Gertrude B. Lemle Teaching Center

AALAC Workshop

Engaged Liberal Arts, AALAC Workshop

March 15 - March 17, 2019  Oberlin College - StudiOC

Critics have painted liberal arts education as being outmoded, impractical, and unworthy of the financial investment. At the same time, professional degrees and trades have been valorized as more useful for providing a clearer path to jobs. Those who maintain the value of the liberal arts emphasize the diversity of abilities such an education offers students, including critical thinking, active citizenship, and rhetorical flexibility. In light of these contexts there is increasing demand for liberal arts education that emphasizes the connections between theory and practice, offers experiential opportunities through research and applied learning, and in doing so prepares students for thriving careers  equipped with the skills and dispositions necessary to be architects of a just and sustainable future in a complex world.

While not a new concept, “Engaged Learning,” has emerged as a way to reinvigorate both “hands-on” learning and the ethical mandate of liberal arts colleges in this critical moment.

This workshop features case studies from select liberal arts colleges that have developed model collaborations, programs, and curricula to articulate the value of a liberal arts education, as well as to deepen their commitment to an education that engages the whole student and the whole community. Through panel presentations and discussions we will explore concrete questions, such as, what partnerships does engaged learning require and invite? We will also work through the philosophical issues related to engaged pedagogies. For example, what is the status of traditional disciplines in a liberal arts education that foregrounds experiential learning? A broad goal of this workshop is to help participants think across our institutions: How can we connect isolated examples of engaged liberal arts education on our campuses and in so doing strengthen the case for a liberal arts education?

This workshop is funded by a grant from the Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges. AALAC strives to enhance the overall experience of students and to develop faculty leadership.

This Workshop is open to the College and Community with limited seating. Please RSVP to those sessions you will be attending.  

Keynote address:  4:30-6:00 PM

Randy Bass, “Imagining a Future for Liberal Education.”

Bass is Vice Provost for Education, Professor of English, and Founding Executive Director of the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship at Georgetown University.



Session 1:  9:00-10:30 AM

Haverford College

"Doing Liberal Arts at Haverford College, Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities"

This case study looks at well-developed student internships; current work with Haverford courses, non-profit agencies, and artists; and developing programs for first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students to explore doing the humanities in ways that, while site specific, can still encourage the development of engaged, humanistic inquiry at liberal arts institutions. The Hurford Center supports engaged student experiences with the arts and humanities through research fellowships and internships. Programs include: (1) research work with individual faculty, (2) independent fellowships designed to support thesis-related projects, (3) self-designed internships with arts and culture organizations, and (4) internships with a “Philly Partners.” Students leverage these internships and research experiences to develop professional connections and to pursue independent artistic endeavors. Over the next three years, the Hurford Center will develop initiatives to actively engage first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students with a Mellon-funded initiative, The Philadelphia Area Creative Collaboratives program. PACC brings together nonprofits, artists, and members of the community with faculty and students for collaborations that blend scholarship, social change, and the arts. PACC’s experiential programs take place inside and outside the classroom, working across the Philadelphia area to create vibrant curricular and scholarly structures for arts civic engagement.

Panelists: Ken Koltun-Fromm, Robert and Constance MacCrate Professor of Social Responsibility and Professor of Religion, Director, Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities; Noemí Fernández, Program Manager for the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities; Stephanie Bursese, Philadelphia Area Creative Collaboratives Program Manager


Session 2:  11:00 AM-12:30 PM

Macalester College

“Creating Curricular Pathways in Academic Departments: A Case Study of Civic Engagement in Geography at Macalester College”

Higher education institutions face the challenge of creating cohesive educational experiences for undergraduate students that integrate academic learning, civic engagement, and preparation for life after college.  Macalester College is in the second year of a three-year project that supports the development of integrative and developmentally sequenced civic engagement pathways within academic departments. The broad goal of the three-year project is the formation of civic engagement pathways initially within two academic departments (Geography and History) as models for other departments and as a foundation for broader institutional change.  The Civic Engagement Center already supports over 50 community-based courses a year. However, by focusing on change within departments, beyond individual courses, the project will create effective and integrative curricula that allow students to design more coherent academic careers and lodges civic engagement into the on-going offerings and culture of a department. The project supports the development of sequenced course offerings paired with increasingly advanced community-based opportunities and highlights the public purposes of disciplinary learning.  This case study will share insights, strategies, and resources to inform and inspire curricular pathways at other institutions. The two project coordinators from Macalester’s Civic Engagement Center and a faculty leader from Macalester’s Geography department will share their approach for creating a process to create conversation and reflection on departmental goals while creating curricular change.

Panelists: Paul Schadewald, Associate Director, Civic Engagement Center; Karin Trail-Johnson, Associate Dean, Institute for Global Citizenship; Director, Civic Engagement Center; Dan Trudeau, Professor of Geography


Session 3:  2:00-3:30 PM

Vassar College

“Transforming a Liberal Arts Education through Building New Relationships: The Engaged Pluralism Initiative at Vassar College”

As with a number of college campuses in the United States and beyond, Vassar College has been a place of student unrest and protest. These expressions of discontent became a catalyst for the development of a campus-wide effort, the Engaged Pluralism Initiative (EPI), to more actively and more collaboratively cultivate a more inviting, inclusive, and generative liberal arts learning community. A key approach of EPI is to mobilize the knowledge that can be gained through engaging the perspectives of all those who share our campus, regardless of identity or organizational role. Thus far, EPI has drawn together students, faculty, and administrators, from the Vassar Student Association and over twenty campus offices, including the President’s Office, Dean of the Faculty, and Office of Institutional Research, in order to work across silos and foster cross-constituency relationships that can create bias awareness, transform classroom pedagogy, and rethink institutional practice. Together, in “mixed” group conversation, Vassar community members grapple with the tensions, contradictions, and imperatives of a 21st-century liberal arts education. These groups have opened up new opportunities for leadership, from first-year students to veteran employees, to dialogue and develop plans of action, including transformation of the curriculum and the exploration Vassar’s status as a global campus. In these and other ways, EPI makes use of the small size of the residential campus as an asset, and we establish new partnerships and strengthen old ones.

Panelists: Candice Lowe Swift, Special Advisor to the College on Inclusion and Engaged Pluralism, and Director of EPI; Cecilia Hoang, Engaged Pluralism Initiative Administrator; Jonathon Kahn, Professor of Religion and Chair of the Social Justice in the Curriculum Question task force; Tom Pacio, Interdisciplinary Arts Coordinator


Session 4:  4:00-5:30 PM

Oberlin Center for Convergence (StudiOC) 

"Local and Global Connections"

StudiOC, a hybrid space and curricular program, offers clustered, thematic courses taught by teams of faculty from across the College’s academic divisions, as well as the College and Conservatory. Students enroll in two or three courses linked to a theme or problem that they examine as a cohort from different disciplinary vantages. StudiOC engineers an intellectual experience where students think through and across disciplines, learning and applying knowledge and approaches from multiple fields to complex social, political, economic, or environmental challenges. Six StudiOC learning communities are offered each year. In addition to learning communities exploring such themes as global public health, transitional justice, or immigration and sanctuary, StudiOC each year offers clusters that examine enduring questions related to human experience and human values in multi-disciplinary fashions. StudiOC also encourages multi-disciplinary artistic production, drawing on Oberlin’s strengths in the arts, particularly musical performance and composition.

In addition to providing an overview of the goals and challenges of StudiOC, which launched in 2017, this presentation will focus on the incorporation of community based learning in StudiOC course clusters as well as on linkages between StudiOC and GLAA--Global Liberal Arts Alliance.

Panelists: Laura Baudot, StudiOC director; Tania Boster, Director Bonner Center Curricular Initiatives; Elizabeth Hamilton, Associate Professor of German, Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences; Jody Kerchner, Professor of Music Education, Director, Division of Pedagogy, Advocacy, and Community Engagement.





Session 5:  9:00-10:30 AM

Vassar College  

“Rebalanced Curriculum Initiative and Vassar Intensive and Experiential Work”

In fall 2016, the Vassar faculty passed the Rebalanced Curriculum Initiative, a proposal brought forward by a group of faculty in the previous academic year. Working collectively and iteratively with faculty and administrators, this ad hoc group sought to incorporate the best ideas from more than a decade of work and discussion by the faculty about faculty teaching load and persistent anecdotal evidence that students’ studies were spread too thin. This case study will present the challenges and opportunities that this initiative has presented to faculty and students. Opportunities include: the elimination of the three-course teaching load semester; increased emphasis on academic rigor for independent study; more meaningful opportunities to engage with and learn from community partners in Poughkeepsie and the mid-Hudson Valley; ability to collaborate with students to develop student-generated Intensives; and teaching credit for the closely-mentored work already commonplace with students. The challenges for implementation include:  branding; defining what constitutes an “Intensives”; tracking faculty workload; anxiety about the transition to the new curriculum; and building student engagement.

Panelists: Benjamin Lotto, Dean of Studies and Professor of Mathematics; Teresa Garrett, Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Chemistry; Lisa Kaul, Director of the Office of Community Engagement


Session 6:  11:00AM - 12:30 PM

Barnard College

"Beyond Barnard" 

Launched in February, 2018, supports students and alumnae of the College as they define, pursue, and achieve success in their careers and communities. Areas of focus include careers, experiential education (student jobs, internships, civic engagement, and post-baccalaureate programming), fellowships and research, as well as advising on graduate and professional school. Since its inception, the team has held more than 2,500 one-on-one advising appointments, hosted 150 events, and has brought job recruiters to campus for 200 on-campus interviews. The Beyond Barnard team has posted nearly 16,000 jobs and internships. It provides graduate, medical, and professional school preparation; connects students and alumnae with internships, research opportunities, and competitive fellowships; and offers a lifetime commitment to alumnae.  The unique aspect of the initiative is its dual-leadership and proximity to both the Provost and the Dean of the College. Beyond Barnard draws on the expertise of faculty to complement the academic mission of the institution. At Barnard, students have access to a menu of faculty-driven programs, such as the Summer Research Institute (SRI), the Post-Baccalaureate Fellowship Program, and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows.

Panelists: Nikki Youngblood Giles and A-J Aronstein will present the opportunities and challenges to an ever-evolving initiative that seeks to meet the needs of an urban campus community.