The Rochester Center for Community Leadership challenges students to become engaged citizens and leaders capable of creating positive social change in their communities. That’s the lead line of our mission statement (you can view the full statement on our website), and I variously get chided or congratulated (depending on the audience) for reciting it from memory whenever I have the opportunity to talk with others about the Center and the work that we do. It’s the result of a systematic process of planning with staff and students in the College, but like any mission statement, it’s more contested and in flux than a casual reading or recitation might lead you to believe.
Now, in particular, is an exciting and evolutionary moment for the Center. In case you missed it, we recently moved from our original home on the fifth floor of Wilson Commons (yes, there is a fifth floor in the building, and still good reasons to go there) to our new location in the first floor of Lattimore Hall (107 Lattimore Hall, the space previously occupied by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning). I invite you to stop by our space and be inspired to think about how you can utilize it to foster student learning and community-based leadership at the University. We have an open house study break—complete with free food and drink—planned for Monday, December 16, from 4:00-6:00 p.m.—an ideal time for you to come visit. In addition, our space will be open for students as a quiet study space throughout the first week of finals (Monday, December 16-Friday, December 20) during normal business hours (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) with free coffee while supplies last!
The move presents an opportunity for us to think not only about where we are, but what we are and how we do what we do. When the RCCL was founded in 2005, it brought together some long-standing initiatives in the office of the dean of students, including Wilson Day, the Paychex Leadership Institute, and the Rochester Urban Fellows program. It also became an incubator for developing new programs and initiatives, including the Compass to Personal Success leadership development program, and the Rochester Youth Year Fellowship. But programs and initiatives come and sometimes go at the whim of funding sources (as is the case for the Paychex Leadership Institute). Even trends, best practices, theories and the evidence base change from year to year and decade to decade. We’re committed to remaining at the forefront of higher educational practice, and to serving as a resource for students and the community, and true to the history and mission of our University.
Last year, the College embarked on a process to update its strategic plan. Deans Lennie and Feldman convened several committees of faculty and staff to consider new frontiers deemed timely and relevant to understanding the role of a residential college in an age of on-line learning and globalization. One of these committees focused on experiential learning. By the end of the fall semester, the committee produced a report which can be viewed here. This report was shared and discussed with other faculty, staff, students, and University trustees. By the summer, Dean Feldman appointed Stuart Jordan as faculty director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and tasked him with leading efforts to develop experiential learning in the College. Professor Jordan has been working closely with me and the staff of the RCCL to develop this initiative. We have mapped out a plan to identify faculty who are already practicing experiential teaching and learning practices, to gather information from them, to share that information with other faculty, and to offer input about how this work can be supported and advanced in the College. Along the way, we hope to gain insights from students, as well as from peer institutions, and even to host visits from scholars who can share effective practices and strategies for fostering learning from experience in a highly selective, research intensive University such as ours.
With this process in mind, I recently attended the annual conference of the National Society on Experiential Education, an organization founded in 1971 that aims to serve “as a national resource center for the development and improvement of experiential education programs nationwide.” NSEE defines experiential education as “the learning activities that involve the learner in the process of active engagement with and critical reflection about phenomena being studied.” (NSEE, 2006) The keynote address for the conference was delivered by Dr. Donna Qualters, who is a faculty member and administrator in the Center for Teaching and Learning at Tufts University. In her remarks, entitled, “The Perfect Educational Storm: Opportunities for Experiential Education?” she drew our attention to the mission and future of higher education, and made the case that effective teaching and learning demand that we revolutionize the way we understand what takes place in an institution of higher education. In particular, she maintained that the future of higher education will be:
- Not only student-centered, but student-led—a scenario in which faculty and staff become optional;
- Science-based, guided by principles of how people learn;
- Gradeless—validating human motivation research, much of which has been conducted by researchers here in our department of Clinical and Social Psychology;
- High-tech—a point that is underscored by the current fascination with MOOCs and UR’s own innovations in instructional technology;
- Divergent, in that success will be measured by the diversity of solutions rather than the homogeneity of answers;
- Collaborative—supporting team-based approaches to learning;
We can (and should) debate the extent to which these principles are relevant and applicable to our University. For his part, Dean of the College Rich Feldman has repeatedly emphasized the importance of demonstrating the value of Rochester’s residential college model in this age of skyrocketing educational costs and open source (on-line) education. From my point of view, this discussion underscores the importance of the community-based, experiential work that we do in the Center for Community Leadership, and also the need to remain nimble and flexible as we seek to advance not only our mission, but the effectiveness of learning in the College, and the capacity of students and alumni to adapt to and indeed to create change, both now and throughout their professional lives.