You Think, Therefore You Are

When Marta “Sol” Soledad Serpas-Guardado was a sophomore at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy (FALA), her social studies class had a visiting speaker. A Northern Arizona University philosophy student from the Philosophy Mentoring Program had come to talk to them about the benefits of philosophy. 

“Before that, I had no idea what philosophy was,” said Serpas-Guardado. “That experience was a big step towards realizing something I’d be interested in.”

Now, as a sophomore philosophy major at the university, Serpas-Guardado is in the Philosophy Mentoring Program herself. 

A program that complements high school curriculum

Two philosophy students, Whitney Rooney and Karlie Knutson, started the Philosophy Mentoring Program five years ago with help from Dr. Julie Piering, professor of philosophy, and Dr. Jeffrey Downard, associate professor of philosophy. NAU philosophy students began making appointments with various local high schools to introduce philosophy to their students, in a way that was both fresh and applicable to the class. 

Piering explained it was a nice way to give back to the community, cement knowledge for the university students, and provide high school students access to philosophy.

“Philosophy is not typically in the United States high school curriculum,” said Piering. “High school students live with determinate forces, yet they feel their burgeoning individuality. This program honors their freedom and encourages them to think about things they’ve never thought about before.”

Advantageous for all

The program averages between 10-15 presentations per semester and currently has six mentors. Ben Anderson, a high school teacher at FALA, said it has been an advantageous experience for everyone involved.

“I think it is a courageous act for the NAU students—high schoolers are a pretty unforgiving audience,” said Anderson. “However, I think it really helps to be forced to take complicated and abstract ideas and figure out how to describe those ideas in a way that beginners can understand.”

Philosophy Mentors
Kyle Beloin, a junior double major in philosophy and political science, is the leader of the Philosophy Mentoring Program.

Kyle Beloin, a junior double major in philosophy and political science, is the leader of the Philosophy Mentoring Program. He says the program has helped him build skills for teaching as well as solidify the concepts he is studying.

Both Serpas-Guardado and Beloin agree that philosophy is essential to producing well-informed citizens.

“It’s really important for students to know philosophy, so that whatever they study they can think about it. If we’re not thoughtful, we have other people making choices for us,” said Serpas-Guardado. “High school students have a fantastic capacity to think for themselves and make conclusions. Sometimes we take that away from them. This gives them the capacity to validate themselves.”

Encouraging the examined life

The Philosophy Department at the university strives to make their students knowledgeable about matters of public importance, said Philosophy Department chair Chris Griffin. 

“Better understanding of the human condition is understanding something of public import, and it presumably contributes to a citizenry that, when meaningful chances arise, guide public life in directions that enable us to live well and do right by one another,” Griffin explained. 

Beloin knows first-hand the benefit of being able to better understand the human condition and is excited to pass his knowledge along in a way that is meaningful to a younger group of students. 

“I always wanted to examine my life, in a philosophical way, but I didn’t know how to ask the questions,” Beloin said. “It would have been helpful to have people come into my high school and cultivate my interest in philosophy.”

Serpas-Guardado agrees, and stresses that they are only passing on the information that they have learned in college.

“NAU has a treasure of faculty in the Philosophy Department. They genuinely care about knowledge and truth and they want to share that with us,” said Serpas-Guardado. “We mentor the way they taught us.”