Oliver Voyten

For the Love of Knowledge

UC College of Arts & Sciences Honors freshman exhibits clear vision about the value of learning.

Image of Honor Scholar Oliver Voyten standing next to one of the McMicken Lions

Oliver Voyten is one of the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Arts & Sciences’ seven new Honors Scholars. His approaches to life and learning gave him a competitive edge.

He questions. He digs. Then he questions more, analyzes and reflects. And Voyten apply those skills as he majors in Classics and Archaeology — two of the university’s signature programs.

“Oliver was clearly one of the brightest students applying to the University of Cincinnati last year,” said Russel Durst, head of the College of Arts & Sciences’ Honors Scholars program.

“Classics is a very demanding major,” he explained. “Besides having an unusually strong understanding of the major’s requirements, Oliver already seemed to know a good deal about the subject matter.”

That, Durst noted, is a “quality which is extremely rare among entering UC students.”

“Selecting Oliver as a member of the A&S Honors Scholars program was a no-brainer,” added Derrick Robertson, the college’s Director of Recruitment and Academic Services. “His diversity of thought and interests, and his amazing sense of the world around him, were all qualities for which we were looking.”

Where did those interests begin? What made him so curious? It all started early.

Gifted.

No uncertainty about it: Voyten’s bright. That was identified in grade school. His district diverted him into an academic enrichment program that would profoundly shape the course of his development.

“At that age,” he reflected, “your parents’ idea of you is the first thing you look to when you’re thinking about who you are.”

But interacting with peers in the enrichment program set him to questioning who he was.

“I had a friend who was naturally more curious and more explorative than me,” Voyten said. “So I, very consciously at first, wanted to be more like her. I wanted to be a more inquisitive and curious person. Eventually, that just became who I actually was.”

His favorite units tended to be those that generated more questions than they answered.

When his class studied Mayan culture, he was enthralled by mysteries now obscured by layers of Yucatán soil. When they studied Colonial America, he wanted to know more about how Washington’s revolutionaries lived when they weren’t serving as soldiers.

“I just want to know about how people were living and what it would be like, in each culture in different eras, to be just the average person living there,” he explained.

Scratches in the finish.

Voyten works for a luthier. He collects antique violins.

He has one violin that was fashioned in 1829, in addition to an 18th Century copy of an Amati, and he wonders about flaws in their finish, musing on who put them there and how.

Seeing and holding such artifacts, and speculating about their former owners, fills him with a, “weird sense of awe.” And it’s that sense which drives him.

“When you realize there were human civilizations 8,000 years ago, that were speaking languages and [in which] actual people were going about their daily lives and having little, petty problems and dilemmas the same way we do, it throws you off a little bit,” Voyten said.

“I could sit down and just think about that,” he beamed. “It’s hard to conceptually wrap around the fact that there were people living out their lives at all these different points. You’ll never know them. They’re completely gone from history, besides you finding a piece of silverware they used once.”

Appreciation for UC Classics’ integrated, multi-disciplinary approach.

Voyten describes himself as a person who is, “into academics for the purpose of academics.”

He was initially attracted to the Classics department because it unifies studies of Greek and Latin with history, philosophy, archaeology and other areas of inquiry.

“I saw [in the UC College of Arts & Sciences] that there’s still a lot of value being placed in these, whereas it wasn’t so much at a lot of other places,” Voyten said.

That’s appealing, he intimated, for someone who’s most interested in understanding the development of human knowledge.

“The historical side in Classics is very important,” Voyten asserted. “[Knowing] past problems and the ideas that were thrown around thousands of years ago — you don’t have to be an archaeologist for that to be important and for that to benefit you.”

He believes that taking a more holistic, less career-focused approach to learning now will yield deeper professional benefits later.

“You’re going to come out of it more curious, you’re going to look into things a lot more and take them apart more readily,” he predicted. “You’re going to approach problems in a certain way now, and you’re going to be able to solve problems a lot better than you would have previously.”

The benefit of exploration.

Voyten’s dream job is to restore and repair historical instruments.

If he hadn’t chosen to attend the University of Cincinnati, he said, he would have applied to a well-known violin-making school in Chicago. And he leaves open the possibility that he still may, after earning his Bachelor’s degree.

Although such a path might seem counterintuitive to most, Voyten doesn’t see it that way.

“I think a lot of people try to plan out what they’re going to do after college and try to orient it all towards that. As far as I’ve seen, I think it’s just a little bit silly,” he argued.

“I have a cousin who went to school for pharmacy, and now she’s a social worker at Ohio State, working with children with disabilities,” Voyten cited. “She’s just working with these kids every day and doing occupational therapy with them.”

Many graduates, he noted, “end up doing something they’d never even considered before.” Research on the liberal arts supports that assertion.

Burning Glass, a Boston-based data analytics firm that studies labor trends in real time, released a study that showed that hybrid jobs — positions that require sets of skills that aren’t typically taught as a package in college and often include the liberal arts — are becoming increasingly common.

“There don’t seem to be many lifelong career paths or traditional educational programs defined for our students today,” Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Ken Petren noted, “because of market demand or because of the desire students have to customize their education.”

“These students can dream of becoming a renowned artist, like last year’s Distinguished Alumni Award winner Tom Tsuchiya, or dream of pursuing a career as a luthier,” he said.

“The point is, our faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences teach students how to develop and hone their skills so that they can adapt to whichever careers they want or need to pursue,” Petren explained. “The liberal arts work, whether you want to take that statement figuratively or literally.”

Voyten enthusiastically agreed.

“There’s a lot of value in just learning,” he said. “Who you are is going to be changed by having spent those four years moving toward a specific goal, getting your degree.”

About the UC College of Arts & Sciences Honors Scholars program.

UC’s College of Arts & Sciences Honors Scholars program offers gifted undergraduates a caring community of faculty and staff, personalized alumni mentoring and open access to important research projects.

It also offers them challenging learning opportunities — in Cincinnati and throughout the world. Indeed, the program actively encourages its participants to study abroad and provides them with means to do so.

It all translates into rigorous liberal arts training that prepares students to pursue their dreams — with passion, confidence and unparalleled adaptability — for the rest of their lives.    

Interested in learning more about the College of Arts & Sciences, its Honors Scholars program, or in submitting your application for the upcoming academic year?

Then click here to contact us. Let’s find out where the liberal arts will take you.