To: Academic Program Committee
From: K. Schmeichel, M. Rulison, B. Patterson, G. Gabriel, A. Whooley, C. Baube, R. Donnelly, L. Alford, J. Nardo
Date: February 8, 2016
Subject: Proposal to Generate a new Concentration Program to Explore Public Health from a Liberal Arts Perspective
A Call to Action: Recent deliberations regarding Oglethorpe University’s business model have indicated a need to improve student recruitment and retention to allow for growth of the student body by ~300 students. A call has been issued to faculty to outfit the academic curriculum with new programs that will attract new applicants. A subgroup of faculty has been discussing the logistical challenges posed by this call to action.
Faculty Concerns: While new programmatic development in “hot” areas has the potential to increase student ranks in a way that will benefit the entire academic community, the faculty members listed above share fundamental concerns about the logistics of “new” program roll out and its sustainability going forward:
- High Stakes Decisions: The scope of the recently proposed changes (insertion of novel majors, multiply tracked majors and minors) is daunting. The changes require a high-risk investment that is seemingly unconscionable in light of the minimal institutional resources currently invested in curricular homeostasis. To be properly implemented they must draw from the expertise of the existing faculty, whose time is limited.
- Existing Program Stability: Incorporation of tracks in existing and long-standing majors can undermine the coherence of programs that have evolved to enable foundational preparation of students (i.e., reiterative development of basic conceptual framework, vocabulary, confidence in problem solving and implementation of the research methods and support in writing and other communication skills). Foundational training should not be dismissed as it is highly valued by graduate programs to which our current students aspire.
- New Program Sustainability: We are concerned about the staying power of the newly proposed programs. Since many initiatives at OU are successful based on the leadership of one or two people, they are susceptible to dissolution should those initial advocates change position/leave the institution. Moreover, what happens when those boutique-y programs are no longer “hot”? Don’t we want a program option that is more agile and easily adaptable rather than one that requires de novo design of traditional majors and minors each of which must be assessed using customized and SACS-sanctioned methodologies?
- Respecting What We Do Well: We expose students to a breadth of content in an environment that allows each student to identify their strengths and address their weaknesses in a deliberately mentored way. The Chinese menu approach is not what we do in our majors, and it should not be what we do in interdisciplinary programs. We should be striving to design and implement programs that highlight our ability and enthusiasm to reach across disciplinary boundaries.
- University Mission: The traditional programs as conceived and described to the Board of Trustees in Spring 2015 (e.g., in Nursing, Bioinformatics, and the like), are inconsistent with the University’s Liberal Arts mission and with university’s goals of authentically incorporating the A_Lab into the academic curriculum. While these areas may be of interest to prospective students, free-standing majors in these areas are not practical or sustainable given our university’s business model. A more innovative approach seems to be required.
- Liberal Arts, Applied: The proposed programs do not allow the faculty to demonstrate to students how their newly acquired liberal arts sensibilities (critical thinking, problem-solving, interdisciplinary collaboration) can be applied to vocational interests. Such a deliberate connection is not always evident to students emerging from our traditional academic programs.
Development of “Concentrations,” a Program that focuses on modeling applied Liberal Arts:
The following proposal offers a solution to the problems stated above by capturing the developmental benefits of existing, vetted majors, while allowing for student engagement in programs that appeal to their vocational sensibilities. However, instead of branding new programs using strategies embraced by other institutions (i.e., classical majors, minors and bifurcating tracks within majors), this proposal encourages the Oglethorpe faculty and administration to consider a novel OU-specific strategy that reflects our circumstances and that honors our mission surrounding the liberal arts and experiential learning.
We propose the generation of “Concentrations.” (Note, that the term “Concentration” is still being vetted; we would prefer a more distinctive and marketable name brand that reflects the goal of this program to allow students to focus on their specific academic interests as they embark on the transition towards the professional world. Until such a term emerges, the program will be described as a Concentration) An Oglethorpe Concentration would be available for any Oglethorpe student who has formally declared and committed to a major and who would like to supplement the foundational work that is guaranteed by engagement with their major (breadth of content, vocabulary, familiarity with research methods and associated skills, critical thinking and effective communication skills), with a cross-disciplinary learning experience that includes a formal introduction to the career track (in this case Public Health) and academically-supported experiential learning component (akin to Internship for credit).
The twist here is that this would be an Oglethorpe signature program that was of deliberate and thoughtful design and was available for students at an appropriate level of maturity (after their sophomore year). Furthermore, such a program demonstrates to students the utility of a liberal arts education when pursuing cross-disciplinary connections in the act of problem solving and innovating.
Each Concentration would be proscribed by contributing faculty, be approved by APC and include a total of 5-6 courses and could be considered an alternative for a traditionally focused minor. The specifics of the Public Health Concentration have been advised by a group of 32 Public Health professionals, the majority of whom participated in an on-campus workshop in October of 2015 (See attached document entitled PBH Concentration Advisory Board. All of the Advisors listed on this document have pledges support in course development, implementation and/or sponsorship of some kind). Based on our collective efforts, we propose that the Public Health Concentration have the following requirements:
- Completion of one 4-5 credit hour elective from each of the following categories: Communication, STEM disciplines, Culture. (See the attached list of eligible courses on the Public Health Concentration Elective Categories document. The courses listed on this page have all been nominated as courses most relevant to the program by faculty across the Oglethorpe curriculum. The list is expected to change over time as the Bulletin evolves.)
- Completion of the 2-credit hour PBH 201 Perspectives in Public Health. PBH 201 registration is limited to students with sophomore standing or higher.
- Completion of the 2- credit hour PBH 301: Public Health Workshop. PBH 301 registration is limited to students with junior standing or higher and whose application to the Public Health Program has been approved.
- Completion of the 2-credit hour PBH 302: Public Health in Practice. PBH 302 registration is limited to students with junior standing or higher and whose application to the Public Health Program has been approved.
- Additional requirements and things to note:
- The Public Health Concentration is designed to complement students’ foundational work in their majors and thus the course work is intended to be most relevant for veteran students who have committed to a course of study in our traditional academic curriculum. Students may start accruing Public Health electives at any time during their tenure at Oglethorpe, but their official entry into the program must be formalized via application to the Public Health Concentration Coordinator. Applications will only be accepted from students who are registering for courses with Junior Year status or above. Application deadlines will be announced several weeks in advance of Registration week in both the Fall and the Spring semesters.
- Occasional special topics or advanced special topics offerings may also satisfy an elective requirement in the Public Health Concentration with the approval of both the public health coordinator and the offering department of the course.
- Students registering for a course that serves as a relevant Public Health elective must comply with all course pre-requisites as stipulated in the Bulletin.
- Courses taken in fulfillment of a major or a minor can also be applied equally towards the Public Health Concentration.
- A grade of C- or better is required in all courses contributing to the Concentration
We feel that the scope of this project can be managed handily given our current circumstances with minimal increase in staffing; any additional hires would be simply to assist/teach in the signature cross-disciplinary courses (i.e., those with PBH prefixes). We believe this idea reflects who we are as an institution and that it offers students the possibility of sampling careers in appropriately mentored way. We also feel that this initiative will allow us to show our students how they can leverage their liberal arts experience to facilitate effective (and exciting) collaborations among disparate disciplines in a professional setting.
Because the focus of these Concentrations is not around the usual “nuts and bolts” of academic training, they can be assessed in an efficient manner that is not redundant with the work of other assessment efforts. The current strategy of assessment of the Public Health Concentration consists of four Learning Objectives and one Program Objective. The Learning Objectives are derived from the Undergraduate Public Health Learning Outcomes developed by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health in collaboration with AAC&U (http://www.aspph.org/).
- Acquire interdisciplinary knowledge about communication, human cultures and the physical and natural world as it relates to individual and population health.
- Practice integrated and applied learning through synthesis of generalized and specialized studies
- Develop a sense of personal and social responsibility for issues in public health that are anchored through interactions with current practitioners of Public Health and via active, hands-on involvement with real-world challenges, in internships and/or independent studies.
- Explore a potential career path that is well-supported by a liberal arts education and develop a relevant network of mentors and professional contacts.
- Sustain and enhance our network of Program advisors, guest lecturers and internship sponsors.
We are currently working with Dr. Aufderheide to develop direct assessment measures for the outcomes listed above. It is our hope that in piloting this program that we might establish an assessment strategy that can easily be repurposed to suit other similarly-intentioned Concentrations. Finally, it may be that those Concentrations initiatives that receive significant student subscribership could be developed further into a canonical major or minor, worthy of permanent Bulletin status. Finally, this solution provides an opportunity to connect the A_Lab to the academic curriculum in a substantive and meaningful way.
We support a conservative approach in developing Oglethorpe’s Concentrations. The Public Health Concentration has been chosen as a “pilot” both with respect to student interest and faculty burden. We encourage APC to scrutinize the Public Health Program specifically, but we also hope that the Committee will also use this as an opportunity to “work the kinks” out of an idea that might be more broadly applicable. There is no need to reinvent the wheel at every turn. That said, there seem to be a few other organic interdisciplinary trends in the curriculum (some of which have been expressed through IPMs) that might be promising Concentrations as well:
- Pre-Med Studies
- Medical/Scientific Illustration
- Hospital Management
- Physical Therapy
- Science Writing
- Patent Law
This is not an exhaustive list. There are likely more points of connectivity in other corners of the curriculum that could be explored. The trick will be to develop only the ones that we think best match our students’ interests and our professional expertise.
We hope you will approve our attached proposal for a new Public Health (PBH) Concentration to be implemented at Oglethorpe beginning in Fall 2016. We think that this program design is well-informed and appropriately aspirational and that it provides an opportunity for us to model the importance of the Liberal Arts when training future professionals.