High-Quality Undergraduate Education Strategic Planning Committee Holds First Public Forum

Attendees stressed the importance of GW offering interdisciplinary and project-based educational opportunities.

SMPA Director Frank Sesno
SMPA Director Frank Sesno, a member of the committee, offers a microphone to an attendee of the public forum. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
November 04, 2019

The High-Quality Undergraduate Education Strategic Planning Committee held its first public forum Tuesday, giving the George Washington University community the opportunity to provide feedback on questions that will inform a five-year strategy to attract and retain high-quality students.

The High-Quality Undergraduate Education Strategic Planning Committee is one four committees tasked with developing recommendations for each of the strategic plan’s pillars. It is charged with developing a strategy with measurable outcomes to attract and retain high-quality students and to guide what educational opportunities the university should provide to students.

During the forum, which took place in the Marvin Center, the committee sought feedback from students, faculty and staff about how to innovate academic and STEM learning, support students through academic advising and leverage GW’s unique location to enhance educational opportunities.

Gayle Wald, a professor of American studies in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and chair of the committee, moderated the discussion with committee vice chair Jason Zara, associate chair for academic affairs in biomedical engineering.

Dr. Wald opened the discussion by thanking the audience for taking time to share their ideas with the committee.

“This is mostly a listening exercise for the committee,” she said. “We are going to be taking notes and thinking carefully about the input that you give us.”

She also encouraged the community to attend the committee's upcoming undergraduate town halls for students, which will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Tuesday and Wednesday in Room 103 of Funger Hall. Free pizza will be available for attendees.

Members of the audience agreed that project-based learning and research helped students develop in their studies, gave them a mature learning experience and helped them connect more easily with faculty. Many urged the university to continue providing undergraduate students with opportunities for hands-on academic projects.  

Some suggested that academic credit be made available for various types of opportunities such as community service and internships. Others recommended giving undergraduate students academic credit for helping graduate students with their research as a way to incentive them to engage with research. Attendees also said the university should more widely advertise its already available resources to connect students and get them engaged in research.

Many members also agreed that undergraduates should have opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and research. However, some attendees suggested that the university examine possible institutional barriers to interdisciplinary learning such as current budget models and credit-apportionment schemes. Some noted that current budget allocation processes could prevent work across the university’s schools and suggested the creation of a central office or division to make the sharing of resources for research more seamless.

Attendees also suggested more minor credit courses for students to explore their cross-disciplinary interests. Others suggested that the university’s curriculum be based on core competencies such as communication, leadership and critical thinking rather than categorical courses to allow students to take classes in a variety of areas while still moving toward graduation. Some said the university should adopt a model that allows students to complete joint degrees in STEM in four years instead of five to reduce concerns about cost.

Many attendees said they think the university is already doing great work. But some said there should be a more pointed effort to offer challenging coursework to prepare students for their careers or graduate school.

An audience member suggested that the university have a calculated approach for allowing undergraduates to study their discipline earlier and offer them more opportunities to take graduate-level classes for academic credit.

Others advocated for more pre-professional programs to help undergraduate students transition smoothly into graduate professions.

In the area of research and STEM, members called for the university to consider classified research, which bears a security classification from the federal government, to give students a better chance at employment with major research firms. 

Attendees also emphasized the need to maintain diversity in the student body through the university’s strategic shifts.

Dr. Wald thanked the group for a stimulating discussion.

“Your comments continuing to come in are very helpful to this committee,” she said.

She also encouraged the community to attend the committees upcoming undergraduate town halls for students, which will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Nov. 5 and Nov. 6 in Room 103 of Funger Hall. 




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