Provost’s Report: Improving Our Learning Community

October, 2004

by Virginia Barry, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Students Kristin Cummings (left) and Diana Chisholm (right) make use of the new Boyd Science Center facilities to study biology.  Photo by Alan MacRae.

Students Kristin Cummings (left) and Diana Chisholm (right) make use of the new Boyd Science Center facilities to study biology. Photo by Alan MacRae.

This past year Plymouth State University has been quite busy making changes focused on student success. Countless efforts have been made to help improve our learning community. In President Wharton’s message, he identified a number of activities from this past year that serve to validate our important work and the acknowledgment we received from accrediting groups regarding our willingness to listen to our students about their perceptions on learning. The information we learned from students participating in the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) is helping us to develop curriculum that promotes learning and success for every first-year student and focuses on content and academic skill building, higher order cognitive skill development, psychosocial development and persistence in completing a program of study leading to a degree. Additionally, the NSSE data was the basis for a successful grant proposal to the Davis Foundation.

PSU has a dynamic curriculum that continues to evolve in all aspects of knowledge and skills, as well as recognition of the social aspects of a global society. The Frost Faculty Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence offers ongoing staff development for faculty focused on improving the first year experience of students, the integration of technology in teaching and learning, and a recognition that the changing demographics of students needs to be constantly reviewed to best prepare them for their work in the future. The Frost Center received funding from the Davis Foundation to help create faculty dialogue on teaching and learning.

It is important that our graduates be able to make connections between life and learning, across disciplines and between ideas. We are focused on helping our students develop “learning to learn” skills and the sense of meaning that comes with hard work and commitment.

As we approach the new academic year, we are excited about the second year of the Foundations of Excellence program supporting our first year students. This project, jointly sponsored by the Policy Center on the First Year of College and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), and funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies and Lumina Foundation for Education, has become a driving force behind our commitment to a momentous first year that sets the stage for the entire undergraduate experience.

Supporting this first-year experience is a transformed Writing Center to a Reading and Writing Center located in our library. The new center is the result of many hard-working faculty and staff who are concerned about the importance of reading and writing in all aspects of our curriculum. The concept is novel and PSU hopes to be a national leader in creating a center that engages students in finding the pleasure of reading and writing in all aspects of their learning. We are seeking corporate and foundation support for this unique program, and have received a grant from Fidelity Investments.

A new research, education and outreach Center for the Environment has been created to undertake a fundamental transformation supporting our role in the region on aspects of the environment. The Center is just another example of faculty commitment to students and community partners to improve environmental science education and conduct research affecting our understanding of the environment. The Center will be a focal point for internships for our students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Graduate programs and community outreach are a significant part of the PSU offerings. As Associate Vice President Dennise Maslakowski notes, “The faculty and staff at Plymouth State University design programs that make a difference in the lives of students. There is an amazing amount of team effort to create a learning community that emphasizes growth and development, and student learning and success.” Our graduate programs continue to grow, from approximately 500 enrolled in degree and professional certification programs in 2000 to 1,255 today.

The M.Ed. programs represent 25 disciplines, such as athletic training, educational leadership, counselor education, mathematics, English, health and more. The MBA program, offered at locations across the state, offers five certificate programs, with the certificate in organizational communication being the most popular. The CAGS program, which began in 1997 with 15 students, now has 151. Of those, 32 students have gone on to Argosy University in Florida for their doctorate, through the PSU degree partnership program. This year, PSU introduces a new Master of Arts in Teaching program with certification in art education. Plans are in place for Master of Science degrees to be developed this year, as well.

Four new graduate professional certification programs have been approved by the state: library media specialist, learning disabilities, emotional handicaps and English as a second language. Online partnership courses continue to grow, with 35 courses offered through ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), 30 courses through Web-Ed, 65 courses through Connected University, and many hybrid Web-CT courses offered here at PSU.

PSU’s growing Community Outreach program provides courses that meet community needs. This summer, PSU offered institutes in play therapy, special education transition, ecology, dance, Piano Monster camps, Mindflight, positive behavior strategies, the arts and the New England Band Directors Institute, reaching students from middle school to graduate school.

PSU has developed over 65 professional partnerships, with organizations such as ASCD, Upper Valley Training Institute, Squam Lake and the Manchester School District. TIGER presented its mobile theatre show on the topics of bullying and differences to over 14,600 elementary and middle school children this year—a high school show is in production.

While we reach outward for partnerships, we are also partnering within our own institution to increase our chances for success. Institutional advancement at Plymouth State has provided support for our efforts, both in seeking funding for our new initiatives and in helping us develop materials and promote new programs. Our efforts in program development have become much more integrated to allow for collaboration with the public relations and development departments.

Plymouth State University’s accomplishments at both the undergraduate and graduate level last year point to an exciting and eventful year to come.

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