Skip to content

Ergo | Spring 2016

Of Praise and Gratitude

A Message of Thanks

Editor's Note:  E. J. Coffman received the following message by e-mail on February 8, 2016, from former undergraduate student Robert Nowell.  It appears here by Robert's permission without emendation.

E.J.,
I want to send along a brief message thanking you and the rest of the philosophy department at UT for four years of top-notch education. If you wouldn't mind to share with the department, I would be grateful.

I am just starting in a research position at the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. In my spare time I am pursuing a master's degree in computational statistics. To some, it might seem a leap to transition from philosophy to medical research and computer science. But, you all know better: philosophy is an ideal foundation for nearly any field of future study.

Through our program I was exposed to the fundamentals and structure of learning. I found that every intellectual challenge could be engaged with and conquered by building up to a conclusion one logical step at a time. Look for the argument; find the unstated premises, and see how they build into arguments in favor of a conclusion. At UT, my education in philosophy was four years of exposure to a rigorous and challenging method which poises students to engage with highly challenging intellectual pursuits in every corner of their future lives. Philosophy is an all-purpose degree in the broadest and most meaningful sense.

It is entirely thanks to the philosophy faculty at UT that I was lucky enough to learn these lessons. My education with UT took me through philosophy and bioethics courses in New Zealand, Costa Rica, Yale University and Harvard College, and these experiences solidified my conclusion: the philosophy faculty at the University of Tennessee are a special group. From my first introductory course through to my senior thesis, the UT philosophy faculty showed themselves to be uniquely approachable and committed to their students' development as serious critical thinkers. It is worth emphasizing the time that professors took and the energy they invested to guide me in my education.

Starting at the close of my freshman year, David Palmer worked with me one on one for nearly a year, challenging me to engage with leading scholars in the philosophy of free will. Over the summer we met weekly, often at his home, for hours on end, as he guided me through the first stages of scholarship in philosophy. His efforts were significantly above and beyond his duty as an educator. David was extraordinarily patient and attentive, and, at nineteen years old, this evidence that he believed in my ability to contribute to contemporary philosophical scholarship instilled in me a confidence in my own intellectual potential that still inspires my efforts today.

John Nolt further exhibited the extraordinary commitment to student development which is emblematic of UT's philosophy faculty. He facilitated my pursuit of independent study in pursuits as diverse as environmental ethics and advanced formal logic, and I believe among my parents' proudest moments was seeing my name in the acknowledgements section of Environmental Ethics for the Long Term.

Adam Cureton has read more drafts of my essays, short and long, than would be appropriately expected of any faculty member. Through thesis struggles and scholarship applications, I have been continually inspired by his selflessness and unfailing geniality.

Through all four years, EJ Coffman has been there patiently answering my questions and offering guidance from my first interest in philosophy, and I thank him for all of the time he spent helping me navigate the bureaucracy of study at UT and abroad, as well as his great enthusiasm for revitalizing the UT philosophy club. I thank EJ Coffman and John Nolt especially for submitting an extravagant quantity of recommendation letters on my behalf.

My education through the philosophy department at UT was one which nurtured my passion for intellectual challenge, and I was time and again provided mentorship which facilitated the direction of my efforts. I am immensely thankful for everyone involved with the department, and I owe many thanks to you all for my recent and future successes.

Kind regards,
Robert Nowell


The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.