- In a guest post for the American Conference of American Deans, Gregor Thuswaldner, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at North Park University in Chicago explains that engaging with the surrounding community has been an important part of the institution's history.
- But rather than just providing lip service on the importance of community, explains Thuswaldner, the university has helped undergraduate students actually go off campus by incorporating community into the curriculum — making it so that visiting parts of the surrounding city are part of students' assignments.
- Thuswaldner says though there were challenges to so vastly changing the curriculum, enthusiasm for the program remains high, especially given the goal to eventually "internationalize our campus" and provide more opportunities for sending students abroad.
When students come to campus, it may be the first time where they have traveled extensively from their homes; and without extensive student affairs and faculty support, these students may feel overwhelmed, become less engaged, and feel less prepared to excel in classes. By supporting students' experiences off campus informally with campus programs, administrators are already taking helpful steps toward getting students to start becoming more accustomed with their environment — while, North Park University in Chicago presents a new model for taking that commitment even further.
By incorporating community engagement into the curriculum, institutions can make sure that students are putting themselves outside their comfort zones to gain valuable skills that will prepare them for life after college and keep them interested in university life. In fact, experts say that diversifying curriculum experiences by emphasizing cultural learning and to improve outcomes for students – especially students of color or non-traditional student that may seek more personal relevance from their studies.
And, such programs also shows the institution's commitment to building student ROI and offering more than just an academic experience — but an opportunity to learn innovation and important transferable skills in things like communication and collaboration. In a recent interview, President Gloria Larson of Bentley University explained innovation is about making learning go deeper and broader:
"I think that’s what you get when you don’t just do a deep dive into one subject area, when you learn broader; combining philosophy courses with economics courses makes all of the sense in the world, when you think about how you’ll have to be a problem solver," she said.
"I don’t think there’s any one definition. I think you can acquire the knowledge and the skill sets that allow you to sort of deepen that ability."