George Burnette '13 and Allison Razo '15 are shown working at the college's research farm during the summer of 2013.
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Drawing inspiration from its strategic location in one of the world’s most fertile agricultural regions, Monmouth College is launching a major initiative to address the issue of food security.
The initiative is the inaugural project of “Triads for Excellence,” a model program for integrated learning in which teams of three new faculty members representing different disciplines will be hired engage in academic research and discussion on an important emerging issue.
This spring, the first faculty triad will be hired. Each assigned to an individual academic department (in this year’s case, the departments of biology, political economy and commerce, and anthropology/sociology), the three educators will spend a portion of their time helping students think about how to ensure adequate food production, availability, safety and nutrition. The study of food security will encompass a wide range of issues, from the ethics of genetic engineering to the logistics of marketing and transportation.
Richard C. Longworth, senior fellow for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, describes food security as “one of the most important issues of our time,” adding, “This is an area of much debate, controversy and even misinformation, and Monmouth’s multi-pronged approach promises to provide the kind of research, thought and analysis that the subject needs.”
All students, regardless of major or class year, will be eligible to participate in the food security initiative. By taking a series of specific courses in the sciences, social sciences or humanities, worked out in consultation with their academic adviser, they will be able to note on their résumé or curriculum vitae that food security courses and research experiences were a focal point of their studies.
More than a dozen food security-related courses, ranging from environmental studies to history, are currently being offered and more will be developed in the coming months. Although courses will be offered across campus, the focal point for food security study and research will be Monmouth’s new $40 million Center for Science and Business, which offers state-of-the-art classrooms and labs designed to facilitate interdisciplinary study. One particular laboratory is dedicated to the study of nutrition and food chemistry.
Other college facilities that will be central to the initiative include an educational garden and theme house, as well as a six-acre research farm being developed just east of campus.
According to vice president for enrollment Tim Keefauver, the Triads program gives a degree from Monmouth added value. “In order to secure a top job,” he explained, “it is helpful for your college degree to have greater distinction. Demonstrating that your major also included a concentration in food security—or a future Triads topic—will help make you more competitive in the job market.”
“The Triads concept is a revolutionary and powerful approach to integrated learning,” said Monmouth president Mauri Ditzler. “Focusing Triads on important issues responds to a generation of students who are attracted to causes rather than bodies of knowledge. It clarifies the question of what kind of things can be done with a liberal arts degree.”
Ditzler, who began his career teaching analytical chemistry, proposed the Triads name, basing it on the term given by 19th-century scientists to describe groupings of three or more elements that had similar chemical properties but dramatically different physical properties. These elemental triads, he explained, were instrumental in the discovery of the periodic trends that ultimately produced the Periodic Table of the Elements.
The food security initiative and all future triads will share three central objectives:
• Conduct and publish original research and scholarship;
• Utilize the most current knowledge and most powerful research approaches in each of the participating disciplines while crossing disciplinary boundaries and mixing disciplinary knowledge and approaches; and
• Develop passion and skill within students who take courses within the Triad and work with faculty members on original research, analysis and scholarship.
The Triads concept is already gaining national attention. Following publication of a Huffington Post blog by President Ditzler on the topic, he was contacted by Carol Geary Schneider, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, who told him that blog was making the rounds at AAC&U headquarters. She said there was a belief that Monmouth College may have defined the direction of liberal arts education for the 21st century.
“They are picking up on the idea that we are using an interdisciplinary approach to focus liberal arts students on the important issues of the day,” Ditzler said.