Dear faculty, staff, and students,
Welcome back to those of you who had a week’s respite between the 12- and 3-week terms. It is great to see the campus come alive with the return of students and faculty, and hopefully it will be further enlivened by the budding trees that usually grace the campus by now.
The late arrival of spring has slowed the rebirth of flowers, plants, and trees. It has not hindered, however, the ongoing effort to reconfigure Hiram’s academic structure in ways that align concurrently with our long-time mission and emerging model of the New Liberal Arts. That process has been moving at warp speed for almost four months now. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, our RAND consultants made their third multi-day trip to campus and met with more than 85 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees. As part of our demonstrated commitment to shared governance, RAND made 13 separate presentations to groups on campus. During each one, they shared, refined, and solicited ideas for restructuring that had percolated up from several faculty brainstorming groups over the past few months.
While details of the reconfiguration still need to be fleshed out, it is becoming increasingly likely that, starting this coming Fall, Hiram’s academic offerings will be organized around and within five interdisciplinary schools. The names of the schools will be finalized over the coming months, but we have identified “placeholder language,” temporarily labeling the schools as:
- Science and Sustainability;
- Health and Community Advocacy;
- Business and Information Analysis;
- Education and Civic Leadership; and
- Exploratory Thought, Creative Arts, and Languages.
If our current thinking holds—and again, this is all part of ongoing discussions—students would choose a major within one of the five schools. The major would be connected or integrated, in some part, by taking courses that are cross-listed with other majors in the school. This integrative approach will help students develop a deep understanding of a particular field of study (their major).
Obviously, we also want to ensure that students develop a breadth of knowledge with the fundamental liberal arts orientation to which we are committed. Toward that end, students would choose, as our College Mission states, an “urgent challenge” to examine, address, and mitigate. An example of an urgent challenge might be something like:
- climate change and the environment,
- rural and urban spaces in 21st-century America,
- opioids and other drugs in contemporary times,
- human and artificial intelligence, or
- immigration and refugee issues.
If this idea comes to fruition, students could actively explore an urgent challenge of their choosing through a host of core courses and through their completion of a Hiram Connect activity. As you know, the Hiram Connect, or experiential, activity would include things like a research project, service-learning activity, internship, or study away trip. This combination of classroom and out-of-classroom activities would prompt students to translate thinking into doing as they engage in real-world problem solving.
The powerful combination of the integrated major plus the urgent challenge pursuit (via the core and experiential activities) would explicitly aim to help students develop both a 21st-century skill set and a contemporary mindset that are not only relevant to but essential for the quickly changing world in which they will live, work, and lead. We are in the process of identifying which 21st-century academic skills we want Hiram students to develop. Some of the ideas we are considering include:
- Communication skills – oral, written, electronic, data visualization.
- Critical thinking – conceptualizing, synthesizing, analyzing, applying, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion.
- Teamwork – working in and with diverse groups of people to achieve a collective goal or propose a solution.
- System and design thinking skills – each of these two phenomena have multiple definitions. System thinking usually prompts the student to examine the linkages and interactions between the parts of an overall system and how those parts affect each other and the system as a whole. Typically, design thinking represents an approach to understanding and addressing social problems via a targeted audience’s perspectives. Often, design thinking includes several (but often nonlinear) steps: defining, researching, ideating, prototyping, testing, and implementing.
- Computational skills – mathematics, data analysis, testing, coding, programming.
As you can see, the academic structure that will emerge from the process at hand will help us clearly and firmly position Hiram as the New Liberal Arts. More importantly, the new structure will prepare Hiram students to become intellectually agile and socially responsible systems thinkers and doers who have 1) a breadth and depth of knowledge grounded in the liberal arts, 2) experience in proposing concrete solutions to real-life problems, and 3) a demonstrated 21st-century academic skill set and mindset.
Thanks to the ideas and efforts of many of you reading this note, we are well on our way to ensuring we are a college of choice for intellectually curious thinkers and doers near and far. There will be more opportunities, many of them over the summer, to put flesh on the bones of the emerging structure. Please watch for notices and invitations for your further participation in this process.