Today I had the pleasure of participating in a series of discussions led by Randy Bass, Vice Provost for Education at Georgetown University, as part of our weeklong seminar on general education at VCU. One of the ideas he raised that really resonated with me was that the “sweet spot” (my words, not his) for high impact practices in general education may lie at the intersection between knowledge of a domain, knowledge of the world, and knowledge of one’s self. Can we structure our courses to sit at the intersection of these areas, and what impact would that have on our student’s learning?
It struck me that this dovetails nicely with major initiatives that are on-going at VCU. VCU has a deep commitment to community engagement . We are an urban university, uniquely placed in the heart of Richmond, with its deep history and challenges. VCU’s “Make it Real” campaign emphasizes the connection between one’s learning and the broader community/world.
We also have a university initiative underway that emphasizes the connection between health and wellness (which I see as a central component to learning about one’s self) and academic success. With the support of senior leadership, we launched the Spit for Science project four years ago, as a university-wide research opportunity for students, focused on factors that contribute to substance use and emotional health among college students. Out of this effort grew a network of researchers from across the campuses who work in the area of behavioral and emotional health. This fall we will launch “COBE” – the College Behavioral and Emotional Health Institute, which will be a collaborative space (figuratively, not literally; though if you know of any donors that would like to give us a building that would be nice too) that brings together information about on-going research in the area of behavioral and emotional health, prevention and intervention programming at the university, as well as information about events and news related to health and wellness. The impetus for launching this institute is that behavioral and emotional health must be viewed as a foundation for student success.
So I see us as having a tremendous opportunity at VCU to connect these pieces in order to create innovative, high impact learning experiences for our students. Perhaps what makes VCU distinct is that we can “make real” a culture of discovery – of particular content areas, of the community, and of one’s self. What a fascinating general education experience that would be! Though the “downside” is that we would surely have to come up with a far more engaging term than “general education” to capture that experience.