

Habib faculty have also visited HMC to learn about its Clinic Program.

“It’s very inspirational to see how far Habib has come in the last four years,” she wrote. “It’s amazing to me how they have created a real liberal arts learning community in such a short period. The students are incredibly thoughtful about how much they have learned and how it has changed they way they see their country and their future.”

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