Wichita State News

Close mentoring is one key to success for WSU philosophy department

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

David Soles
David Soles
David Soles is pretty impressed with the way things have been going in Wichita State’s philosophy department. And he has reason to be: Since the department began keeping records from the early 1990s, every one of the more than 50 philosophy undergrads who have applied to graduate school has been accepted.

That includes schools such as the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, the top rated philosophy doctoral program in the world; the University of Pittsburgh, which boasts the top program in the United States; as well as Harvard, Cornell and MIT.

“We think that it is impressive,” said Soles, chair of WSU’s philosophy department. “It reflects very well on us. We are known throughout the nation for producing extremely capable philosophers.”

Pushing excellence

Soles credits close professor-student relationships, demanding classes and high-quality professors with graduates’ success.

In hiring at WSU, Soles said, the first consideration for the philosophy department is a candidate’s potential as a teacher.

Three members of the department have received the John R. Barrier Excellence in Teaching Award; two have received the WSU Excellence in Teaching Award; one has received the WSU Leadership in the Advancement of Teaching Award; and one has received the George A. Lewis Teaching Award.

“Everyone in the department is an excellent teacher,” Soles said.

The philosophy faculty also takes advising seriously, making sure that their majors are taking courses in other departments from faculty who will push them.

Getting into a top tier Ph.D. program or law school – about one-third of the graduates go to law school – requires scoring in the 90-plus percentile on the GRE or LSAT.

“We provide the sort of education that makes that possible,” Soles said.

Mentoring relationships

Soles said the department is a fairly tight-knit community. There is a faculty/student lounge adjacent to the main office, and faculty make a point of spending several hours a week there.

“We have very close mentoring relationships with our students … drinking coffee and discussing philosophy and general intellectual topics,” Soles said. “We get to know our students very well and are able to steer them to the appropriate sorts of programs.”

Alumnus Dale Miller, who went on to complete his graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh, said the time in that lounge spent with professors is a highlight for students.

“Philosophy students at WSU are fortunate that the department has space for a departmental lounge, where students are encouraged to spend time between classes, and where they have ample access to faculty outside of the classroom,” Miller said. “My experience at WSU was comparable to being at a liberal arts college.”

Students in the department also have the chance to get on-the-job experience while earning their degree. Soles said many students work as tutors in the Logic Clinic or as discussion leaders in introductory classes.

“This not only provides them with a salary to help defray their college expenses, but also is attractive to graduate programs; they know that our students are ready to be responsible TAs when they arrive,” Soles said.

Miller, who is now professor, department chair and co-director of the Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs at Old Dominion University (Va.), counts himself lucky that he went to WSU.

“At WSU, every philosophy class I took was from a faculty member with a Ph.D., and the undergraduates were treated like graduate students,” he said. “Wichita State’s philosophy department gave me an excellent grounding in all of the major areas of philosophy.”

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Created on Wednesday, March 06, 2013; Last modified on Tuesday, March 19, 2013