The Spanish phrase “sin fronteras,” which translates to “without borders,” drives Philip J. Williams’ vision for the College of Liberal Arts (CLA).
Williams was named the new Cal Poly CLA dean in February and stepped into the role this August. Previously a political science professor and director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida, he said his vision for the college incorporates an interdisciplinary focus, as well as a collaboration across departments.
“When I talk about my vision, I borrow from Spanish, and I call the liberal arts ‘sin fronteras’ [which] means ‘without borders,’ but it’s actually broader than that,” Williams said. “When I talk about ‘sin fronteras’ I mean without borders, without boundaries and without barriers.”
Williams’ vision relates to his background in internationalism. As an undergraduate at UCLA, Williams studied abroad in the UK and returned to earn both his master’s degree in Latin American studies and doctorate in politics from the University of Oxford.
Williams said he hopes to expand study abroad opportunities to more CLA students.
“I’d like to set more ambitious goals for the college,” Williams said. “A liberal arts education should bring the world to our students through international education opportunities, through coursework and through co-curricular activities.”
The ‘without boundaries’ angle to Williams’ approach focuses on interdisciplinary initiatives and cultivating a culture of acknowledging different perspectives. Williams said he sees potential specifically in the liberal arts and engineering studies, as well as within CLA’s new interdisciplinary studies major.
Challenges in the workplace and the world cannot be solved through a single discipline but rather through approaching the situation from multiple perspectives, according to Williams.
“The third area ‘without barriers’ really refers to that focus on diversity, equity and inclusion at Cal Poly,” Williams said.
He stressed the importance of giving all students access to all the resources and experiences Cal Poly offers.
“Regardless of your financial situation, regardless of being an underrepresented student or a first-generation student, you shouldn’t have any barriers to really participate in fully the opportunities that are available here,” Williams said.
Williams said he wants to make himself available for students as well.
“It’s important to me to also be very accessible to students,” Williams said.