- Linfield College
Program for Liberal Arts and Civic Engagement

What’s the Big Idea?

“What’s The Big Idea?” (WTBI) is a faculty-student learning community committed to cross-disciplinary inquiry and the life of the mind. WTBI consists of five faculty members and 10 students from various disciplines. We meet five times a year for dinner and discussion.

The goal of the group is to enhance the intellectual life of the campus and to help students develop the habits of intellectualism that will continue into their lives after Linfield.

As a group, we have read and discussed a variety of texts and ideas. We have read short stories such as Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” We have also read articles on history—Kieth Thor Carlson’s “Reflections on Indigenous History and Memory” for example—and on science, i.e. Max Tegmark’s “Parallel Universes.” We culminate the year by having the students organize similar groups with other faculty and peers.

Students have found the group rewarding:

My experience with WTBI was probably one of the highlights of my time at Linfield. There is something about gathering with professors and fellow students with the common purpose of delving into a specific idea that seems quintessentially "college". The opportunity to converge with faculty and students from other departments -- especially ones that I have never interacted with before -- made for an array of perspectives that I wouldn't have considered. The close-knit dynamics of the professors and their back-and-forth banter gave the meetings a feeling of closeness. In such a setting, it is as if we are trying to solve and figure out things together; we are engaging in an idea as people in the same time and place within the context of history with all the unknowingness that it entails.

Thanks for a wonderful year!


Though technically I am an adult, I do not always consider myself one; having challenging discussions with professors (people I do consider adults) outside of class helped me to reassess my identity as a thinker. Being able to speak, hopefully mostly, intelligently with faculty and peers showed me that I am not just a student, I am someone can participate in such thought in the real world. The WTBI dinners also exposed me to people outside my department. The LC's ask us to go study beyond our regular disciplines, but exposure to other ways of thinking not always related to academic subjects was one of the most enriching experiences I had while at Linfield. Should an idea not come out as I intended, I could trust that the group would not judge me harshly, would know that I meant well, and that I simply had not fully worked the statement through. This experience, I think, epitomizes the best of what a liberal arts education can offer.


I have really enjoyed being a part of the WTBI reading group. At the most basic level it seems that the WTBI group discusses the nature of reality and how it is approached through the various disciplines represented. It has been very beneficial to step outside the boundaries of my own discipline and view the world through the spectacles of another. I have grown fond of discussing the deeper questions outside of the group. The readings have been difficult and have improved my ability to entertain challenging concepts. I love hearing the professors discuss and challenge each other. The main thing I will take away from the WTBI group is a deep appreciation for mystery, or 'not knowing'. Reality and Truth are elusive concepts when they are hunted by rational thought.

Thanks for letting me be a part of this wonderful group.