As a national liberal arts college with a tightly knit faculty community, Wofford has a long tradition of interdisciplinary collaboration. Wofford can distinguish itself from other liberal arts institutions with new investment in programs that allow students to pursue academic expression and curiosity with community service, international programs and independent learning. Our signature Interim program has been doing so since 1968. As more students are turning their attention to issues surrounding the environment and sustainability, we can build on such assets as the Goodall Environmental Studies Center, a LEED Platinum-renovated facility close to the Lawson’s Fork of the Pacolet River, and students and scholars who are committed to ongoing civic engagement.
Our facilities need to support the full range of exploration and creativity in our community. In the past decade, academic libraries have moved to the forefront as spaces that offer exciting connecting points and resources for research, educational technology, collaboration, networking and creativity. This new role is reflected in their design as facilities that feature flexible spaces for emerging educational trends and new technologies, and sites for quiet research, group discussions and informal interactions.
An arts center plays a vital role in the community because it embodies imagination, invention and collaboration. Whatever fields and disciplines students pursue, a strong arts program promotes a creative approach that is critical to success in today’s complex world. As we develop a more vibrant community, in and out of the classroom, we need to provide a stronger presence—in a centrally located facility—for the interdisciplinary, creative activities supported by theater and the visual arts. In addition, just as athletics programs increase participation and diversity on campus, so do the arts in terms of both performers and spectators/audiences.
Another important connection that leads to engagement is a stronger investment in the environment and sustainability in the curriculum, the co-curriculum and at the core of the institution. Environmental Studies is one of the most interdisciplinary areas in the college—it encompasses all forms of human endeavor, from science to law to poetry, as we grapple with the complex issues surrounding our stewardship of the Earth. The quest for sustainability—curtailing our ecological impacts while improving quality of life—requires leaders to connect management and strategic planning to the academic mission.
Of course, all of these ideas will succeed only if the faculty remains strong, vibrant and engaged in the latest thinking about pedagogy, technology and many other critical topics. Faculty interaction with students is the foundation of the liberal arts, and alumni often look back and realize it was a certain professor, at a pivotal time in the student’s life, that made a world of difference.
As we developed this plan, for example, we heard from many people about the lasting difference these individuals made. During one interview, a graduate talked about his life-changing experience involving an Interim travel project with two professors. “While the content of the course was captivating, the thing that most moved me was the collaboration of the two professors. Abroad with these two professors for several weeks, it dawned upon me that it is possible to tailor our lives and careers around the things that move us most.” Testimonials such as this underscore the necessity to recruit, recognize and reward the finest and most talented faculty if we are to reach our ambitious goals.
This recommendation has five parts:
1. Provide a strong and distinctive liberal arts curriculum that includes opportunities for in-depth research and pedagogies that cross disciplines to involve experiential learning, collaboration and the latest technology including international programs, interdisciplinary initiatives and core curriculum. Just as importantly, help students prepare for a rapidly changing, interdependent world while remaining true to the values of a liberally educated citizen. (ACADEMICS)
We recommend developing new interdisciplinary majors and programs as well as promoting collaboration across disciplines to advance teaching. These should include co-teaching, linked courses, learning communities and living-learning communities. With a strategic focus on innovation, collaboration and support, Wofford could expand the breadth of its offerings significantly with the addition of relatively few faculty members. To support the increase of interdisciplinary activity, expand the Center for Innovation and Learning so it can do more to support teaching effectiveness. It is especially helpful for early career faculty to get new ideas and feedback as they develop their classroom skills.
At the same time, we recommend a renewed focus on the general education requirements, which we advocate renaming the Core Curriculum. Such a curriculum should provide academic challenge and model ways of examining issues from multiple perspectives, assessing and reflecting on ethical implications and employing the techniques and insights of a variety of disciplines to foster creative solutions. It should include a common first-year experience that extends beyond the current requirement, as well as specific sophomore, junior and senior experiences.
Students should have high impact experiential learning opportunities. Increasingly, outstanding students expect to participate in research to explore subjects in-depth with guidance from faculty. To recruit and support more students looking for such opportunities, Wofford should increase funding for collaborative research, incorporate student projects into the curriculum and provide travel grants to allow students to attend and present research at conferences and for student field and archival research.
Another high impact learning opportunity is international programs. These off-campus experiences are becoming even more relevant as we integrate the global context throughout the curriculum. To increase the pace of integration, Wofford should ensure that each student has at least one international program opportunity during Interim and establish a curricular initiative that integrates global learning into the overall academic experience when students return.
To allow more students and faculty to take advantage of Interim, we recommend expanding into the summer months, enabling student-athletes to participate as well as permitting students to engage in educational experiences that are only possible at that time of year. Wofford should explore more ways to configure Interim as part of general education and consider hiring a full-time staff member to oversee the program. With these changes, Interim will do even more to embody Wofford’s support for non-traditional forms of learning and underscore that cultivating intellectual curiosity is a key element of a full life. The social science disciplines have vital contributions to make in helping students integrate global and intercultural experiences into their growing understanding of the world.
How can we help students consolidate and reflect on these learning experiences? With an e-portfolio program, students can create a repository of their four years of work that captures the scope of their academic careers as well as deeper reflections about their experiences at Wofford. As a result, students will become more aware of the connections they have made and how to articulate their skills and experiences to potential employers, graduate school interviewers and others. We believe that such a record will lead to more engaged alumni as well.
We recommend amending Wofford’s mission statement to include sustainability and a global context as core values, and we urge the addition of administrative support to manage the development, implementation and evaluation of practices focused on strengthening curricular and co-curricular learning; promoting faculty, staff and student interaction; and enhancing civic engagement. With such support, the college could demonstrate the interplay of sustainability, our place in a complex global system, learning resources and help students make the most of the ensuing learning opportunities. As Wofford implements the changes and enhancements under this goal, many of our students will become increasingly competitive for prestigious postgraduate fellowships.
We also recommend that the college highlight the Goodall Environmental Studies Center as we explore sustainability, discover how natural and human systems interrelate through time and solve problems creatively through teamwork and planning.
2. Recruit and retain superior faculty who excel in their fields with a demonstrated love of and commitment to excellence in undergraduate education. (ACADEMICS, FACULTY/STAFF)
We seek to preserve our tradition of excellent superior undergraduate instruction by enriching our teaching and mentoring relationships with more opportunities for undergraduate research, collaboration and community engagement. Accordingly, we recommend developing specific strategies to support and retain our talented, committed faculty. Such an emphasis is critical to Wofford’s future.
Certain investments contribute greatly to professional engagement and retention, including strong faculty development and sabbatical programs to help faculty update knowledge in their fields and consider new approaches to teaching. Bringing discipline-specific speakers to campus is another valuable investment. By inspiring both faculty and students, activities such as these increase the breadth of educational experiences significantly. Of course, competitive compensation is a critical factor in faculty recruitment and retention.
Likewise, we recommend developing and nurturing partnerships with foreign institutions to support visiting faculty exchanges, increase diversity and encourage a broader global outlook. Such arrangements will benefit all participants. Our faculty will enhance their cultural and professional skills, while the campus will be enlivened with different perspectives.
Other beneficial activities include helping more faculty compete for Fulbright scholarships and other top awards and bringing new faculty to campus with the help of programs such as the Postdoc Fellowship in Small Liberal Arts College (SLAC) Teaching and the Consortium for Faculty Diversity. These programs make it possible for faculty from underrepresented groups to teach at Wofford full time for several years, especially in the sciences, adding diversity to the faculty and extending our reputation to groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education.
Support for faculty engagement contributes to high levels of student engagement as well. In 2010, seniors at Wofford, a group of peer colleges and all schools participating in the National Survey of Student Engagement reported levels of academic engagement. As the chart shows, Wofford seniors reported the highest levels of engagement on each component of the variable, with Wofford student judgments about faculty-student interaction and a supportive environment outdistancing the rest. The faculty make the difference in measures such as these. With an increased investment in our faculty, we will ensure that Wofford remains attractive to teacher-scholars who represent the very best in their fields and encourage our students to be the very best.
3. Develop a Center for the Arts and Creativity to support the arts and creative work in other disciplines that demonstrates our commitment to a Wofford education as a lifetime endeavor and supports programs that increase diversity and expand our scope by reaching prospective students, alumni, artists and the broader community. (ACADEMICS, ALUMNI/DEVELOPMENT)
The Center for the Arts and Creativity will provide a focal point for the artistic and creative endeavors taking place across campus: a resource, a gathering place and an incubator for innovation. The center will underscore the importance of the arts and diversity in our community, attracting students and faculty who want to pursue their creative passions and informing new ways of thinking and experiencing for everyone.
The center should encourage collaboration among the arts, as well as between the arts on the one hand, and the sciences, social sciences and humanities on the other. As such, it will be more than simply another arts center—it will be a launching pad for creative endeavors of all kinds, serving both the curricular and co-curricular needs of the entire campus and the larger Spartanburg community.
4. Provide an academic space for expansion of the sciences and our Environmental Studies program. Replacing the Sam O. Black Science Annex, this space will underscore our historic strength in and commitment to the sciences and sustainability. (ACADEMICS)
The Goodall Center, just seven miles from campus, is a critical part of the Environmental Studies program because it offers excellent learning opportunities in the lab and the field. However, a modern on-campus facility is also required to provide teaching space and technology designed to support intensive, collaborative, hands-on learning, advanced computing and the capacity to link students and instructors on campus to those at Goodall. In this new space, faculty will be able to explore new programming at crucial disciplinary intersections—the environment and entrepreneurism, for example—preparing our students to take leadership roles in a fast growing, competitive field. The space will replace the current Sam O. Black Science Annex, a building in desperate need of major repair and renovation.
5. Create a new Academic Commons by redesigning the library as the connecting point for student scholarship, learning resources and cutting-edge educational technology. Support advanced informational and educational technology and the professional personnel to facilitate use. (ACADEMICS, STUDENT AFFAIRS)
To support the central role of the library in providing traditional services and assistance with new scholarship methods, the current building should be redesigned as the heart of a new Academic Commons. One new feature will be an educational technology center run by an academic technologist who understands the classroom experience.
This office will be responsible for teaching faculty and students how to use new technology, including an e-portfolio management system for students and faculty and a studio for digital fabrication and rapid prototyping technologies, which allows users to design and produce objects that can be used in the arts or manufacturing. Other spaces could include a writing lab, research help center, presentation practice room, coffee shop and art gallery.