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New academic initiatives announced

Barry McNamara
04/21/2010
Over the past decade, Monmouth College has made substantial improvements to its physical plant, investing nearly $60 million in new building construction and renovation of existing facilities.

With a solid infrastructure now in place, the college has shifted its focus to enhancing an academic program that has been steadily growing in reputation. Recently, faculty were invited to submit proposals for innovative programs that would further enrich the Monmouth experience.

“It can be a struggle for many colleges to launch one or two initiatives, but we are prepared to roll out all seven of our approved proposals,” said MC president Mauri Ditzler. “It is further evidence that current Monmouth students and those coming this fall have opportunities to get engaged on campus in more ways than ever before. Our students expect to enjoy their time here and find meaningful work after graduation. These programs will help them do both.”

Two of the programs selected for implementation involve focused learning beyond the traditional classroom. Featuring easy-to-remember acronyms, both programs will bring students to campus at various points over the summer. ESP (Exploratory Success Program) grew out of a proposal by faculty member Mark Willhardt and dean of admission Christine Johnston, while SOFIA (Summer Opportunities for Intellectual Activities) was proposed by faculty member Chris Fasano.

“The goal of ESP is to help undecided students actively investigate and take responsibility for the choices they will face in deciding upon a major and an eventual career path,” said Willhardt.

Each year, about 13 percent of Monmouth College’s applicants declare themselves as “exploratory” majors. Those students often find their experiences entering college to be even more confusing than their major-declared peers because they lack the tools to discover what major, or career, might truly best suit them.

“By working closely with faculty mentors, and by investing time and effort in their search – rather than defaulting to what their roommates are doing – students will value the conclusions they reach and will be more likely to persist in their chosen fields,” said Willhardt. “This may be particularly appealing to higher-achieving exploratory students, who frequently inquire strongly at Monmouth, but who do not matriculate at the same rate.”

While programs similar to ESP are present at other colleges, Willhardt said Monmouth’s version will have an important advantage.

“Although many other schools talk about ‘faculty’ teaching their students or advising them in their exploratory programs, often they are, in fact, counting the professional staff employed within their offices of student life. The virtue of ESP at Monmouth is that it draws upon vested college faculty, those whose careers exemplify the pursuit of learning and vocation at the same time.”

ESP will involve two intensive summer sessions and will continue throughout the students’ first semesters on campus. Students will be sent away from the first ESP session with the requirement that they research and write mini-essays on three of the careers that have been suggested by various tests by the college’s Wackerle Center for Career Development. Included in these essays are academic pathways they might pursue to start those careers.

“The Exploratory Success Program is a rare opportunity to utilize all the strengths of a liberal arts college: informed and supportive faculty; student life offices geared toward students’ own goals; alumni who love the college and its mission; and the resources to make the search for a major and a career both possible and satisfying,” concluded Willhardt.

First-time students will also benefit from SOFIA, a program that is open to returning students, as well.

“This program will bring students to campus approximately three weeks before classes begin to work on projects with faculty members,” said Fasano. “On the day of matriculation, we will present ‘works in progress’ based on the work done to date. We hope that both faculty and students will continue their projects throughout the following year.”

Each SOFIA project will have a budget of up to $1,000, with financial support for SOFIA providing for about 15 projects. Each project group will consist of a faculty member from any department, one or two returning students and one incoming student.

“We invite as many different disciplines to participate as possible,” said Fasano. “We can envision projects that range from creative writing, to one-act plays, to musical performances, artistic endeavors of all sorts, scientific research projects and more. The more diverse the collection of projects and participants, the better.”

Fasano said that a major benefit of SOFIA is that “students will be involved in academic pursuits at Monmouth College before they even take a class. It will allow us to recruit students who might not otherwise have attended and to retain them once they matriculate.”

More information about Monmouth College’s other new academic initiatives will be available in the weeks ahead.