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About Shimer College
An Open Letter to Potential Students
M Louise Ripley, B.A. (Shimer), M.B.A., Ph.D.


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Dave Buchanan, Admissions Officer at Shimer College, often asks me to send a letter to students who are considering going to Shimer, particularly those who are considering teaching as a career. I did both and it has been a magical combination. 

I have two great lasting gifts in my life. One is the education I received at Shimer, and the other is a job I love so much that it defines part of who I am. I spent only my final two years at Shimer, but of the seventeen years I spent in post secondary education, it was by far the best education I ever received anywhere and it opened the doors to a career that I love: I now teach at York University in Toronto, and when my paycheque comes, I still marvel that they pay me for doing this.

My story is about how Shimer prepared me for my career. I knew from third grade that I wanted to teach. My father believed passionately in the value of a good liberal arts education. Way back in the 1960's, he said that the world changes too fast to know exactly at nineteen what you will want to/have to/love to do for a living when you are older. He said then that a good liberal arts education would give you the ability to do whatever you want to do. In today's even more rapidly changing world, this is even truer. I only wish he had lived long enough to see how right he was. If you looked at my résumé: what I have done, and what I am doing now, you would think that I was a fantastic long-range planner, but nothing could be farther from the truth. My Shimer education had taught me how to adapt.

I completed my Shimer B.A. in 1968 and taught in the local Mt. Carroll school system. Because I had changed universities, I had not had time to take any education courses, but I knew a lot about a lot of subjects, and I knew how to teach, having seen it done so well at Shimer. They needed teachers and so they gave me a job. I took my education courses and obtained my teaching certificate while teaching fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. I loved teaching, but I was married and my husband at the time stood as a resister to the United States Army draft and we went to Chicago when he was given alternative service. Thus I found myself in Chicago in the early 1970's with no teaching jobs available. So I took a job as a temporary switchboard operator in a small investment firm. 

To succeed in Finance, I needed an M.B.A., so I went back to school. I remembered Economics at Shimer consisting of things like discussions of the ethics of trade with Red China. I literally did not know what a supply and demand curve was, and I was competing with undergraduate business majors. Thanks to my Shimer education in reading, thinking, analyzing, and learning, I quickly caught up. I still remember sitting in an M.B.A. lecture in Microeconomics on pricing theory, and suddenly seeing the underlying connection between Calculus, Accounting, and Microeconomics, my first three courses in the M.B.A. I tried to explain my excitement to some of my classmates, but they, trained as they were in very narrow fields, with no liberal arts education to guide them, were not only unable to see my point, they really weren't very interested in hearing about it. This was their loss. That is what the world is really about: understanding the underlying relationships and connectedness of the world, and this is one of the best lessons provided by a Shimer education. 

I enjoyed some parts of the business world, and, due to the breadth of my Shimer education was able to function well, but ultimately could not abide the lack of social conscience I saw as necessary to truly succeed, and besides, I desperately missed teaching. I also had learned at Shimer to follow my heart and do what I love. I eventually parlayed my M.B.A. and my teaching experience into a contract teaching position at York University. Knowing I needed more education, I went back to get a Ph.D. Again, my Shimer education enabled me to succeed. I had an M.B.A. in Finance, but had decided that what I really wanted to do was Marketing. I had taken only one Marketing course in my life, but I knew it was based in all the things that I had loved in the Social Sciences at Shimer: human relationships and behaviour, psychology, anthropology, and sociology. So I got myself into the Marketing doctoral programme at the University of Toronto.

Once again, my Shimer education served me well. I knew how to study and how to learn. Soon I found that I could do the same work for the seminar in much less time than it took my classmates who had master's degrees in Marketing. This is not bragging, nor did it result in my having superior grades. It was a matter of survival. I was married, to a different husband by this time, one who could live with an educated woman. He is a small business owner, however, and we could not afford for me to quit work to do the doctorate. So I did it full time while working full time at York. Had I not learned so well at Shimer how to analyze and synthesize, how to critically read and write, how to balance my time, I simply would not have survived.

The confidence I acquired at Shimer enabled me to make the transition from teaching primary school to teaching university, and eventually to branch out from Business to also teach in Environmental Studies and Women's Studies, although I confess that I never told my first several years' students exactly where I had taught before; when they asked, I just said, "Chicago!" Shimer also gave me the expectation that I would be treated as an equal. No one ever questioned anything I said in a Shimer class because I was a female, or because I was "only a student." We all questioned each other, professors and students, men and women, because that was the process, but never because of inequality. This has given me a definite edge in the real world where prejudices do exist, but where, if you don't believe they relate to you, they often don't. There is something wonderful about having had an experience where you were truly valued for yourself regardless of gender, race, class, age, or academic status, which enables you to fight prejudice when you do encounter it. I also found that after completing a Shimer education, both the M.B.A. and the doctorate were easy by comparison. I never again found in any school or at any level of degree, the deeply exciting academic challenge that I found at Shimer.

The real reason for getting a Shimer education is the ability to find your own challenges, to keep educating yourself. It gives you a breadth of experience in all the arts that will sustain you through life. I am a voracious reader; during my doctorate I read, for fifteen minutes before bed, most of the contemporary Canadian female novelists. I love music, and have an eclectic taste for everything from jazz to country to Mozart. I love theatre. I love art  (well, I can't stand Rauschenberg, but that's a personal thing). I love talking to people, and can hold my own in almost any conversation because I know how to listen (another invaluable lesson in the Shimer experience), how to construct arguments, how to think on my feet. I was elected to the highest academic position at York - Chair of the University Senate, largely because I had impressed so many people in Senate with my ability to think on my feet, and to speak eloquently at a moment's notice. All this from a girl who in eighth grade used to throw up when asked to speak in public. Shimer gave me that confidence and those skills.

If you are considering teaching, particularly at the post-secondary level, you will need to be able to think, analyze, synthesize, and write, and to do it quickly and well. You will need a Shimer education. You will want further graduate education if you are going to pursue this career, and Shimer will give you the preparation to do it well. More than anything, however, your Shimer experience will give you the ability to continue educating yourself and enriching your life no matter what you choose to do.

Shimer is not an easy place. Classes are small; no class has more than twelve students. You have to prepare; classes take place around an octagonal table and there is nowhere to hide if you haven't read the material. If you cut class, your professor is going to run into you and ask, kindly, where you were. In the “real” world, of course, you can't teach a class that you haven't prepared for, you can't go into a University Senate meeting without having read the agenda, and you can't cut work the day you have to do a presentation.  Shimer College provides wonderful preparation for the real world.

I hope this letter conveys to you my passion for Shimer. You will have noticed that I refer often to "the Shimer experience." This is because many of the things taught at Shimer are not written into the formal curriculum, but are some of the most valuable lessons you will learn in your life. I wish you all the best in making your decision. If you would like to talk to me about Shimer, please feel free to email me at lripley@yorku.ca

Sincerely yours,


M Louise Ripley, B.A., M.B.A., Ph.D.
Professor of Marketing, Environmental Studies
   and Women's Studies
Retired Member, Shimer College Board of Trustees


York University, Toronto
© M Louise Ripley, M.B.A., Ph.D.