Contemplating the College

The College of Arts & Sciences Blog

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Dean’s List…Of Summer Reading

I binge-read every summer. It could be the warmer weather or having more daylight hours (especially in Spokane!). The (slightly) slower pace of the workday might also mean I have more energy to focus on a book in the evenings. Whatever the reason, I just read more during the summer. 

For those of you who might ask, “How can a dean have time to read?” I answer that I wouldn’t feel like I’d be a good dean of a College of Arts and Sciences without time to read, especially novels and fiction (the humanities!) and non-fiction (about diversity and science!). And the social scientist in me revels in the psychological and social dynamics at play in fictional and real life. Reading also re-charges my energy and has expanded what I think is possible in life, including my own life as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, colleague, and citizen. 

But I didn’t always love reading. After a childhood filled with many trips to the public library (my parents were thrifty and would rarely spend money on books unless they were reference books I’d use over and over again), I lost interest in college. I did not perform well in my initial literature and poetry classes, and it felt punishing to read: Clearly, I was doing it all wrong, I thought. It was only later that I was able to see that my peers were more prepared to read critically and write the kinds of papers that earned As. I discovered how to write well in graduate school, and shortly after that, I began reading again. I am heartened by CAS faculty and staff who work closely with students to recognize their potential and nourish their curiosity so they can thrive in college and beyond. 

So, what are some of the books on my summer reading list? 

Fiction

The Deep by River Solomon – A powerful Afrofuturistic tale about the transformation of grief and the loss of life of enslaved African people.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn – How the power of the land beats on in a Hawaiian family as told by each family member.

Pigs by Johanna Stoberock – This was recommended to me by a fellow Humanities Washington board member; a dystopian tale that weaves together themes of childhood innocence, adult greed, waste and sustainability.

Weather by Jenny Offill – A university librarian who gets roped into answering an advice column and learn more than she wants to know about human nature.

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson – Map-making, monarchy, jinn, and power struggles on the Iberian peninsula during the last sultanate. Intriguing, right?

Non-Fiction

The Alchemy of Us by Ainissa Ramirez – Hidden stories of the scientific discoveries that have shaped us as a species, written by a Black materials scientist who left academia and now engages in science communication.

Once I Was You by Maria Hinojosa – A Latina journalist’s memoir of straddling two worlds, working on imposter syndrome, and taking ownership of her talents

The Disordered Cosmos by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein – A non-binary Black astrophysicist explains the order and disorder of the universe

How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell – A biracial (Filipina/white) artist describes how being too attached to a capitalist, digital economy can harm our being. I selected this one because I tend toward overcommitting myself and I’m always looking for ways to live a more balanced life.

Lessons from Plants by Beronda Montgomery – A Black plant biologist draws parallels between the health of plants and what we need as humans to thrive.

What are you reading or listening to?

What is the College?

When people ask me what I do, and I say I am dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Gonzaga University, I initially get some impressed looks. (Wow, a dean!) But the next two questions are “What does a dean do?” and “Arts and Sciences? What is that?” Both are good questions but let’s start with the second (I’ll answer the first question in another post). The College is home to a range of disciplines spanning the fine and performing arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences in 23 departments. With 33 majors and 48 minors to choose from, it may seem like the College is just a hodgepodge of disciplines with no relation to each other. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Beautiful day outside College Hall, former home to the College.

This collection of disciplines is the core of a Catholic, Jesuit, and humanistic education. Each component helps us reflect on ourselves and our place in the world, appreciating and celebrating our differences and uniqueness, whether at the atomic, cellular, individual, interpersonal, or societal levels. In the College, we ask fundamental questions: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here on this Earth? and How can we use our knowledge, skills, and creativity to work together to solve life’s great problems? What sets Gonzaga’s College apart is that faculty, staff, and students have the opportunity to explore and learn together in a community that values the whole person—body, mind, and spirit. Each student is more than their grades or what they produce. This means that the education we offer in the College is limitless and can transform how we interact with others and build a better world. In two recent interviews, College of Arts and Sciences faculty and students shared their perspectives about what they are learning. As you will see, a College of Arts and Sciences education is more than meets the eye.

Collection of art objects at the Gonzaga University Urban Arts Center.
Artwork from the senior art show, April 2021.

Almost all Gonzaga undergraduates pass through the College as they journey through the University Core. It is here they gain skills that will support success throughout their lives, including ethical decision-making, critical thinking, self-reflection, and the ability to work effectively with people from diverse backgrounds. I have been impressed with how well our students can articulate how courses across the College foster a growth mindset that will serve them well into the future whether they pursue careers in health care, research, art and performance, education, public service, ministry, or business and industry. For instance, in this interview, students with a range of majors including Biology and Environmental Studies, describe how printmaking (Art) and creative writing (English) classes helped them develop their self-reflection. These creative problem-solving, and reasoning skills have served them well in other classes and will come in handy in their career and in life.

“These lessons will take them far in fulfilling career paths where they can also enjoy themselves and create lasting friendships.”

In the College, we apply this sensibility to our work outside the classroom too. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing students and faculty who participate in Model UN program and Debate teams and was inspired by their knowledge about current events and issues facing people worldwide but with their ability to see how they valued being part of a team. Supporting their colleagues in honing their arguments and having fun as they practiced their written and oral reasoning skills was as much a part of the learning process as their research. These lessons will take them far in fulfilling career paths where they can also enjoy themselves and create lasting friendships.

I hope that this small introduction to what we do in the College provides some initial answers to “What is the College of Arts and Sciences?” I’ll share more about individual departments and degree programs in future posts to provide a deeper understanding of how each program develops students in the Jesuit, Catholic, and humanistic traditions.


Annmarie Caño, Ph.D. is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a Professor of Psychology at Gonzaga University.

Welcome to Contemplating the College!

Portrait of Dean Dr. Annmarie Caño, photo by Zack Berlat.
Dr. Annmarie Caño, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Photo by Zack Berlat

When I was thinking of names for this blog, I had many words swirling in my head. How do I convey what we do in the College of Arts and Sciences in the fewest words possible when the College spans the natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities, and visual and performing arts? How do I also point out that our Jesuit heritage is integral to what we do across this broad range of seemingly disparate disciplines? It took some time but Contemplating the College fits because that is exactly what I was doing when I reflected on what we have to offer students and families, alumni, and our wider community. Staying true to our roots as a university founded by the Jesuits, who were in turn founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, we regularly engage in thoughtful and intentional reflection about the work we have been missioned to do. Students, staff, and faculty in the College contemplate what it means to be human, what our place is in the world, and how we can better serve our communities.

In this blog, I will be sharing my contemplations about the College, its people, and our impact. Some of these reflections will be on the innovative work we’ve accomplished this past pandemic year, which is also my first year at Gonzaga. Some posts will be about hopes and plans we have for the future of the College. I hope that you will get to know our work better and find a home for yourself here, whether it’s as a student, staff, faculty member, alumni, friend, supporter, or partner. Welcome and happy reading!

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