Finding the Thread


Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Embedded in the Dickinson experience is the Dickinson Four

by Tony Moore

When a student chooses a major, it serves to organize classes around a target subject, giving focus to the student’s academic trajectory. Everyone knows that.

But something everyone might not know, including students, is that a thread already exists in the Dickinson experience, across majors, one that unifies what the student is up to both in and out of the classroom. And now that thread has a name: the Dickinson Four.


“The Dickinson Four is a roadmap that gives intentional structure to the four-year student experience, allowing for lots of student independence and flexibility by building on mostly existing programs,” says Damon Yarnell, dean of academic advising. Yarnell notes that the program was born of director-level collaboration across campus divisions, with Student Life and Academic Affairs examining more than 30 peer and aspirant schools in search of ways to build a better framework for success.

"We didn’t find anything that approaches the Dickinson Four in terms of scope or level of cohesion," he says. "Other schools may offer a first-year or sophomore program, but at Dickinson we're fostering a coherent experience that spans students' full four years, allowing them to author their own stories so they can realize the value of their education." The program consists of about 40 initiatives, approximately 10 per class year, that relate to each year’s theme—“Make Dickinson Yours,” “Discover What Matters,” “Deepen Your Focus” and “Expand Your Story,” respectively. Each provides students with prompts to help them critically examine their experience year to year, and each year's signature programs help students maintain momentum.

“I’ve noticed the role that the Dickinson Four has played—especially during my sophomore year,” says Jackie Joyce ’19 (sociology and Spanish), a Carlisle Borough Ambassador who finds that the program’s model allows for students to recognize that each year is equally essential in the culmination of the four-year experience. “And since I’ve seen how the keywords ‘who’ and ‘what’ have aligned with my first and second years at Dickinson, I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of my Dickinson Four experience unfolds.”

The initiative not only structures students’ four years at the college; it also seeks to enhance the best parts of the Dickinson experience with such initiatives as the What Matters Most dinner series and the Decision Point speakers series, two sophomore-year programs that invite students to meet and interact with distinguished alumni, visitors and professors.

In and out of the classroom

Yarnell stresses that the Dickinson Four will allow students to exercise the same degree of intentionality outside the classroom as they do inside the classroom.

“What do you want to learn, and why? How will this knowledge or skill enhance your life, and where will you use it next?” he says, parsing the questions that underlie the Dickinson Four’s mission. “These questions apply to more intellectually based co-curricular activities like mock trial or the philosophical society, but they also apply to something like Jive Turkeys, the ultimate Frisbee team. Students learn in everything they do, and what we’re asking them to do is reflect and unpack what it is that they've learned.”

Joyce sees the program as a tool to better equip students to articulate the value of their Dickinson education—but also to think critically about the decisions they make during their four years and beyond.

“The Dickinson Four is a program that can apply to every student, but it can manifest differently in each student, which makes it so beneficial to our college,” she says. “It ultimately serves as a game plan for students to reach their full capabilities while at Dickinson and to take advantage of every aspect of the college and its offerings.”

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Published February 6, 2017