Refining educational goals in the 21st century

Joanne Berger-Sweeney
Photo by Julie Bidwell

We recently had the distinct pleasure of welcoming the Class of 2026. As it is every year, when the newest class matriculates at Trinity College, they join ready to cultivate their curiosity and to choose a path, sometimes circuitous, that will lead them for the next four years and beyond. This path may be straight and conventional, but more likely it will be unconventional and unique. It might involve an internship made possible by a generous alum or scientific research inspired by a fundamental question asked in a humanities classroom. It might involve two majors and a minor or vice versa. In any case, part of the benefit of a small liberal arts college is that if the drive to try a new course of study is there, then faculty and staff will work with the student to make it happen. This is the kind of entrepreneurial spirit for which Trinity is known.

As a college president, I have no greater calling than to ensure that students—faculty, too—have the tools to be successful inside and outside the classroom in a dynamically changing world. After they receive the core of our liberal arts education—one that promotes intellectual inquiry and a foundation of analytical skills—what more might we provide our students to ensure they thrive in this ever-changing world? What destinations will our students seek as they grow intellectually, socially, physically, and spiritually? What new destinations might come into focus for them by way of a Trinity education?

Trinity has been guided by a set of established principles—teach what is relevant and enduring—for almost 200 years, with details that have evolved over time for the better. By now, you’re well aware that the college’s bicentennial is fast approaching, officially arriving in 2023. In fact, I have been humbled by the excitement and show of support for the occasion. A bicentennial is a prodigious milestone that affords us an opportunity to take pride in our long history and to set aspirations for our shared future.

Just last year, we introduced Trinity Plus, our new curriculum for the future. The “Plus” reflects the countless opportunities for applied and experiential real-world learning experiences while maintaining the strength of Trinity’s core liberal arts education. As part of the new curriculum, we provide the time to experience opportunities for individualized study, research, and learning, as well as the space to examine a more expansive definition of wellness that acknowledges the importance of personal, societal, and community well-being.

On the heels of our new curriculum, last spring our faculty articulated our new learning goals. Many might call this a North Star, and given the evolution of our curriculum, it is invaluable to have a set of educational objectives to ground future programs and to create a baseline understanding of how a Trinity education changes lives. Giving students a way to think and talk about what they have learned makes it easier for them to put their knowledge into practice.

Our learning goals are as follows.

As a result of a Trinity education, our goal is for every student to:

  • Acquire a broad base of knowledge and perspectives, across multiple disciplines and fields, cultivating curiosity and commitment as lifelong learners;
  • Achieve depth of knowledge in at least one field, developing the ability to work both independently and collaboratively;
  • Develop strong analytical and critical thinking skills, including the capacity to read complex texts and to use and interpret data, both quantitative and qualitative;
  • Become effective communicators, learning to write, listen, and convey ideas clearly, persuasively, and creatively to multiple audiences and across various contexts, languages, and media;
  • Understand the rich diversity of human experiences, appreciating the urgent problems facing society while becoming attuned to both local and global contexts as ethical citizens;
  • Gain experiences that connect knowledge with practice, both inside and outside of the classroom;
  • Obtain the tools to maintain personal well-being, contribute positively to a heterogenous community, and live a healthy, balanced life.

As we knock on the door of celebrating our third century, Trinity’s redeveloped learning goals convey a shared vision to which all students who successfully complete a Trinity education can aspire. I believe a Trinity education is greater than the sum of its parts, achieved through coursework, programs, internships, community service, deep personal relationships, and much more. I find that clearly articulating our learning goals provides value by clarifying what we are trying to accomplish and framing the activities we undertake to achieve them.

For our students, these goals are a reference as they progress through their Trinity education as great thinkers and determined doers. As our students embark on a life of learning, we hope our education allows them to become their own best teachers, and that they, eventually as alumni, find the destinations they seek in life.