Education - Page 2 - Innovative approach

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Innovative approach
Students embrace new methods of teaching liberal arts

By Nancy Menefee Jackson, Contributing Writer

The liberal arts are well known for teaching students how to think, but some local schools are rethinking traditional approaches to better engage students.

Goucher College

An innovative program at Goucher College is engaging students by focusing on a new “gen ed,” the general education required courses that all students take.

Goucher Commons has retooled the courses to become more relevant for those who won’t major in that particular discipline while still imparting the required basic knowledge.

“If someone is going to take just one science  lass, how do we make that engaging for them?” asks Robin Cresiski, director of the Center for the Advancement of Scholarship and Teaching and an associate professor of biology. “Goucher Commons is a new way of thinking about gen ed requirements.”

The innovation creates seminar courses organized within academic centers that frame, for example, basic scientific knowledge in the context of current issues, such as water quality and the Chesapeake Bay. In another example, instead of the traditional math gen ed, students study data analytics, and partner with a community organization to crunch and analyze data while still meeting the state requirements. The courses have an interdisciplinary focus, too; a course in disease and discrimination uses the scientific lens of disease, but also involves social and political realms such as racism.

“I think it’s incredibly distinctive,” Cresiski says.“I really give credit to the faculty and administration – this is something they came up with together and have been implementing together.”

The college has provided workshops and one-on-one instruction for faculty as they’ve implemented the new courses. The courses are geared around the opportunity for early application through projects, rather than memorizing information as the basis for application that will occur years down the road, which engages non majors. Cresiski notes that the courses also might inspire students to change their major, add a minor or design their own major in order to gain a deep expertise.

As students continue their studies, the concepts they’ve learned are infused in later courses. A class in Shakespeare relates the works to prejudice while an art class examines the value of art and a business class in organizational behavior teaches students how to effect change.
These classes, notes Cresiski, “explore really neat, contemporary questions.”

Students also gain a chance to work with people who are not like themselves, and that experience is furthered by the mandatory requirement that all students study abroad, whether for three weeks or a year. It’s all part of what Goucher calls “the three R’s – Relationships, Reflection and Resilience.”

McDaniel College

Everyone worries about the cost of college, but few students are equipped with the financial skills to fully understand and manage those costs, let alone make post-college decisions about things like insurance or 401(k)s.

But a new program at McDaniel is offering students a way to develop the financial skills to navigate not just financial aid but the world beyond school.

“We want to develop a financial literacy platform for all students to be successful adults,” says Julie Weaver, the college’s financial wellness coordinator. “Students want to study abroad, students have goals after college to go to grad school, and all of those things are expensive and require budgeting and planning.”

She is developing programs – and working one on one with students – to help them become financially savvy, learning how to budget and find alternative sources of scholarships or income. In one event, she partnered with the writing center on campus to help students identify scholarships and then craft a successful essay.

She also teaches students how to determine exactly how much money they will need for next semester and next year, to ensure they really can afford to finish their education.

“It’s very easy to sign up for loans without having any basic knowledge at all,” she says. “I hate to see students borrow loans – I counsel them to get summer jobs to reduce the need to borrow.”

Of particular concern are students who are the first in their family to attend college, or students from challenging backgrounds, such as being homeless or in foster care.

One such student is Jasmin Chavez, a junior double majoring in political science and Spanish who is the first member of her family to go to college. Weaver has been instrumental in making sure she has all the necessary documents to get her financial aid and helped her find alternative sources of aid.

“I think Julie is fantastic,” Chavez says. “Julie has helped me navigate the whole process – I didn’t have someone in high school to tell me how to get scholarships or about summer jobs. Finding ways to afford school – that’s just a resource we don’t have.”

She credits Weaver with helping her figure out how to budget and how to plan. Chavez will spend this summer at Florida State University in an all-expenses-paid program with a stipend that prepares undergraduates for law school.

Having a financial wellness coordinator helps reduce the stress on students and lets them focus on their academics. Chavez recalls worrying about the finances.

“I thought with my high grades I would get a full ride,” she says, and although she did get a hefty scholarship, “there was this gap ... that was something I was really stressed out about.”

The idea to put a person on campus able to customize financial programs for different students came from McDaniel trustee Victor McTeer, who is supporting the position with a generous gift, and Florence Hines, vice president of enrollment management and dean of admissions. McTeer, a retired attorney, attended then-Western Maryland College on a full scholarship.

Initially, word spread about the new program on social media and through student groups and was eagerly embraced.

Weaver, who previously spent 15 years in the private sector in investment banking and three at McDaniel as a financial aid officer, looks forward to developing everything from workshops to videos to young alumni events to teach financial literacy.

“I think it sets McDaniel apart,” she says.

Loyola University of Maryland

“The Wrong Course” is a bit of a misnomer, but its genesis is certainly on the right track. The Wrong Course is an elective course that grew out of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Blitz, a day-and-a-half event that brought together 45 community leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, artists and 15 faculty and staff from Loyola.

The event explored the question of how Loyola can use its assets to support innovation and entrepreneurship in Baltimore’s communities of need.

Kathleen Getz, dean of the Sellinger School of Business and Management at Loyola, said many ideas emerged and among them was an approach to education that recognizes that not everybody

Liberal arts, continued on page 8

In-demand skills
A liberal arts degree isn’t usually the first degree that comes to mind when thinking of future job prospects. But a degree in the liberal arts translates to plenty of what employers need, such as critical thinking, excellent written and verbal communication skills and the ability to analyze. A 2007 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) revealed that the skill employers wanted most in a candidate was the ability to communicate.

Ten years later, in 2017, NACE reported that the top attribute employers wanted was the ability to work as part of a team, followed by problem-solving skills. Written communication skills were the third most wanted attribute, followed by a strong work ethic, verbal communication skills and leadership – all traits that are part of a liberal arts education. •

PHOTO DESCRIPTION:  Above left: Julie Weaver, the financial wellness coordinator at McDaniel College, is developing programs and will be working one on one with students to help them become financially savvy.