Professor Harry Lewis, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University and also External Examiner for the HKU Common Core Curriculum, addressed close to 300 students, teachers and alumni on the subject of “Excellence with a Soul: The Mission of Undergraduate Education” at the third Common Core Distinguished Lecture on October 30, 2012. He offered some thoughts on what students should hope to get out of their undergraduate education. “University is a process of preparation for the rest of your life, not a process of filling an empty vessel with facts and details that you can take out and use later on. You are preparing to lead a life in which your mind can ‘comprehend and make proper use of the modern world and all its opportunities,’” said Professor Lewis, quoting former US President Woodrow Wilson.
His presentation covered four points about going to university:
- Not to learn stuff, but to learn how to learn stuff
- Not to learn the answers, but to learn to ask the questions
- Not to become learned, but to acquire the spirit of learning
- Not for what you will remember, but for what you will become.
“Your real job is not just memorize enough to get good marks. Your real job is to come away with a way of thinking about your whole life. To make your classroom conversations echo in your mind as you pursue life outside the classroom. To see your life outside the classroom within frameworks you are discussing inside the classroom,” Professor Lewis further elaborated with a couple of examples of Common Core Courses.
“By all means use your time here to excel, to develop expertise in your chosen field of study. Become as skilled and proficient as you can in preparation for the next stage of your life. But in all your courses, watch for lessons about how others have lived their lives, for better and worse, and about how you should live yours,” said Professor Lewis.
What should students get from their undergraduate education? Not just knowledge and skills, but habits, values, and ideals. A great education leaves students empowered by their knowledge and humble about its limits, curious to learn more and skeptical about what they have been taught. Well-educated people can place the problems of their society in the course of human history, and can face their personal challenges in the context of what others before them have wondered about themselves. True educational excellence does not just transmit information; it inspires students and awakens their souls.
Professor Harry Lewis
Professor Harry Lewis is Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University. He served as Dean of Harvard College from 1995-2003. He holds A.B., A.M., and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard, all in Applied Mathematics.
Professor Lewis is the author of numerous books and articles in three areas of scholarship: theoretical computer science; the social implications of the development of the Internet; and the history and future of higher education. His books have had a significant influence on the teaching of computer science to undergraduates.
During his almost forty years of teaching, Professor Lewis has helped launch thousands of Harvard undergraduates into careers in computer science. His former students include dozens of today’s computer science professors and many successful entrepreneurs, including both Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
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