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Strategic Planning Recommendations
During the dynamic and intense meetings we have had as a committee, agreement emerged on three major principles that undergird all our proposals. The consistency with which these principles guided our discussion helps to explain the interrelationship apparent among the proposals that follow.
1) Academic life and student life should be related as complementary and interrelated, across a "permeable membrane."
The purpose for Student Affairs at Eckerd College is to complement and aid in our primary mission: the education of undergraduate students. Such education must address the whole student, involving learning inside as well as outside of class, in the academic buildings and in the student life spaces. But this learning should be conceptualized as fluid and continuous, crossing a "permeable membrane" and creating connections between intellectual development primarily on the academic side, and personal development primarily on the student affairs side.
2) It is the college's challenge and responsibility to foster a dynamic interaction between the academic dimension and the student life dimension, by consciously promoting excellence on both sides, but also by intentionally validating the "permeable membrane" itself, and by nurturing student learning that engages and correlates with intellectual and social development and the skills necessary to both.
There are, of course, already examples of activities that work across the divide; internships, career counseling, and faculty-led trips abroad. Our vision, however, seeks to sharpen awareness and intentionality in acknowledging the "permeable membrane," and acknowledging in it the interdependency of these two main aspects of student development. Thus, we have included in our proposals everything from suggestions for constructing future campus buildings, to re-viewing current programs and structures with this heightened awareness in mind, to creating programs that further and celebrate the potential for student growth and leadership embedded in this interdependent model.
3) Learning in the traditional, residential liberal arts undergraduate student must be recognized as developmental; this development, in turn, must be facilitated and enriched by consciously understanding and addressing its stages as they occur simultaneously in academic contexts and in student life beyond the classroom.
We suggest the need for ongoing faculty and staff development that acquaints us with the most recent research on developmental learning in the traditional college-age student, that calls upon our imaginations to respond, and that brings us together in our work with students; from conceptualizing through evaluating. We believe such awareness and collaboration will further and refine our success with students, and, building on our current strengths, can serve as major components of the vision that is distinct to Eckerd College.
We believe the following proposals, based on the foregoing principles, articulate a fuller vision of what a residential liberal arts college can be in the 21st century.
I. Endowed Faculty Chair for Eckerd College Community Scholars
We recommend that the college seek to create Endowed Faculty Chairs to foster experiential learning, on and off campus community activities, and to invigorate out-of-class relationships and experiences between teachers and students. We propose a possible name for these Endowed Chairs: Endowed Chair for Eckerd College Community Scholars.
We envision a possible pool of from three to five Endowed Community Scholars each year in the future. In the year that a current faculty member receives the title of the Endowed Chair, the faculty member would not teach courses within the regular curriculum. Instead, the faculty member would engage in programs and activities with students that would be part of a year of out-of-class room programs and activities that would bring the teacher and students together in shared experiences. The range of possible activities may include the following:
International travel, global awareness and cultural immersion experiences, and study abroad
Experiences in the natural environment
Engagement with spiritual life issues and experiences
Development of off campus internship activities in a wide array of career paths or issue areas
Engagement with the Arts - visual, musical, theater. (Potentially with international connections)
Community Service - local, campus and/or international
Campus Clubs, Student Government and Student Life Activities.
Eckerd Community Scholars would be selected among those who are currently full-time faculty at Eckerd College. Qualified faculty would demonstrate proven track records in areas of specified importance to the selection committee each year. The selection committee may comprise the Academic Dean, the College President, a member of the Board of Trustees, former faculty recipients, members of the Student Affairs staff, and student leaders. After accepting the title and honor, faculty receiving the endowed chair would develop programs and plans to realize their goals in the selected area of interest. The hallmark would be strong student engagement and face-to-face faculty interactions with students involved in the programs. Another hallmark is that student participation would not be aimed at accomplishing disciplinary or academic goals of specific majors, but would invite students from all academic areas to participate. Each Eckerd Community Scholar would be replaced in that academic year by a full-time visitor in his or her field of study and course work.
A significant area of strength at Eckerd College is the student-teacher and student-mentor relationship. The proposal of Endowed Chairs in this area would build connections across all programs and areas of interest in the Strategic Plan. This concept would create tangible opportunities for enhancing our culture of student-teacher interaction while freeing the faculty from the normal constraints of accomplishing disciplinary goals. The creation of these Endowed Chairs would promise greater opportunity for faculty and students across all disciplines and walks-of-life to share experiences because of their mutual interests, and not due to academic advantages or guild related objectives. The culture of student and teacher relationships would have a set of new and enriched dynamics that would operate alongside ongoing programs and academic pursuits. In this light, we envision a program wherein the integration of the leadership and staff of Student Affairs with the Academic side of the community would be enhanced, suggestive of the "permeable membrane" metaphor. Connections herein may be built between faculty, students, Student Affairs and the wider community in all areas: the Arts, the Natural Environment, Global Issues, Cultural Affairs, Science, Politics, Community Service, Spiritual Life and Religion, and more, because the limit on applications of the Eckerd Community Scholars concept is completely within our imaginations and the interests of people as they live in this scholarly community.
II. Leadership Scholars Program
We recommend the development of a peer mentoring program to complement and build upon our tradition of faculty academic mentoring. Such a program would immediately connect first year students with successful upper-class students through formal peer advisement relationships.
This program might take the form of a Leadership Scholars program. Such a program would place selected upper-class students in a formal peer advisement relationship with first-year students. A Leadership Scholars program could be structured in a manner similar to the Ford Scholars program with a second dimension - a relationship with other students as well as a sponsoring faculty member or administrator. Leadership Scholars might begin their work in Autumn Term, assisting in Autumn Term classes and with Student Affairs programming. Their work might conceivably continue through the Western Heritage in a Global Context sequence and through various co-curricular programs designed for first and second year students. Other details of the program might include
A competitive process of nomination and selection of upper-class students as Leadership Scholars.
A calendar that presupposes a two-year cohort of Leadership Scholars.
Sponsorship of each Leadership Scholar by a faculty member of administrator whose area of expertise or endeavor matches the interests of the Leadership Scholar.
A classroom component, a Leadership Scholars Seminar, which would focus on study and research in the areas of leadership development, peer counseling, co-curricular, educational, and recreational programming, and community development.
A coordinated role between the Leadership Scholar and the mentors of the students with whom the Leadership Scholar works.
Appropriate coordination between the Leadership Scholars program and other student leadership roles, for example, Resident Advisors.
A pilot project of an initial cohort of twenty Leadership Scholars.
An appropriate financial award that will be given to each Leadership Scholar.
The Leadership Scholars would be chosen on the basis of their academic achievements and their accomplishments in various areas of campus leadership during their freshman and sophomore years.
An overarching theme that emerged very early in the Committee's discussions was one of connections. Connections with the College are formed on two levels: necessary and corollary. A necessary connection must include the relationship that a student forms with the College through his or her academics (e.g., mentoring, class work, the selection of a major, and advanced research). Corollary connections are those formed outside of a student's major area of study. These may include involvement with an intercollegiate sports team, participation in intramurals, engagement with religious life, or election to an ECOS position. A Leadership Scholars program would furnish an additional way in which a first-year student could connect with an accomplished upper-class student through a formal peer advisement relationship and in both classroom and co-curricular contexts, thereby enhancing the possibility of first-year students more rapidly making both necessary and corollary connection. A successful Leadership Scholars program would, in effect, create a system by which established student leaders could nurture under-class students with potential for assuming positional leadership roles as they mature as members of the Eckerd College community. In addition, this program would allow upper-class, established student leaders to hone their leadership skills and explore, through research guided by a faculty member or administrator, various areas connected with leadership, community building, and student development.
III. Eckerd College Awareness Communities
We recommend the incremental establishment of system of living and learning communities that would be unique to Eckerd College. These communities termed Awareness Communities would take the form of flexible versions of themed housing as found at other colleges and universities across the country.
Although living and learning communities take a wide variety of forms from themed housing to fully residential colleges, Eckerd is probably of the size where many of the narrowly-conceived living learning communities that are successful at other institutions may create unneeded separations on our campus. In recognition of this fact, we propose the creation of Awareness Communities which, by being broadly defined, can serve as a basis for building residence hall identity through the drawing together of students around varying perspective around and approaches to a common theme. Possible themes would include the Arts, the Natural Environment, Global Issues, Cultural Affairs, Community Service, and Spiritual Life. Formal and informal programs and activities appropriate to each Awareness Community would be developed by each Community in consultation with its "house dean" or Community Scholar.
Proposed Qualifications and Prerequisites
The success of Awareness Communities and of an effort to move toward fully integrated living and learning communities will require significant improvements in residence halls and other student life facilities. The study of campus housing completed by Brailsford and Dunlavey confirmed what many of us have known through our observations and interactions with students: the style of the older residence halls, despite their age and deferred maintenance issues, serve us well in fostering "concentric circles of community." It is important that new residence halls be of a scale similar to what we now have; two stories with floors of no more than twenty people. Additionally, they need to include high quality, indoor areas that are adaptable for everything from house meetings to academic classes and seminars. Outdoor spaces adjacent to and within new residence complexes must be conceived in ways that facilitate community building and that lend themselves to informal gathering and formal programming. For example, a particular house might include a small art gallery, a community garden, an outdoor theater, or a small screening room depending upon the nature of the theme of the house.
It is important to note that residency in an Awareness Community is not necessarily related to one's formal major, but rather to a student's particular interests. For instance, a student with an International Business major may still choose to live in an Awareness Community dedicated to the Arts because he or she has a love of opera and is interested in participating in the creation of co-curricular programming that would help expose fellow students to the beauty of an aria. This same sort of flexibility would be found in the "house dean" positions, which could be filled by those occupying the Endowed Faculty Chairs for Eckerd College Community Scholars. In this way, faculty members could explore with students areas of interest outside of their traditional academic disciplines.
The history, size, and academic ethos of Eckerd College all suggest that the College is a particularly fruitful site for the gradual implementation of a full living learning community model. Such a model would create in concrete form residential manifestations of our central philosophy which focuses upon the continuity of learning from classroom to residence hall to community; the overcoming of dichotomies between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, and the commitment to appropriate students self-governance.
IV. Off Campus Retreat Site
We recommend that the college seek to create an off-campus retreat site that would be within 45 minutes of campus, owned by the college, preferably on at least 200 acres of land that would serve many purposes, but most important provide a physical location for future opportunities. This site would serve the Eckerd community as:
an additional site for special programs to run summer camps, elder hostel, or retreats
a retreat site for classes and groups from across the campus community, including Leadership Scholars and Eckerd Community Scholars and their work
a retreat site for faculty and Student Affairs staff
a retreat site for the Board of Trustees and the administration
a retreat site for alumni
a retreat site for Religious Life programs
a retreat site for student Awareness Communities interested in the Waterfront, the Arts, the Environment, or Spirituality
an outdoor teaching lab for environmental study and biology classes
a permanent site for long term studies by faculty
a study site for student field research projects.
We envision a piece of property within a forty-five minute drive, probably in eastern Manatee County, near the town of Parrish or adjacent to the Terra Ceia Preserve just across the Skyway Bridge. Ideally the property should be adjacent to a larger parcel of publicly owned property to which we could negotiate permanent access to conduct larger scale studies in biology and environmental studies. Housing for a sufficient number of people would be needed to allow development of a dining facility that could pay for itself. Perhaps 100 beds would be a good initial target, plus a large common room / dining area. Having the buildings sited on a lake, marsh or large stream would add to the attractiveness of the facility. If most of the retreat site were in native ecosystems or ecosystems that could be restored, that would be best. Restoration of the site could be a major undertaking of students and faculty. Only between ten and twenty acres of the site would have to be developed. In addition to housing and parking, some athletic fields and walking paths would be sufficient. A regular burning schedule, and regular exotic removal could maintain most of the property.
As campus gets more crowded and there are more distractions of all types on campus, having a site to which groups could go to focus on specific issues without the disruptions that punctuate daily routines would be good for many aspects of college life. Furthermore, as we have benefited by taking advantage of the marine ecosystems of Florida as a teaching tool, we should take advantage of terrestrial ecosystems as well. The availability of terrestrial study sites that are under the control of the college would be an important new asset for biology and environmental studies, both of which are very important majors at the college. A major impetus for securing such a site for the college would be for ease of access to plants and animals in natural ecosystems that would be available on a predictable basis for long-term study.
Having an additional piece of property opens up options of many kinds that we may not have on the remaining property in St. Petersburg. However, Florida is filling in fast. It will not be long before the expense of securing such a piece of property will be prohibitive. With such a site, funds that we now spend to hold off-campus retreats could come back to the college through the retreat center.
The land itself. The type of land that we could use might be too swampy for large developments or belong to landowners that don't want to see their holdings developed. As an educational project with limited scope, we may be able to acquire land not available on the public market. Perhaps one of our trustees would be interested in purchasing the land for the college or making a land swap on behalf of the college. This could be a major new naming opportunity second only to the naming of the college itself.
Housing. If the retreat site were under the administration of special programs, there might be enough business generated to pay for housing similar to that at CEC. Such a site could be instrumental in increasing the contribution of special programs to the overall budget of the college.
Dining facility. The dining facility might also be expected to pay for itself.
Staff. A site like this would require a full time security/maintenance person and kitchen and housekeeping staff.
V. Program for Experienced Learners (PEL)
We endorse the maintenance and continuing expansion of on-campus Student Affairs services to students in the Program for Experienced Learners (PEL). One model that has been particularly successful is that which has been developed by the Office of Career Resources. Under the leadership of Director Marti Newbold, Career Resources now makes available to PEL students the same broad range of services offered to residential students. In addition, close collaboration has developed between the Coordinator of Student Services in PEL and the Career Resources staff. We further recommend ensuring that there exists adequate lounge space in areas on campus where most PEL classes are held; providing librarians and food services in the evening and during breaks that do not apply to the PEL calendar; and directing greater attention to the scheduling of classrooms for PEL in order to avoid room conflicts, especially during examination periods for the residential program.
VI. Waterfront Program
We recommend that fuller advantage be taken of our unique waterfront location and related marine, academic, and recreational resources. For example, more effective ways of integrating the Waterfront Program and academic programs in Marine Science and Environmental Studies should be explored. Similarly, a more holistic approach to fitness, recreation, athletics, and waterfront activities should guide Student Affairs programming and future construction of student life facilities.
VII. Youth Development
We recommend that the College continue and, if possible, expand its outreach programs directed toward disadvantaged youth in the St. Petersburg community. Such outreach is an important manifestation of the community service dimension of the College's mission. Programs such as Athletes in Service to America/AmeriCorps and National Youth Sports Program offer students an opportunity to positively impact the development of area youth through the establishment of tutoring, coaching, and mentoring relationships. Participation as mentors and tutors in such programs allows our students to create additional connections with one another, with the Eckerd community, and with the people and neighborhoods of St. Petersburg.
We recommend that a focus on spirituality be recognized as a thread that should extend through all programs and activities of the College. Recent research confirms that young adults consider spirituality an important dimension of their personal and intellectual lives, irrespective of whether they consider themselves formally affiliated with a religious tradition. Approaches to Campus Ministries should, therefore, be integrative; imbuing a variety of seemingly non-religious campus activities with a non-sectarian spiritual dimension. This so-called non-thematic approach should be complemented by more traditional, formal Campus Ministries programs and initiatives. The success of this approach requires that Campus Ministries and Service Ministry remain linked structurally to the Student Affairs Division and programmatically to broader student life initiatives.
Jim Annarelli, Chair
December 1, 2003