How can something so energizing leave me so exhausted?
We just wrapped up a week-long workshop on The Student as Scholar for a group of Gustavus faculty. (I’ve been co-coordinator of faculty development programs at Gustavus for the past two years, though I have to credit my colleague Laura Behling with most of the heavy lifting on this workshop. Literally. Every morning I’d get to the site of the workshop and she’d moved all the furniture after coming up with some brilliant group activity.) Almost all departments were represented and the interdisciplinary conversations were amazing. It left me feeling a little dazed by the creativity and dedication of our faculty – and encouraged by the realization that stuff I care about isn’t just a weird library obsession, it’s valued by faculty across the entire curriculum and is woven into courses and labs, mentoring and modeling everywhere.
This workshop theme was inspired by a campus planning process out of which emerged a focus that bridged academic affairs, student affairs, and all other units of the campus: student engagement. It’s nothing original; there’s plenty of research that indicates practices that engage students in their own learning lead to better learning. At my campus many of the right ingredients have been in place for years. But just having them in place doesn’t always mean students will take advantage of them. According to Ernie Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini the real difference is in what students do.
Other things being equal, the more students are psychologically engaged in activities such as use of the library, reading unassigned books, individual study, writing papers, and course assignments, the greater their knowledge acquisition and general intellectual growth. If the literature of the 1990s says anything, it is that, although colleges can fashion an undergraduate academic experience characterized by a plethora of learning opportunities, it is the extent to which students become engaged in and fully exploit these opportunities that largely determines the personal benefits they derive. (How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research, 2005, p. 613)
During this workshop we looked at developing programmatic support for student research with Jill Singer of Buffalo State University (and past president of the Council on Undergraduate Research) and then delved into activities that are part of courses (such as senior theses and labs) and those that are outside of the context of courses (summer research with faculty, performances, internships, and the like). Each day a group of faculty had lunch with our new VP for College Relations and our media relations guy so they could hear the cool stuff faculty are doing. On the final day we talked to administrators and the director of web communications. As we looked at his new template for department pages we held an impromptu vote to feature more student and faculty research on our website. It was unanimous.
One thing I came out of this with (and hope others did) was a better understanding of what student scholarly and creative activity means in different disciplines and a deep respect for and excitement about what’s going on across campus. Today – having had a weekend to recover – a group of us is getting together to start planning an annual celebration of creative inquiry on our campus. We want to make sure everyone gets to see the exciting work our students are doing with the guidance and encouragement of faculty.