2019 Fuller Endowed Scholarship Winner

Ryley Olson

Philosophy Major, Senior, Class of 2020

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Before taking courses in ethical, social, and political philosophy, I thought that I needed to have a role in government or policy-making in order to create change. Studying these questions from a philosophical point of view, I have come to realize that before any political or systemic change can take place, there needs to be social change. In order for society to change, there must be better education, especially philosophical education for young people. I would love to teach philosophy and see it become a core subject in primary and secondary education.

"I'm am so grateful for the philosophy and religion faculty at CMU for creating the environment and giving me the tools to develop my writing and thinking. Of all the majors I could have chosen, and all the schools I could have gone to, I am the happiest that I chose to be a Philosophy (and Religion) major at CMU. I am looking forward to my last year at CMU. I wish I could stay longer because this department is so full of wisdom and talented, dedicated, compassionate professors."

About the Fuller Endowed Scholarship...


Recent Graduate Highlights

Francesca Ferrara

Philosophy Major, Class of 2019

Francesca Ferrara (Class of 2019) realized during her first philosophy class, introduction to logic, that a philosophy major would give her the skills necessary to become a successful lawyer. She remembers, “what surprised me the most was how much I enjoyed working out the challenging puzzles, identifying logical relationships, and constructing proofs.” All of these skills are what add to making a philosophy major not only useful but also fun. As Ferrara puts it, “philosophy lets you exercise a different part of your brain.” 

In the Fall, Ferrara will be attending the University of Michigan School of Law. “During my visit, I met one of the law professors who prefaced his introduction by detailing how challenging law school would be,” Ferrara recalls. “Then he asked what my major was. As soon as I told him I majored in accounting and philosophy, he looked at me and replied: oh, you’ll be fine!” 

Image of Francesca Ferrara, Class of 2019
Ferrara has taken full advantage of the opportunities CMU has to offer. She served as the president of Phi Alpha Delta, the pre-law academic fraternity. Additionally, in her junior year, she studied international law and human rights abroad in The Netherlands. The flexibility of the philosophy major has enabled Francesca to pursue her philosophy major alongside her accounting degree. “It really gave me the academic balance I needed to be successful,” says Ferrara. “I am good at technical problem solving, but philosophy let me develop my abilities to think creatively and analytically.”

Ferrara says that her philosophy courses have thoroughly prepared her mind for law school. The kind of disciplined thinking that is common to philosophers, lawyers, and judges became especially clear to Ferrara during course in ancient philosophy with Prof. Hope May. Philosophers interpret texts and evidence using standards of rationality and reasonableness. We consider objections and try to anticipate the strongest arguments on the other side. And we find ways to bring out new questions from old texts and traditions. “I think most of all, studying philosophy built my confidence for taking on law school,” says Ferrara. “Working through a long, complex argument like Plato’s Republic or a Supreme Court decision from the 19th century might seem overwhelming to a lot of people. However, I know I am prepared for law school because, thanks to the philosophy faculty, I already have experience doing this.”

Devin Brennan

Philosophy Major, Class of 2019

When Devin Brennan (Class of 2019) presented his research paper at the Great Lakes Philosophy Conference, he was surprised to see that the conference keynote speaker turned up in the audience for his session.  During the discussion, the distinguished scholar raised his hand to offer objections and quandaries about Brennan’s view.  “I was prepared to answer his questions,” says Brennan, “because Dr. Stecker had raised the same questions during Senior Seminar in Philosophy.”  Having anticipated the objections, Brennan found himself drawn into a deep philosophical exchange with the scholar that lasted fifteen minutes of his session.  “He called me steadfast,” remembers Brennan, with a smile. “I think it was a compliment.”

Brennan’s project, “Error Theory and Intrinsic Value,” won the prize for best undergraduate philosophy paper at that conference.  The project was an outgrowth of his work in the Senior Seminar (PHL 490) with Prof. Robert Stecker, and Brennan presented it at two other regional conferences during his final semester at CMU.  He will be pursuing a master’s degree in philosophy at Northern Illinois University, one of the top MA programs in the country, after graduation.  “The program builds a strong foundation for advanced study in philosophy,” says Brennan, “and will help me to explore and develop the philosophical interests and skills I gained at CMU.” 

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Brennan’s dedication and personal enthusiasm for philosophy has made him a leader and mentor for undergraduates studying philosophy at CMU.  He has served as president of the registered student organization, The Student Philosophers, which holds weekly meetings for students drawn to philosophical conversations.  Each week the group would choose a topic that Brennan would research and prepare to facilitate in the next meeting’s discussions.  “When I started trying to ‘teach’ these topics, I recognized how little I knew,” recalls Brennan. “It drove home the importance of taking your time to really work through philosophical questions.”

Brennan credits his professors in the philosophy program with nurturing his abilities to pursue a question rigorously.  “For every question that has caught my interest, there has been at least one faculty member who will take the time to guide me.”  Because of their focus on excellence in undergraduate education, Brennan observes, the philosophy faculty at CMU are very accessible and are excited to work closely with students.

“Before I studied philosophy, I took a lot of beliefs and values for granted without really thinking about them,” reflects Brennan.  “I knew that I had lots of questions, but it wasn’t until I got into a philosophy classroom that I realized that philosophy was the thing I had always been seeking.”  The study of philosophy gave Brennan not just new questions, but new ways to question: Why do I value getting an education? What will I do with my life, and why is that important?  “I have come to understand philosophy as a way of asking more precise questions.  It has helped me to figure out what questions I really want to ask.”
Image of drawing of Brennan, in the possible world where he is an omelette (from a discussion with The Student Philosophers)


Alumni Updates

Dominic Fracassa 

Philosophy Major, Class of 2010

Staff Writer, San Francisco Chronicle

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Studying philosophy taught me how to really interrogate ideas, contemplating and challenging them from every conceivable angle. Philosophy also taught me that life becomes much more agreeable when one can sit comfortably within the foggy, gray areas, accepting that you will never have "the answer." It's hard for me to think of a more important skill for me in my line of work.

As a newspaper reporter, I spend long stretches of my days trying to grope toward the most complete version of the truth that I can uncover before my deadline hits.

I am extremely lucky: I get to spend my time talking with (usually) interesting people, asking question after question. I sometimes have to leap headfirst into the deep end of topics I know nothing about, and hopefully I can write my way to the other side.

Every day, I rely on what I learned in my philosophy courses, even if the lessons are idling quietly in the back of my mind. It shaped the lenses through which I view the world.

Megan Blue

Philosophy Minor, Class of 2013

Health Policy Analyst, Beaumont Health

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Studying philosophy at CMU took me so far—literally abroad to study human rights in the Netherlands and back to Lansing to be a legislative staffer. Philosophy instilled a creative mindset that continues to push me in my professional and personal life. I learned how to apply ethics to my work in lobbying for policy changes. I am able to think critically from diverse viewpoints. People tell me that I can break down the pros and cons of legislation “with the best of them.”

My advice to students thinking about studying philosophy is: take the leap. You’ll thank yourself for it later. I know I do.


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