SHU Selected to Attend AAC&U National Summer Engaging Departments Institute

News Story: June 1, 2010
Heading to the AAC&U Engaging Departments Institute are, from left, Jennifer McLaughlin, Dr. Mark Jareb, Dr. June-Ann Greeley, Dr. Michelle Loris and Dr. Kathryn LaFontana. Missing from photo is Dr. Jeffrey Cain.

Sacred Heart University will send a team of six to the 2010 AAC&U Engaging Departments Institute at the University of Pennsylvania from July 7-11. SHU is among 15 institutions that were selected by the Washington, D.C.-based AAC&U to attend the summer institute, now in its second year.

“We are delighted and honored to have been selected to participate in this prestigious AAC&U institute,” said Dr. Michelle Loris, associate dean of SHU’s College of Arts & Sciences. “With the success and the work of our Common Core, the Human Journey, as our foundation, this institute is the natural next step for us to bring integrative learning across our curriculum,” she said.

All AAC&U institutes offer campus teams a time and place for sustained collaborative work on a project of importance to their campus along with a curriculum focused on important trends, research and best practices, and a resident faculty of educational experts.

Loris said the Engaging Departments Institute is designed to bring together deans, department chairs, and faculty to work together in teams to improve and assess learning outcomes essential for all students. The purpose of the institute is to advance integrated and engaged learning practices in and across disciplines, and to assess broad student learning outcomes within individual department majors. This Institute is part of ongoing work in Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP).

“What we see happening in higher education today is the recognition of the need for integrative learning for our students. We realize that, more now than ever, in the 21st century global world no single problem or question can be answered through the lens of a single discipline,” Loris said. As a result, she said, many universities and colleges are developing new integrative curricula in both general education and across their majors that are organized around big themes and big questions, and to explore those themes and questions, Loris said.

The summer institute in July will focus on general education. Dr. June-Ann Greeley, chair of Philosophy & Religious Studies, said the five-day institute will allow college and university staff to explore whether they can infuse every course with a sense of the big questions that may help develop students not just as intellectuals but also as citizens and moral agents in the world. The institute will also give schools a chance to explore whether there are new models that can be developed within general education.

For example, Greeley said, rather than having students take random general education courses that fulfill the academic requirement, can schools offer general education that is more thematic? “By linking courses students can have a more meaningful, integrated general education experience,” she said.

“In the 21st century, students will have many careers, many career shifts, and to succeed they will have to be life-long learners. The real world isn’t divided into disciplines. The real world is the biggest example of integrative learning that students will face, and this will prepare them to succeed in that environment,” said Dr. Kathryn LaFontana, chair and associate professor of Psychology.

LaFontana said the institute will benefit SHU and other participating colleges and universities in terms of faculty development. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to share practices and encourage integrative learning, and learn from other schools that have had similar experiences. It’s a give and take,” LaFontana said.

“AAC&U’s 2010 summer institutes are designed to address in a variety of ways the central challenge facing higher education—ensuring that all students achieve the high quality liberal education they need and deserve,” said AAC&U president Carol Geary Schneider. “Each year, we are inspired by the exciting and innovative ways these institutions are tackling the challenge of improving liberal learning outcomes for all their students,” Schneider said.

Joining Loris, Greeley and LaFontana at the AAC&U Engaging Departments Institute from SHU are Jennifer McLaughlin, director of Women's Studies and a history instructor; Dr. Mark Jareb, associate professor/ of biology and advisor to Pre-Health Profession; and Dr. Jeff Cain, associate professor of English and director of the CXC Program.

Participating universities include Tulane University (LA), Spelman College (GA), University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (TN) and University of Dayton (OH).