Strategic Plan III
The Dickinson Student Experience
A liberal education cannot be provided without regard for the physical, social and moral climate of the community. Our purpose can be furthered or hindered, according to the kind of community we build. All aspects of the community must be considered: from student housing and study facilities; to extra-curricular and cultural opportunities; to faculty salaries and teaching loads. Above all, thought must be given to the ... values of the community and the human interaction and interrelationship within the community….
- Independence—students at Dickinson enjoy freedom to craft individually-suited educational programs reflecting their own interests from among a wide variety of choices. They are encouraged to find their own voices as learners and citizens and to develop a sense of purpose.
- Engagement and active learning—students are encouraged to become active agents in their own education inside and outside the classroom, as part of the campus community and in interaction with the multiplicity of communities beyond. Students are actively engaged in solving the challenges of a residential campus and feel a part of decision making and planning.
- Diversity—students exhibit competence and willingness to move beyond the familiar to challenge their view of themselves, others and the world around them. They deepen their learning by engaging in a diverse environment that expands their current scripts. At the same time, security and inclusion are important to us. Learning flourishes when human dignity is paramount and artificial distinctions among students do not exist.
- Interdependence and responsibility—students recognize that with freedom comes responsibility to others individually and in community. Interdependence has multiple expressions on our campus ranging from shared governance and active yet civil dialogue to collaborative learning; it also includes a sense of responsibility for the success of the college. One key expression of interdependence is a mentoring culture in which students have ready access to many and diverse exemplars—fellow students, faculty, alumni and staff—from whom to learn.
While respecting the need for balance in our programs, SP III confirms the college’s strategy of placing special emphasis on areas in which Dickinson can offer distinctive, exceptional opportunities. Such an approach enriches our students’ experience and advances the institution, as exemplified by our national leadership positions in global education and sustainability.
Strategic Plans I and II addressed these concerns but largely failed to find ways in which our newly articulated vision for the college could help resolve them. SP III focuses on this task. The time is right to advance a more substantive vision of how the experience beyond the classroom challenges and supports students who are seeking a stimulating college experience. Over the past decade the college has done a remarkable job of competing for outstanding students and recruiting an increasingly diverse, talented student body drawn from an ever-widening geographical pool. Continued success rests heavily upon the long sought improvement in student life on our campus.
Objective 1. While recognizing that we are operating in a period of limited resources, Dickinson should maintain and even enhance its rich curricular repertoire, continuing our practice of developing new programs that address emerging contemporary issues and reflect special areas of faculty and student expertise and interest. One potential vehicle for achieving curricular innovation and “movement” at a time of resource limitation is broader application of certificates, currently exemplified by health studies, security studies and dance.
Objective 3. The senior year is a particularly important time for student reflection on what they have learned and what awaits. Moreover, many Dickinson seniors return from study abroad and feel a sense of disconnect with the campus. We need to make the senior year more meaningful as a time of reflection, for example, by revising the current senior week programming in favor of a comprehensive, year-long senior class program and establishing a senior club—a place complemented by interesting programs and discussions with faculty and staff where seniors can gather.
Objective 1. Reflecting and anticipating the growing complexity and interdependence of the world in which we live, Dickinson emphasizes the ability of our students to synthesize knowledge, methodologies, and perspectives—to “connect the dots.” We want students to see connections between courses, curriculum and co-curriculum, academic and residential experiences, and the campus and wider world. This commitment to connectivity works across the curriculum including in the traditional disciplines. It is especially reflected in the strength of our interdisciplinary offerings, including majors (many with dedicated staff and facilities). We should continue to enhance interdisciplinary endeavors, taking full advantage of the flexibility of our curriculum and openness of our faculty. Steps include enhanced advising for students in connecting elements of their programs, ongoing support (e.g., workload flexibility, development funds and rewards) to faculty for interdisciplinary endeavor and curricular innovation especially through certificate programs.
Objective 3. The study of sustainability has become a distinctive element of our program, and we have already established a leadership position in this arena. We need to push this initiative by identifying Dickinson’s unique approach to sustainability, defining more fully the place of sustainability in the curriculum and taking full advantage of sustainability’s potential for enhancing active learning by tying curriculum to operations, service and the wider world. One definite focus for us must be melding our international and sustainability initiatives to create a global sustainability dimension unique among American colleges and universities. Most immediately, we must fully endow the Center for Sustainability Education.
Objective 5.Technological and information fluency is an area in which we must do more. Students come to us accustomed to using technology but lacking mastery and a full grasp of its potential and limits. Liberal-arts skills and values are precisely those that enable people to understand and steer the rapidly developing world of information over-abundance. We currently have a comprehensive writing initiative with defined learning goals for the curriculum, faculty training, a new student “writing associates” program, a multilingual writing center and good assessment tools. We need a comparable initiative on technology and new media. Efforts should include coordination and re-imagination of existing information literacy programs, articulation of clear goals for information technology and expansion of digital media and geospatial fluency programming. This must include enhancement of our digital resources and an emphasis on the library as the central focus of campus intellectual life. A top priority is the creation of an Academic Commons to draw together currently dispersed LIS resources and support outreach. Beyond facilities and equipment, the Commons must have staff who can track emerging academic technologies and translate their knowledge into applications for our program.
Demographic data and student surveys confirm that diversity may—beyond its obvious significance to any 21st century educational program—in some aspects distinguish Dickinson from regional peers. In the 2010 senior survey, for example, our graduates reported an enhanced ability to relate to people of different races beyond that of our comparison institutions. Still, many graduating seniors report “no change” or “weaker” skills related to diversity. It remains relatively easy for students to avoid sustained interaction with people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse ideas and perspectives, particularly outside the classroom. Housing options, dining hall culture and strong student identification with clubs, teams, and fraternities and sororities often prompt students to find and maintain an identity with a homogenous campus sub-community.
Objective 2. Building a supportive and inclusive community characterized by respect, equality and accountability is a priority. This goal requires both strategies to promote a pluralistic, integrative and accepting campus culture and to address what counteracts such a culture. In building such a community, we will extend full participation in campus life to individuals and organizations which embrace our community standards and values. So, for example, we should expand services and support for LGBTQ students, and enhance campus education to foster a more inclusive and safe environment for individuals. Or, in another area of diversity, we need to address facilities shortcomings in spaces that support students’ spiritual and religious faith expression from a variety of traditions. At the same time, we should refuse participation to organizations that do not embrace our Community Standards (Code of Conduct). And we must formulate and disseminate a bias incident response protocol to our campus as a tangible representation of our commitment to address intolerance.
Strategic Goal D: Students themselves are a valuable resource for enhancing the Dickinson educational experience. We need to take full advantage of our students’ abilities to contribute to their peers’ learning process. This deepens their own education and expands the college’s human resources.
Objective 2. We must make more work-study experiences meaningful on the models of Clarke Forum staffers, Trout Gallery interns, student farmers and ALLARM workers.
Strategic Goal E: Enhance the Residential Experience. The residential experience exerts a powerful influence on students’ growth and development. The opportunities and expectations associated with the residential experience can significantly contribute to or detract from students spending their time in educationally purposeful activity. Dickinson must articulate and implement an improved, comprehensive vision for residential experience—one that includes the ways buildings are designed, the ways in which students are housed and the ways in which program facilitates learning and dialogue.
Objective 1. Create a comprehensive framework for residential life that supports personal and academic success and fosters leadership and civic development by providing opportunities for students to create, manage and sustain a community for learning. We must fully implement a first-year residential “neighborhood” program to create a laboratory of engagement in community and civic life. Specific components include: residentially-based leadership councils to provide students with opportunities for self-governance, such as developing guidelines for productive community living and solving concerns; a residentially-based system of peer-review and accountability for behaviors disruptive to community; safety councils (modeled on neighborhood “block-watches”) to work with Public Safety in oversight of residences; partnerships with Carlisle agencies for reciprocal benefit and mutual learning; program councils with tools and resources to meet social, cultural, academic and recreational needs of each neighborhood through event planning; and advisory boards that add staff and faculty guidance.
To move forward in establishing such a network we need to: a) implement the first-year neighborhood program, b) establish a programming partnership between first-year neighborhoods and residence halls typically occupied by sophomores in order to extend the neighborhood concept, c) develop a residentially based series of programs for sophomores with a focus on leadership and career/internship planning that is facilitated by seniors through a senior house model, and c) permit interested sophomores the opportunity to “block book” into areas based on academic or theme interests that enrich their residential community and engage first years in partner building. Overall, we must explore longer term integration of first years and sophomores in common foundational housing arrangements.
Overall, the network of responsibility includes a strong emphasis on students as mentors—sophomores, juniors and seniors all reaching to those coming behind them. Yet there are other sources of important mentoring in residential life. We have at Dickinson a significant and under-tapped resource for our students: more than 60 employees who are also alumni of the college. We should develop a program linking these alumni to residence hall floors to provide new students with an administrative resource/adult presence for questions and concerns about navigating Dickinson and for exposing students to role models for whom Dickinson is a defining aspect of their personal and professional lives.
- Initiate plans and fund construction of new beds required to create swing space for long-term deferred maintenance, relieve crowding, reclaim social space and reduce reliance on off-campus and leased properties.
- Target improvements to the Quad area to improve the architecture and modernize space, enhance the presence of the Dickinson Walk as per the Campus Master Plan and address landscaping and aesthetic deficiencies.
- Re-claim and renovate some of the college’s “grand” houses for the new senior housing program.
- Finalize a residence hall renewal plan (long term) as part of the current Quality of Student Life Facilities Study to address deferred maintenance and modernization.
Strategic Goal F: We must take what might be called a “campus ecology” approach to create an overall campus culture of mutual support and respect. Our goal is to improve the learning and living environment at Dickinson by encouraging safe, healthy and positive norms for behavior by individuals and organizations. SP III envisions the following steps in the next five years:
Objective 2. The impact of Greek organizations on campus culture has been a persistent point of dispute at Dickinson and elsewhere. We should commission an objective external study to help us determine what role fraternities and sororities should have in our 21st-century liberal-arts college. Our intent is to move beyond anecdotal information in addressing key questions. Does the presence of Greek organizations detract from or enhance recruitment and retention? How do fraternities and sororities affect the academic climate at the college? What contributions do they make to our student development effort? Are there other forms of residential and social life that better prepare our students for the world before them? For decades the college has been ambivalent about Greek organizations. We should use the opportunity of a study to decide whether Greek Life is or is not part of our 21st-century ambition and, if so, how?
Objective 4. With the arrival of a new Director of the Counseling Center, we must draft a strategic plan that will expand the focus of the counseling center beyond therapy and crisis intervention, to include outreach, education, greater emphasis on developmental concerns, an orientation toward positive psychology and helping students bolster their resilience in the face of stress and other difficulties.
Strategic Goal G: An integral part of Dickinson’s mission is to prepare our students for leadership. We need a cohesive leadership development program that enhances students’ talents, helps them take responsibility for their environment, and maximizes opportunities for them to be engaged in complex problem solving for campus benefit, thereby enhancing their self-perception as stewards of the college:
Objective 1: Develop new opportunities for student engagement and leadership. These include roles within the first year “neighborhood” residential program; participation in advisory boards sponsored by each department within the Division of Student Development—these boards will parallel the majors in academic departments; leadership in comprehensive review and evaluation processes for fraternity and sorority chapters; management of thematic/special interest housing options; and engagement in a new peer conduct review board and in a new men’s program for early intervention in conduct issues as part of our student disciplinary process.
Strategic Goal H: We must enhance students’ sense of community and connection to Dickinson.