Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Faculty retreat yields proposals to improve academics at Trinity



            More than 100 faculty members gathered together for the Presidential Mellon Grant-funded faculty retreat in October 2011 to discuss how to make Trinity a better institution academically and socially by its 200th birthday in 2023.  The result was the creation of six proposals, set to be launched in the spring of 2013, “designed to increase student engagement with academic pursuits, in theory and in practice,” according to Dean of Faculty Rena Fraden. Though still a work in progress, these programs are designed to give students more opportunities to challenge themselves academically, take charge of their educations, and ensure that they have had the best experience possible in their four years at Trinity.

            At the retreat in October, faculty members compared pedagogical values and aims in teaching in order to create a list of common goals to work towards. According to Fraden, these include “more collaborative learning and teaching for both faculty and students; enhanced research experiences for students; more intensive advising of students; and deeper connections between the academic and social lives of students.” Fraden said that faculty “did not feel it was important that all students enjoy the same experiences but rather that we highlight and make possible at Trinity many different kinds of intellectual communities,” so students can “become self-reflexive about their education [and] become independent learners.”

            Following the establishment of these common goals, the Ad-Hoc Trinity Mellon Committee called for proposals that would further them, and after receiving 11 chose to fund six. Fraden called the funded proposals “consonant with the values and themes expressed at the retreat.”

            The first proposal, written by Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Urban International Studies Garth Myers and Professor of History and International Studies Dario Euraque, is the Co-Curricular Initiative on “Cities.” Myers said that the main goal of the program is “to carry students to a consciousness that fuses urban challenges in our city, state, region and country with a compassionate vision of the parallel dilemmas out in the wider urban world.” In order to do so, students will be invited to enroll in any of the 28 classes that will be associated with the initiative and to attend urban-themed events held throughout the year. These events would include films, musical and artistic events, and seminars, and would culminate in a major symposium in the spring of 2013. There would also be a new 0.5 credit course for students enrolled in any of the Initiative’s courses to supplement their experience. According to Euraque, the program is based on a year-long academic initiative that took place in the 1997-1998 academic year.

            The Problem Based Learning Collaboration will involve classes all focused on some aspect of Health and Human Rights. Authored by Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Sarah Raskin, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Human Rights Program Sonia Cardenas, and Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Joan Morrison, the proposal “would allow students to more closely identify with their major discipline while using that information to learn across disciplines, [and] it would present a real application of this knowledge to solve real-world problems,” according to the written proposal. The three classes involved would be divided into small groups, each with students from each class, and each student would make a unique contribution to solving the problem they were given based on their academic focus. Raskin believes the program “will allow students to understand that their expertise is important, but also to see that by working with others they can get a broader sense of how to use the material that they are learning in class.”

            The Common Intellectual Experience for First Year Students is a film series course “designed to extend the first-year seminar into the spring semester and to bridge the gap between first-year students’ intellectual lives in and out of the classroom,” according to co-author First-Year Program Dean Margaret Lindsey. The students involved would be expected to attend six film screenings and six one-hour discussions over the course of the semester. The films, specifically selected to provoke debate and discussion, would deal with “a profound human experience, an ethical dilemma, a natural phenomenon and/or a contemporary societal problem,” according to Lindsey. Associate Professor of Biology Kent Dunlap, Assistant Professor of English Prakash Younger, and Assistant Professor of Psychology Nicole Dudukovic are also principle authors of this proposal.

            The Community Based Research proposal was written by Associate Professor of Economics Carol Clark, Associate Professor of Educational Studies Jack Dougherty, Associate Professor of Political Science Stefanie Chambers, Assistant Professor of Psychology Laura Holt, and G. Fox and Company Professor of Economics Diane Zannoni. Through this program, students would have the opportunity to take part in year-long research projects utilizing members of the Hartford community and local organizations. Students would receive credit for their project, along with an expense grant to carry out their research.

            The fifth proposal is the Advising Portfolio. Created by Professors of Engineering John Mertens and Dave Ahlgren, this program would give select students the opportunity to work closely with a faculty member over their four years at Trinity and to build an electronic portfolio of all their best work that could be easily sent to potential employers at the end of their college career. Mertens said the program’s vision is for each faculty member involved to have a diverse group of 12 students, three from each class, who would meet four times a semester. As part of the program, for which participants would receive 0.25 credits each semester, students would have to complete certain tasks each year; for example, sophomores would have to write a proposal for acceptance into their chosen major and all seniors would have to present their senior exercise or project publicly. Though many particulars are yet to be determined, Mertens believes the program would “build a lot of links that don’t exist now.”

            The final funded proposal, authored by Director of Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life and Professor of Religion in Public Life Mark Silk, is the Social Organizations: Theme Houses. The program hopes to eventually establish up to 12 theme houses, each “devoted to a particular area of activity or interest, not departmentally linked but designed to engage students and faculty around common intellectual/cultural interests,” according to the written proposal. Each house would have a student board and also 10-15 affiliated Faculty Fellows. The proposal states that the theme house system would function “both as a social alternative to the fraternities and as the locus for interaction between faculty and students,” and that it “would be the kind of bold move that outside observers would immediately recognize as representing a fundamental transformation of Trinity College.”

            In a letter to the faculty, Fraden stressed that while the success of the projects themselves is important, “what is crucial is sustaining the spirit of experimentation itself and the great fun of discussing and trying something new.” Part of the Mellon Grant money has been set aside to bring in consultants to evaluate the success of the programs and to fund a follow-up retreat in a year to evaluate the progress being made. “We will know we are on the right path,” Fraden said,” if our students begin to talk about the various projects – Trinity in 2023 (T23) – they are engaged in with us and with each other. That will be the sign of our greatest success, now and up to 2023.”

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