Task Force on Undergraduate Education makes recommendations
May 17, 2011Tweet
The establishment of an advising/mentoring network and the creation of an office to support the undergraduate research, scholarship and creative activities should be “immediate priorities” for the University, according to a recently released report by the Task Force on Undergraduate Education for the Digital Generation.
The task force, consisting of faculty, staff and student representatives, issued nine recommendations designed to strengthen and improve the University in the coming decade. The other recommendations were:
• A new-student course for all incoming freshmen and transfers during their first semester.
• Foster global engagement in all areas of curriculum and student life.
• Enhance the focus on undergraduate learning through increased support for excellence and innovation in teaching.
• Expand of the learning communities.
• Facilitate entrepreneurial thinking throughout the University.
• Reinforce and reward faculty engagement.
• Increase efficiency and innovation in administrative structures.
“The task force has produced a roadmap that will benefit students, faculty and the entire University for years to come,” President C. Peter Magrath said. “I appreciate the work of the task force members and I intend to work with faculty, staff and students to help implement their recommendations.”
The task force was established in fall 2009 by then-President Lois B. DeFleur. In spring 2010, task force members began soliciting ideas from the University community through open forums, questionnaires to faculty and students, and meetings with department chairs, undergraduate advisors and resident assistants.
Trying to collect as much information as possible from faculty, staff, students and alumni about areas of concern and campus strengths was crucial to the task force chair, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Donald Loewen said.
“We needed to see the task force members as representatives of the whole spectrum of constituencies on campus, but we always wanted to do everything we could to engage the full membership of the campus community,” said Loewen, who praised “the willingness of the campus community to participate in both the initial idea gathering and then again when we were trying to see what was important to us.”
By fall 2010, two ideas “rose to the surface,” Loewen said: advising/mentoring and undergraduate research.
Creating an advising/mentoring network was the No. 1 recommendation among faculty, Loewen said, as 216 out of 342 ranked it in their top five ideas. The recommendation also was No. 1 for staff members and graduate students and No. 2 for undergraduate students.
The task force proposes “a suite of diverse individuals and resources representing faculty, staff, peers and role models that a student can call upon in person and electronically for academic, career and life guidance.” That evolving network could include a first-year advisor, peer advisor, faculty master, faculty advisor and a CDC advisor, among others.
“Students need to understand: Where do you get advising? What does it mean to be advised?” Loewen said. “There’s an educational piece we have to look at. We can build this idea of a network of people who all contribute to the advising picture on campus. … An advising-mentoring network can have a direct impact on giving students greater clarity, support and direction.”
Undergraduate research is happening on campus, Loewen said, but only “in pockets.” The recommendation was ranked as the top idea for undergraduates, transfer students and alumni, and No. 2 among faculty members.
“Too many undergraduates are unsure how to begin or are unaware of the potential of these experiences to enrich their education,” according to the report. “A central clearinghouse for these experiences will enable the University to evaluate its progress, build capacity and publicize its success stories.”
The initiative needs “full institutional support” to make a difference, Loewen said.
“It’s going to require substantial institutional leadership commitment indicating that we see undergraduate research, scholarship and creative activities as an important contribution to the mission of the departments,” he said. “We hope to see that kind of commitment come through at every level of academic leadership: from the chairs to the deans to the provost’s and president’s offices.”
The director of the office will be essential in the connection to faculty, Loewen added.
“This office can encourage faculty members in disciplines that are less represented in undergraduate research and support efforts that are already going on,” he said.
Loewen emphasized that even though advising/mentoring and undergraduate research are labeled “Phase 1” or “immediate priorities,” all of the recommendations are crucial to the University’s future.
“There is significant support for each of these ideas,” he said. “In the end, one of the compelling arguments for us to keep all of the recommendations moving forward was that there were elements of the campus that supported every one of them.”
Senior Heather Skolnick served as the undergraduate student representative on the task force this year, and reached out to her fellow students on campus with surveys on the topics.
“It was great that I could bring the student voice to the table and that it was parallel to the voices of everyone else on campus, which I thought was a rare occurrence − that everyone had a common perception of what needed to be worked on,” she said. “It was a great experience working on a team with people from all different places and seeing how they worked together and talked things out as we tried to figure out what was most important for undergraduate education and improving Binghamton University.”
There is no timetable in place yet for implementing the recommendations, Loewen said, but the report has received positive feedback from the administration.
“My hope is that we can move quickly on some of the key recommendations here,” he said. “I think there has been growing support within the administration for extending what we do in undergraduate research.”
While Loewen said the task-force report will be successful if the top two recommendations are implemented, he is confident that more will be done.
“There are a lot of people on this campus who like to take initiative,” he said. “They see opportunities, they see needs and they say, ‘What can I do?’ That was part of our hope when we came up with these recommendations: Individuals and departments say, ‘This is a University priority. I can do something.’ I think that is going to happen.
“These are all valuable ideas and we need to support them. These are important priorities for the University.”