Author Bio

Ryan Derby-Talbot PhD is a mathematician and educator whose career has spanned a range of novel higher educational institutions. In particular, he has served as the Chief Academic Officer at Quest University Canada and Fulbright University Vietnam, both founded as new, innovative approaches to liberal arts-based undergraduate education. He has also been on the faculty at the American University in Cairo. He continues his exploration of alternative higher educational models in his current role as the Dean of Deep Springs College in California. His article is a reflection of lessons learned from serving across these unique institutions.


Ontological inquiry, rhetoric, Cartesian subjectivity, Higher Education, experiential learning


Why are some learning experiences so profound that they alter our worlds, whereas others don’t end up sticking at all? The author investigates this question in the context of undergraduate education, recounting several educational experiments that highlight subtle but powerful aspects of the student learning experience. By exploring a different approach to teaching a math course, an alternative framework for academic specialization instead of traditional majors, and a radical approach to designing new institutions, an encounter with the hidden, ontological dimension of learning becomes possible. Accessing the ontological experience of the learner opens up new possibilities for meaningful, deep, and transformative learning experiences in higher education.