Math professor and students around a whiteboard outside
Building on our Past, Reimagining the Future of the Liberal Arts
Trinity’s interdisciplinary approach centers teaching, undergraduate research

In the midst of crushing uncertainty wrought by the pandemic, Trinity University made a bold move. Rather than retrench, the 150-year-old institution decided that now is precisely the time to invest deeply in the liberal arts, breaking ground on a new home for the Humanities in May 2021. More importantly, the 40,000-square-foot Dicke Hall would become a symbol of Trinity’s commitment to epistemological progress. 

Built using a green process called mass timber construction, the three-story structure represents the core of Trinity’s institutional ethos, channeling pragmatism and innovation to create something entirely new. Mass timber buildings have primary load-bearing structures—wall, floor, and roof construction—made of either solid or engineered wood. They have a lighter carbon footprint, provide fire and life safety, and feature biophilic aspects linked to improved health and well-being. 

The project’s faculty and staff stewards saw the building as an opportunity to celebrate the importance of the liberal arts, but also a way to physically signal the institution’s commitment to thinking critically and challenging closely-held practices through conjecture and reason. This, they believed, was a way of manifesting a commitment to the future of the liberal arts.

The Trinity skyline can be seen beyond the rooftop of Dicke Hall.

“The need to support and advance a liberal arts education has never been more important,” says Trinity University President Danny Anderson. “The human challenges ahead of us are immense. We must face them standing on a strong foundation, but one that evolves to help us play a transformative role.”

To that end, Dicke Hall will complete the Chapman-Halsell-Dicke Complex, which brings together the Departments of Classical Studies, Economics, English, History, Philosophy, and Religion, along with Health Care Administration and the Michael Neidorff School of Business. This Complex expands a practice that is a hallmark of Trinity’s interdisciplinary approach: undergraduate research. Programs such as the Humanities Collective and the Mellon Initiative, which promote and coordinate faculty and student research in the Humanities, will enjoy productive collisions in this space.

A recent productive collision? The Trinity University Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics (TUWIA) History Project, a part of Trinity’s Mellon Initiative Summer Institute where students participate in meaningful undergraduate research alongside current and emeriti faculty and staff. The TUWIA Project highlights the experiences of women student-athletes at Trinity, especially in the decades after the landmark Title IX passed in 1972. While undergraduate programs like these teach critical research skills, students also make relevant contributions and connections to the larger questions and answers.

(left to right) University archivist Abra Schnur, Ardi Saunders '22, Zoe Grout '22, history professor Lauren Turek, Samantha Henry '22, and H Walker-Tamboli '23

“My biggest takeaway is that pioneer women truly fought for women like myself to be able to compete in sports at a high level today. Without their fight, strength, and empowerment, women's sports would not have achieved the success that it has,” said Samantha Henry ’22, one of the most recent cohort of student researchers.

At a time when so much of this work has been rendered “virtual,” faculty leaders are celebrating the notion of having space to connect. “I hope to see a lot of interaction not only between students from different departments, but between faculty and students outside the classroom, breaking down the artificial boundaries between what happens in the classroom and what happens in the hallways,” says Tim O’Sullivan, classical studies professor and co-chair of the Chapman-Halsell-Dicke Complex construction project. 

This is Trinity’s vision of the future of the liberal arts: learning together by moving beyond the walls of disciplines. “Trinity University is unique in its support for and advancement of the arts and humanities through interdisciplinary approaches to academic and student life. This is how we will foster and accelerate human inquiry,” Anderson says. 

Students visit Neidorff gallery


That inquiry must extend beyond the borders of campus as well, which is why the university is growing its support of programs such as Arts, Letters, and Enterprise (ALE). Founded in 2013, ALE is Trinity’s one-of-a-kind connection between the liberal arts classroom and the professional world. The program connects humanities, arts, and STEM students with area nonprofits for highly competitive internships. These internships are fully sponsored by Trinity and made possible through the generosity of donors and the dedication of mentors at each nonprofit.

“ALE internships are a bridge between knowledge and application, showing students that experience also is a valuable teacher,” Anderson explains. Students intern with groups as diverse as the Carver Community Center, which celebrates and studies Black history and culture in San Antonio, to Green Spaces Alliance, whose mission is to sustain the natural environment through land conservation, community gardens, and education efforts. 

finance professor shage zhang speaks with a student looking at a textbook


Even as the University works to expand its impact in teaching, research and service, Trinity is making bold moves to add its unique voice to the conversation around the liberal arts nationally. Recently, Trinity petitioned for and received reclassification from Carnegie as a Baccalaureate Arts & Sciences institution, which will result in the college moving to the National Liberal Arts category in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Anderson said the new classification better reflects the core of Trinity’s institutional mission, and positions Trinity to engage with other colleges in a shared purpose.

Anderson says the University seeks to engage in an exchange of ideas beyond Trinity’s red brick walls. “Building bridges to peer institutions helps us all find our way toward new horizons in higher education,” he says. Connect with Trinity and learn more about the institution’s innovative investment in the humanities and liberal arts.

Tess Coody-Anders '93 is the vice president for Trinity University Strategic Communications and Marketing.

You might be interested in