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Personal passion is often the driver that motivates an individual to pursue a Master of Liberal Arts degree. Candidates have a lifelong love of learning and want to enhance their broader understanding of the world, says Ramsey Fowler, director for the MLA program at St. Edward’s University. Or they want to explore a project that could become a novel or an art installation or something that currently lacks definition, Fowler says.

Tony Weber enrolled in the MLA program at St. Edward’s after abandoning a plan to pursue a PhD in English. The interdisciplinary nature of the MLA program appealed to him: “You had to engage in studies of sociology, psychology, literature, philosophy and theology to build a mastery of the liberal arts,” he says. As part of his final project, he completed a novel he’d been writing for some time.

 Lori Najvar used her time in the MLA program to explore her Czech-Texas heritage. “It seemed like the ideal landscape to explore a topic that you identify with by doing your own research,” Najvar says. Immersing herself in writing, reading and research in various disciplines gave her insights into her own identity and the Czech-Texas culture she’d been raised in. Ultimately, she launched a nonprofit venture called PolkaWorks that creates documentaries and exhibits. Perhaps not surprisingly, one project produced by the nonprofit was called “Texas Czechs: Rooted in Tradition,” which grew out of Najvar’s MLA research.

 “I liked the small size of the classes at St. Edward’s,” Najvar says. “I appreciated that my professors were deeply engaged in empowering me to do my own research. They were passionate about encouraging me.”

Weber says the MLA education has also proven valuable to his current work as director of development for Catholic Extension. “Anything I can do to enhance my ability to relate to people helps me in my work as a fundraiser,” Weber says. The liberal arts approach to education not only gave him deeper understanding of the world and its interconnectedness, he says, but it also honed his ability to think, write, analyze and speak on almost any topic. “Those seem to be rare skills these days,” Weber says. “I think that makes me valuable to almost any future employer.”

The Master of Liberal Arts program at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, allows students to design their own program, explore their passions and deepen their understanding of the human experience.

Joel Hoekstra is a freelance wrtier.