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Wofford receives Bringing Theory to Practice grant

$15,000 to build on civic engagement groundwork
 
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2014-02-10

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Two teams of Wofford College faculty have combined forces to receive a $15,000 grant from the Bringing Theory to Practice Project, which recently awarded more than $700,000 in support for 28 campuses nationwide.

Institutions receiving the grants will form a collaborative learning environment, working together to gain a greater understanding and advance practices and policies that better reflect the “transformative promise” of higher education for students – “a promise much richer than what may prevail elsewhere; a promise and expectation of rigorous and engaged learning to educate the whole person,” says the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), a partner in the project.

Wofford’s project is called “Civic Engagement as Whole-Student Development: Identity Formation as a Prelude to Flourishing.” It will build on the groundwork laid by several college groups over the past several years related to civic engagement as whole-student development, especially two on-going projects.

“We are building on the premise that intentional, coordinated and integrated high-impact practices create the conditions that foster two objectives: student interest in and capacity for civic engagement, and students’ examining and considering their own well-being and identity formation through productive engagement with difference,” says Dr. Trina Janiec Jones, associate professor of religion and one of the participants in the grant. The part of the project that she will be working with, in partnership with Dr. Ronald Robinson, Wofford’s Perkins-Prothro Chaplain and professor of religion, and Dennis Wiseman, director of the Center for Innovation and Learning, will focus on “how we can create and enhance the conditions on campus that lead to students’ engaging and considering, in a deep and nuanced way, both their own identity formation and the diverse religious, spiritual and secular worldviews of others in an increasingly globalized world.”

Jones says what the AAC&U categorizes as “high-impact practices” – such as service learning and community-based learning, capstone courses and projects, and undergraduate research or diversity and global learning – are the types of things that Wofford faculty and staff are doing every day. “The Bringing Theory to Practice project asserts, and I agree, that these types of teaching and learning practices can lead to the ultimate, overriding goal of whole-student development. So, such practices pave the way for college graduates’ building the capacity to flourish, both in their personal lives and in their work, once they leave Wofford.

“Our joint project, then, begins with two assumptions: that liberal learning is, in large part, predicated on the goal of facilitating civically engaged learning, and that civic engagement, in turn, is predicated largely on helping students learn how to engage meaningfully and productively with difference,” she adds.

Jones, Robinson, Wiseman and Dr. Ellen S. Goldey, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor and chair of the Department of Biology, have been collaborating on a Teagle Foundation-funded grant over the past few years. This grant, shared with Elon University, focused on “the conjunction of student learning, student flourishing and religious pluralism, and on how to make an institution-wide commitment to religious pluralism, interfaith literacy and intercultural competency a sustainable part of Wofford’s identity – part of its institutional DNA,” Jones says.

The Bringing Theory to Practice Grant will help continue their three-year engagement with the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) that was started as part of the Teagle Grant.

Another Wofford group, composed of Dr. Anne Rodrick, associate professor of history and coordinator of the humanities, and Dr. Christine Sorrell Dinkins, associate professor of philosophy, will share in the Bringing Theory to Practice Grant to focus on empowering sophomores, and those advising them, by uncovering and providing more access to high-impact practices already available on Wofford’s campus.

The two groups combined their “interests and talents so that the outcomes of the grant will have a greater impact than we initially anticipated,” Jones says.

“This grant will afford us the opportunity to step back and survey the scope and type of high-impact practices on campus; to examine what we do well and where we have opportunities for growth; and to coordinate efforts across campus so that our work is more intentional and integrated,” she continues.

The combined group has several objectives. One will focus on the sophomore year, looking at where high-impact practices already are happening at Wofford and exploring access to them, and planning workshops for faculty and staff focused on more effectively advising students about how they can and should access these practices.

Another will focus on religious pluralism, interfaith and worldview literacy, and “whole-student development.” It will involve creating and experimenting with high-impact practices aimed at making the ideals of the “Pluralism and Worldview Engagement Rubric” – created as part of the Teagle grant work – operational and effective on campus. “Dr. Robinson and I are creating a new course that will focus on the theological, philosophical and civic challenges involved in religious pluralism,” Jones says. “We also will continue, through this grant, Wofford’s three-year engagement with the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), which has been consulting with Wofford since 2011.”

Other key participants in the Wofford project are:

Dr. Laura Barbas-Rhoden, associate professor of Spanish
Scott Cochran, dean of The Space in the Mungo Center
Jennifer Dillenger, director of Career Services
Ramon Galinanes, coordinator of the Bonner Scholars Program
Dr. John Miles, assistant professor, director of writing projects and director of the Writing Center
Raymond Ruff, director of institutional research and special projects
Dr. Carol Wilson, associate professor of English and coordinator of academic advising

The Bringing Theory to Practice Grant project will run through June 30, 2015.

Bringing Theory to Practice is an independent project sponsored by the Charles Engelhard Foundation of New York City and the S. Engelhard Center and developed in partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities. For more information, go to www.BTtoP.org.