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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Upperclass Task Force Recommendations Come to Life

In the Fall of 2006 the Upperclass Task Force was convened to complete some of the unfinished business of the 2001 Quality of Student Life Task Force. Among the questions pursued were "how do we improve the upperclass student experience?" and "what does it means when Trinity touts itself as a residential campus?" Certainly we should offer more than a place for students to hang their hats. The charge to the Task Force was to think boldly, broadly, and courageously. Task force members included eight students, four faculty members, two alumni (one of whom served a double role as a Trinity parent), and ten staff members.

The recommendations outlined in the Upperclass Task Force Report were distributed and reported on widely in the spring and fall of 2007. The 2007-2008 academic year was used to set plans in place and try out various programs, including a pilot program of the Sophomore College.

The 2008-2009 academic year will be the first full year to roll out the recommendations. This post is an update of the progress made to date. These changes represent a huge investment of time by many people committed to making improvements in areas that students have cited as deficient for many years.

The Task Force recommendations were focused in three areas: social/community, academic, and developmental:
- Creating a dynamic social environment for sophomores and more freedom for upperclass students was important.
- Taking advantageous of our academic/residential campus climate (out of class debates during election times, discussions about global and environmental issues, etc.).
- Tending to the developmental needs of students (dealing with independence, exploring identity, living in a diverse world, making plans for life after college, etc.)
Many of the recommendations are inter-connected and build on one-anther and are directed toward these thee areas.

The Task Force discovered that the desired goal of class identity gets off to a good start in the first year and abruptly stops. While the Task Force believes that stronger class identity can create deeper, richer connections to other students and the institution, the goal is not to isolate students from different years from one another. Great care should be taken to nurture the blending of all students in the classrooms, in organizations, at campus-wide events, and in junior/senior housing.
Here is a summary of specific plans already in place or taking root this fall:
- ASR senators represent students by class
Task Force member and ASR VP Katie Hampton led the way in reorganizing the senate to represent the needs of their particular classes. Students voted in favor of the change and this year senators will live with and represent the sophomore, junior, and senior classes.
With the aid of the Faculty Senate and Alumni Office Angela Breidenstein was selected to serve as the first Class Marshal and Dave Mansen will be the Alumni Sponsor for the Class of 2012. They will be with this class from beginning to end, to help, to listen, and to mark the important rites of passage of the Trinity student.
One of the big issues students presented in 2001 and again in 2006 was the marked drop in enthusiasm from the first year to the second and subsequent years. This was very evident in the way students were welcomed back to campus. Little attention has been paid to letting students know they are still important, that they deserve to have events designed for them, and that they different needs at different stages in their student experience.
- Major Meals
The Sophomore Slump has been characterized as a real issue at campuses across the country. Students often experience a general malaise, develop questions about their identity, and often struggle to make decisions about their academic future. The Major Meals program has been designed to offer meals (mostly dinners) in the Mabee Conference room. About 20 academic departments are participating and will offer programs that include faculty, majors (mostly seniors), and even some alumni who graduated with the targeted major. The list is being finalized now. Energizing students about their majors is intended to help battle the slump our sophomores sometimes experience.
One of the most exciting, if not controversial, recommendations of the Task Force was to house sophomores together in order to continue the kind of community feel from their first year, but in a different way that also acknowledges the differences. The hallmark of this program is housing sophomores in some of the larger halls which makes it easier to develop dynamic community. Creating that community and offering programs for sophomores about identity, majors, study abroad opportunities, and ways to engage in service are cornerstones of this program.
- Upperclass student housing
Juniors and seniors have asked for greater autonomy as they mature and become comfortable living on campus. The Task Force looked to acknowledge that by allowing them more freedom to live in smaller, more private halls, and back off the level of day-to-day supervision they received as new and second-year students. Hall managers will oversee the administrative and facility-related concerns of their buildings and will have much more area to cover. They will offer developmentally targeted programs to their areas in topics relevant to the residents: internships, graduate exploration, career development, and preparation for off campus life.
An ad hoc committee, which will include the senior ASR senators, has already begun impressive work to make the senior year more dynamic and with more clearly presented calendars and information that promote an array of senior events. Career Services has already set-up an impressive schedule of events for 2008-2009.
- Witt classroom
The Witt Center basement (pictured above) has been renovated as a state of the art electronic classroom. This will allow faculty members to taste life in the residential area of campus and for students to see that learning on campus doesn't just occur on upper campus.
- Study Abroad
One important component of the Trinity experience is studying abroad. Indeed, 55% of our students will have some kind of study abroad experience (generally, a 40% figure is considered high). Presenting programs about these opportunities in the sophomore area will help improve their accessibility. Plans are being developed for students who return from abroad to discuss their opportunities with those thinking of making similar treks.
- Service
As sophomores return having attained some level of campus mastery, they will be given opportunities to reach out into the community to do service. Some opportunities are also being investigated for some international spring break excursions just for sophomores.
- Health
An ad hoc committee has forwarded several recommendations to the campus health committee. The Student Affairs division is also adopting the value of health and wellness as important to the success of our students. The Half Marathon Challenge for Health has already attracted over 100 participants. The Student Health 101 newsletter is being distributed campus-wide and to parents who sign up for the TrinitE Parent and Family electronic newsletter.

While other plans will continue to be developed, the bulk of the Task Force recommendations are now in place. In all, these initiatives are meant to improve satisfaction, increase retention, and aid students in their quests to succeed as Trinity students. New initiatives will be evaluated this year and reported on once more. Assessment will continue thereafter to evaluate if the programs are meeting desired outcomes. After a follow-up report in the summer of 2009, the Task Force work will rarely be cited, as the new initiatives simply take hold, grow, and are re-worked.

1 comment:

ELK said...

while I may not agree with all the decisions made by the task force ...I certainly commend them for the time and effort put into the process, never an easy job!