In a club or volunteering? It could count toward graduation

By Shanna O’Mara

On the heels of Rider’s reversed program cuts in the fall and a new liberal arts core in March, another academic proposal is on the table.

During a University Academic Policy Committee meeting on April 19, Dr. Anne Law, special assistant to the provost, fleshed out a new plan designed to increase student engagement outside of the classroom. The idea will be further discussed at a meeting on May 3 in Sweigart 208.

“The purpose of the proposal really is to take something that Rider does successfully and spread it, to find a way to increase students’ ability to meaningfully connect in-class and out-of-class experiences,” Law said. “[This will give] the opportunity to strengthen the learning that occurs in some of the stronger co-curricular experiences. The objectives of the proposal are to elevate all of that and to create a common set of requirements for students.”

Dr. Jeffrey Halpern, associate professor of sociology and contract administrator for Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, addressed the plan that has grown significantly over the past two years, with guidance from administrators, faculty, staff and students.

“We’re not just saying that we’re going to note these things,” he said. “That’s where the conversation began about two years ago. It’s now become a [potential] graduation requirement.”

If the plan is accepted, students will be required to complete a specific amount of extracurricular activity before being able to receive a diploma. The work may be completed as part of a Rider organization or an independent group, such as a student’s local church, hospital or school.

“There are specific criteria, so it has to not just be time,” said Liberal Arts Associate Dean Dr. Jonathan Millen. “There needs to be institutionalized feedback. A student can’t just write anything.”

Students would electronically record their time spent working for an institution, potentially through services already in place at Rider, including GiveGab, DegreeWorks and CollegiateLink, according to Law and Provost DonnaJean Fredeen.

This new core would not go into effect until the class of 2020 begins its journey with the university. From there, committee members would evaluate the potential successes and shortcomings of the plan.

“I do [like] the notion that we would report back in, let’s say, a year about what some of these things look like, as we’re ramping up to welcoming the first class of students for whom this is required,” Law said. “Thinking about the time frame, we do have some time to pay attention to these details and get them right and try them out. There are going to be some things that we’re really only going to learn through trial and error.”

Committee members, including Law and Millen, have already begun introducing this plan to current students.

“Their level of enthusiasm was so gratifying, especially when we went in to talk to the athletic council, because the students were nervous,” Law said. “Their first thought was, ‘Don’t ask us to do anything more.’”

Millen said the students embraced the proposal. “They wrote to us and said they loved the idea and loved the concept,” he said. “Of course, they also recognized that much of their work is already being accomplished, but there were students who weren’t athletes who serve on that athletic council and were also pleased.”

Faculty also compared current students’ work with the work expected if the proposal is passed.

“When we met with a couple of different groups, we took actual student transcripts and went through the document, even with other programs in place,” Millen said. “How many have had enough experiences that would be satisfied by default? It seems to be about 80 percent.”

However, representatives from the College of Business Administration Academic Policy Committee (CBA-APC), including Assistant Professor Dr. Darrell Bartholomew, expressed their concern that the CBA will not support the notion that this program will become a graduation requirement.

Millen explained that many students already participate in co-curricular activities on- and off-campus, although their work is not documented. Others never consider the benefit of learning outside of the classroom, so this proposal will give them a chance to plan their path through Rider, starting freshman year.

“We thought this intentionality, this idea of doing it in a mindful way, is a conversation that begins during that first semester,” Millen said. “If you think about your career-preparedness and academic-preparedness as happening simultaneously, then this engaged learning is a way to tie together what we expect of our students both in and out of the classroom. In light of the fact that we don’t have a university core, this is something we can identify as a university expectation.”

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