White Paper #4: Enriching the curricular with the co-curricular and why a holistic educational experience is important

When The New York Times columnist David Brooks was on campus during the fall semester, he visited with several classes, spoke to a crowd from the college and community in Leonard Auditorium and met with the Old Gold and Black student newspaper staff. While meeting with our student-journalists, Brooks offered advice for finding opportunities in the field after graduation.

He explained that while scanning resumés to fill internship positions, he sees the same things. All of the applicants have done everything right. They've made good grades, taken the appropriate classes and held progressively responsible leadership positions. On paper, they would all make perfectly acceptable interns. Brooks, who has made a name for himself globally as a political and cultural commentator, however, is looking for something more. He's looking for students who have taken risks, stepped out of their comfort zones and engaged in the world in ways that inspire a deep interest and passion.

In other words, the baseline knowledge and competencies that students develop in college are necessary, but no longer enough. That's why providing opportunities for co-curricular experiences, experiences that augment what students learn in the classroom, and “doing the discipline” are so important.

Wofford Trustee Steven Mungo, Wofford Class of 1981, summed it up well in an interview last spring for a story about Wofford's creation of an academic exchange. According to Mungo, " ... academic studies are just the foundation of what makes a person successful later in life. International studies, community involvement and internships, for example, are essential to rounding out the educational experience and making our students more competitive" in the workplace or when applying for graduate, medical or law school.

They're also essential to fulfilling Wofford's mission of providing a superior liberal arts education that prepares students for extraordinary and positive contributions to society. It is absolutely about providing opportunities for students to develop various competencies, but more importantly — and of far more significance to humankind — it is about offering students opportunities to find their purpose within the greater community. Wofford College has a responsibility to both prepare students for what they will find in the world after graduation and for their unique contributions to society — a tall order, but one that Wofford has been fulfilling for 163 years.

Founded as "a college for literary, classical and scientific education," Wofford leaders never confined teaching and learning solely to the classroom; the co-curricular was as important to the development of the entire person as the curricular. Even in the earliest days mandatory chapel services, literary societies, debate teams, a lyceum speaker series and physical education requirements were organized and supported with college resources to prepare students for the familial and societal roles they would fill upon matriculation. When the curriculum changed to meet society's needs, enhancements to the co-curriculum followed suit.

One of Wofford's largest expansions of the traditional classroom came in 1968 with the first January Interim. During that inaugural month, Wofford students experienced air travel for the first time on their way to living and studying among the ruins of ancient Rome or with Spanish-speaking families in Mexico. They studied jazz in New Orleans, international politics at the United Nations in New York City and art in Florence, Italy. They explored careers in the ministry, teaching and medicine, and they produced the college's first play, creating what eventually became Wofford Theatre.

Dr. Charles Marsh, Wofford's seventh president, considered Interim one of the great accomplishments of his presidency. With the changing social and political climate, he, Dean of the College Philip Covington and other members of the faculty and administration realized that sheltering students from the world was no longer an option. Interim was developed in response as a way to bring the world and the classroom together — to meld the curricular and co-curricular. Still today, Interim provides opportunities for students and faculty to explore new and untried topics, take academic risks, observe issues in action, develop capabilities for independent learning and consider different peoples, places and professional options. Wofford will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Interim during January 2018 with the reprisal of a few of the early Interim experiences and within the pages of a special Interim edition of the Old Gold and Black student newspaper, but the college has been celebrating the transformational intent of Interim and the opportunities it provides to make the most of the college experience since the beginning.

Wofford's current co-curricular offerings include opportunities for undergraduate research, internships, global study and travel, entrepreneurial training, work on the student publications staff, participation in pre-professional organizations and community-based learning. All are focused on giving students opportunities to make a difference, find purpose and understand what it means to engage civically as well as academically.

For example:

  • Students in Dr. Laura Barbas Rhoden's Spanish 303 classes hone their Spanish skills while meeting the need for mentors and study buddies in a local predominantly Hispanic school and neighborhood.
  • Jack McDonald, a student from Rochester, N.Y., is working with the staff of The Space in the Mungo Center to connect his finance major, independent study of computer programming and travel experiences from New York to Spartanburg to improve small-business travel and expense reporting through the development of a travel app.
  • Students and faculty in physics, English and art have collaborated on a book to explain the principles of quantum mechanics to children. The summer research experience meant that teachers became students, students became teachers and everyone learned lessons in how to work with others, manage time, direct research and give and accept criticism. The group is now seeking a publisher so children across the country can learn about character and how it relates to the photoelectric effect.

Often these co-curricular experiences don't add credit hours to a student's transcript, but they complement Wofford's rigorous academic program in ways that are practical, future-focused and, I would certainly contend, essential.

Steven Mintz of the University of Texas and Michael Patrick Rutter of MIT call intentional emphasis on a robust co-curricular program "meeting students where they are." In their "Inside Higher Ed" blog, Mintz and Rutter write that the students of today frequently complain about the rising cost of tuition, academic boredom and the unavailability of desired classes. Students, however, rarely get outraged and protest such matters. "This is likely because they find the true meaning of college elsewhere. ... For many students, it's the co-curriculum that offers the most interesting, compelling, and institutionally-defining education experiences."1

Nationally recognized liberal arts colleges such as Wofford understand how to extend academic rigor beyond the classroom so that co-curricular experiences also are steeped in intellectual challenge. Blending the two so that they supplement each other requires time, effort and financial support, but the learning outcomes are well worth it. Consider the opportunities now available for students within the Michael S. Brown Village Center (MSBVC) on campus. In addition to housing studio apartments for seniors, classrooms, a campus dining hall and convenience store, the MSBVC also houses The Space in the Mungo Center, where students go for professional development and entrepreneurial guidance as well as internship support. Also in the MSBVC are the Office of International Programs and the Center for Community-Based Learning. Zainab Bhagat, a sophomore from Columbia, S.C., already has taken advantage of the synergy that Wofford created during the spring semester when it re-located these programs under one roof. She spent the past summer interning in the rural area of Msitu wa Tembo in Tanzania. "I helped run a bike shop, which meant doing everything from reconciling the books to customer relations to marketing," she explains. "Wofford is all about giving you transformational educational opportunities, and they definitely delivered through my internship in Tanzania."

The exciting thing is that Zainab's experience is the rule rather than the exception at Wofford. Hundreds of Wofford students spent time this past summer in internship, research and study-abroad experiences facilitated through the college. Lydia Miller, for example, a history and humanities major from Gainesville, Ga., wanted to see what it was like to apply her passion for history in a public setting. She landed an internship at President Lincoln's Cottage in Washington, D.C., and learned valuable lessons while teaching visitors about the thoughts and conversations held by the Lincoln family during their stays in the cottage. Here are some other examples from the past year of how students are doing the discipline and transferring what they've read, discussed or studied in a classroom to experiences and explorations through Wofford's co-curricular programming.

  • A group of four students joined global efforts to address the problem of coral bleaching by working in the lab of Dr. Geoffrey Mitchell, assistant professor of biology. Lacey Tallent, a senior from Spartanburg, discovered that research can be both rewarding and frustrating, but she says she enjoys it because "you never know what's going to happen." She's planning a career in the field because of the experience.
  • Jake Brice, a senior from Greenville, S.C., combined his passion for government and international affairs with his love of Wofford to update the large wall map of the world in one of the government classrooms in the Daniel Building. The project required him to engage in research, fundraising, presentations, global procurement and installation — a total liberal arts experience.
  • Dawn McQuiston took four students from her Psychology and the Law course to the Innocence Network Conference in San Diego, Calif. Students met and heard from attorneys, judges, victims and families of victims. "Teaching and learning do not exclusively happen in a classroom," says McQuiston, who has already built a reputation at Wofford for making sure her students have opportunities to apply their academic knowledge in creative ways. "It's hard to beat the sort of teachable moments that happen by meeting and interacting with someone who was in prison wrongfully for 25 years."
  • First-year students who elect to participate in living-learning communities share residential, classroom and civic-engagement experiences. For example, students in the “Cultural Crossings: Explorations in Intercultural Learning in the 21st Century” community enrolled in both Dr. Dan Mathewson's "Newer Religions of the World" class and Dr. Britt Newman's "Intermediate Active Spanish" class. During the fall semester, in addition to attending classes and studying together, they developed an intercultural e-portfolio and participated in a series of community engagement projects and workshops. Soon, in addition to living-learning communities for first-year students, the college will offer a program in the Northside neighborhood adjacent to the campus for students interested in delving deeper into issues of sustainability.
  • This summer 20 first-year Gateway Scholars (primarily first-generation, Pell-eligible students) spent two weeks on campus building relationships with their peers, connecting with student and staff mentors, and learning skills in the areas of technology, public speaking and financial literacy. They learned to navigate college before they took their first class and now have a head start on student success. A grant from the Jolley Foundation of Greenville, S.C., made this high-impact, co-curricular experience possible.

Giving students opportunities to make a difference, find purpose and put into practice ideas discussed in the classroom is not a new concept. Aristotle said, "Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation." And there lies the core of Wofford's mission — a mission that benefits the individual as well as society. Wofford takes this mission seriously and puts people, programs and facilities in place to ensure that learning happens around the clock and around the globe. Achieving intentional, meaningful and individualized co-curricular programming is labor-intensive work. It requires trained professionals who are creative, experienced and dedicated to student success. The old adage, "you get what you pay for," certainly holds true when it comes to hiring faculty and staff who competently handle the day-to-day requirements of their jobs while fostering in students a commitment to excellence, intellectual curiosity, lifelong learning, global awareness and social consciousness.

Take the staff in the Office of International Programs for example. Dean of International Programs Amy Lancaster and Assistant Dean for International Programs Laura Braun both speak multiple languages, hold advanced degrees, have studied and traveled abroad extensively, and are active in professional organizations. Sara Milani, international programs advisor, and Kyle Keith, study abroad coordinator, both of whom have similar qualifications, round out the staff. The entire department stays current on world politics, travel conditions and best practices in the field. Their commitment to our students has paid off. Within the past year, Wofford has awarded more than $77,000 in Wofford Travel Grants — an all-time record — to reduce the financial hurdles for some students. The college also continues to produce Gilman Scholars, which includes paid study abroad and internship experiences, and this fall the college brought the Passport Caravan to the college, a program that encourages students to study abroad by providing free passports. Again this year, the International Education Exchange ranked Wofford #4 in their Open Doors Report among the top 40 baccalaureate institutions in the nation for the percentage of students who study abroad for credit. Wofford also ranked #11 in the total number of study abroad students (419 in 2015-16) and #11 for short-term study abroad experiences (thanks to Interim). Wofford has ranked among the nation's leaders in study abroad for the past 20 years.

Maggie Stewart, a graduate of the Class of 2017, is living and working in Washington, D.C. She studied abroad in Istanbul, Turkey as a junior, and the international affairs and religion major turned an internship into a job as a program associate with an organization that advances democracy around the globe. According to Stewart, the discussion-based classes on relevant topics, study abroad experience and the public speaking and critical-thinking skills she honed at Wofford helped her land the job and now serve her well every day. She, in turn, serves the cause of international freedom and democracy.

According to economic research presented in 2016 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, within the next year "America will be 3 million college-educated workers short" of meeting society's demand. In particular, the report cites the essential need for liberally educated college graduates who demonstrate:

  • Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, with focus on engagement with big questions.
  • Intellectual and practical skills, practiced within and outside of the curriculum.
  • Personal and social responsibility, anchored through involvement with diverse communities and real-world challenges.
  • Integrative and applied learning, as shown in new settings and with complex problems.

Employers and graduate school admissions committees want college graduates who can work with people who have different views, who understand democratic issues and values, who have the capacity to contribute to the greater good, who have a breadth of knowledge and can make connections across disciplines, and who have the intercultural skills to live and work in the global community.2 We all want and benefit from neighbors and friends with these kinds of abilities.

It's impossible to calculate the intrinsic value of Wofford's co-curricular program, of the importance of nurturing students who graduate then go out and strengthen the social fabric as citizens, leaders and scholars. Thankfully we have those same Terriers reaching back with their leadership and financial support to ensure that the next generation receives the benefits of Wofford College and its holistic, transformational educational experience.


[1] Rutter, M.P., & Mintz, S. (2016, October 20). The Curricular and the Co-Curricular, Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://insiderhighered.com/blogs/higher-ed-gamma/curricular-and-co-curricular
[2] Humphreys, D., & Carnevale, A. (2016). The Economic Value of Liberal Education. Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/EconomicCase2016.pdf.