An intellectual community at Quinnipiac?

By on April 15, 2009

What could make Quinnipiac a more intellectual community? Are there any ways that the overall undergraduate experience could be enhanced? Throughout this past school year, faculty, staff and administration have been brainstorming ideas to answer these questions and drafting plans to be executed.

According to Professor of Biology Dr. Deborah Clark, the major initiative began in December with an outside firm conducting focus groups with Quinnipiac students.

“We asked students very specific questions,” said Clark, who is also the director of the Faculty Collaborative for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. “We wanted them to tell us about their undergraduate experiences.”

A faculty survey and a retreat in January with student affairs and academic affairs were also conducted.

“There has been a lot of meetings with faculty about what they perceive about students, courses and programs,” said Edward Kavanagh, associate vice president for academic affairs. “With the outside ad agency to run focus groups of students, there was no one from university and some surprises.”

The overall goal of this project is to improve the undergraduate experience.

“The Faculty Collaborative is thinking about developing a more intellectual community at Quinnipiac,” Clark said, “We wanted clarity to be campus-wide on the established learning goals, and that is not just the students.”

“[Quinnipiac] is growing very rapidly, spreading onto three campuses,” said Mark Thompson, senior vice president for academic and student affairs. “To maintain a sense of community we have to really pay attention to what’s most important.”

The buzzwords of all these discussions were “intentional learning,” meaning student ownership of their own learning. According to Clark, students should choose the courses they want to take and not what they are told to take.

“In a more intellectual community, students will be looking at the bigger picture,” Clark said.

Kavanagh noted the importance of student independence throughout the course selection process.

“The first thing is to have students be more responsible for their learning,” Kavanagh said, “What’s the purpose behind what you are learning? Purposeful means students have more responsibility in deciding on their educational program.”

Phase I of this project has entailed discussions with faculty, staff and administration and has resulted in a huge participation rate so far.

“It was really remarkable, they all told me that they loved being here and loved participating in this,” Clark said. “It just highlights the difficulty of staying in touch and keeping the community all in the loop. Everybody wants to talk to each other but it’s so hard to do it.”

The two questions discussed during these meetings were, “What are the characteristics of the ideal intellectual community at Quinnipiac?” and “What do we need to do to make that community a reality?”

Research has been conducted and more will be conducted in the future, including surveys, focus groups and observation. The primary coordinating committee for the project, which is referred to as the “Chief Academic Officer’s Project on Undergraduate Education” includes people from across different aspects of undergraduate education. Kavanagh is on the committee, along with Kevin Basmadjian, assistant professor of education and director of elementary education, Monique Drucker, associate dean of student affairs, Raymond Foery, professor of communications, Kim Hartmann, associate professor and chairperson of occupational therapy, Chad Nehrt, professor and chairperson of international business, Jill Shahverdian, assistant professor of mathematics, and Bob Smart, professor and chairperson of English.

“Phase two is to redefine the philosophical learning goals for the University Curriculum,” Kavanagh said. “In Phase three we want to map these concrete objectives and learning outcomes so that we know exactly what they are and how we can measure them. Phase four will entail more action from the students’ end.”

“We want you to be more deliberate,” Kavanagh said. “Sit down with an advisor and come up with a long-term plan.”

“This is a project on enhancing the undergraduate education experience, but not just classroom experience,” Thompson said. “The entire undergrad experience should be the best that it can be and students should leave here and be as successful as possible.”

Overall, the aim of this project is to make sure that Quinnipiac has given its students the tools to be able to plan their lives after college.

“The exciting thing is to bring together people across the campus about how to work together to improve the overall experience for each other,” Thompson said. “The outcome will be something extremely beneficial for students.”

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