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Tufts, like many colleges and universities, embodies at present an implicit vision of undergraduate development, but this vision is rarely articulated to the student by the University and is typically left to the students— fresh from high school— to discover on an ad hoc basis. Our model of intellectual formation incorporates three principles: 1) an explicitly articulated developmental perspective; 2) a deliberate integration of intellectual and personal aspects of development (i.e., students’ social, emotional, and ethical concerns); and 3) an organized transparency that makes what is offered at Tufts more visible and accessible. The first purpose of the developmental model is to provide increased coherence in the intellectual formation of our students. We wish to mark, celebrate, and support each critical juncture in their four years as well as the transitions from one year to the next. Simultaneously, we wish to address head-on the typical academic and personal difficulties confronted by undergraduates— from insufficient high school preparation, to disenfranchisement upon returning from abroad, to not knowing how to find a career.
Toward these ends, the second and related purpose of a developmental model is to apply our collective knowledge to an articulation of the central intellectual tasks and challenges in each year of undergraduate life. Recognizing that students learn in individual ways and at different paces, we do not propose a prescriptive, lock-step path for all. Rather, we believe that a more articulated vision of the varied ways that knowledge develops— with more visible structures to facilitate it— will help students navigate their four years with a heightened sense of their own intellectual growth and of being supported throughout by Tufts.
Adding specific details to this vision will be a process that evolves over the years with contributions from many to come. The following developmental framework, therefore, is designed largely to provide principles to guide this process. Within the framework below we describe intellectual tasks and challenges that broadly characterize each college year; and we provide examples of how to respond to them.
Task: Intellectual Preparation and Consolidation
Challenge: Heterogeneity and Uncertainty
Tufts students represent an intentional heterogeneity of backgrounds, high school preparations, language and mathematical competencies, and learning styles. To address this heterogeneity and the uncertainty of most entering students, we suggest a series of initiatives. First, a “Letter from the President” might give a description of the Tufts vision with its goals, yearly events, and desired outcomes. Second, students who have differences in learning styles or less rigorous high school backgrounds should be given opportunities for an academic consolidation session in August to bolster and prepare them for achieving their best efforts freshman year. Third, a gift from the alumni association— for example, a carefully selected book for discussion that might be the basis for conversation in the fall— might link incoming students with former Tufts generations.
Tasks: Building an Intellectual Foundation and Intellectual Exploration
Challenges: Check-List Mentality and Confusion
The twin themes of intellectual exploration and the construction of an intellectual foundation constitute the major work of the first college years. Students are introduced to an array of disciplines from which to construct the building blocks of a liberal arts education. Two prevalent challenges— intellectual confusion and an uninformed conceptualization of foundation and distribution requirements— often result in a check-list mentality towards requirements rather than a deeper appreciation of what constitutes an intellectual foundation.
We seek a transformation of attitude towards intellectual exploration and foundational learning. We propose a series of initiatives to punctuate the first year, beginning with a matriculation speech by the President that brings to life the six goals and the many milestones of a Tufts education. This speech, the first orientation, and enhanced advising are critical vehicles for setting the intellectual tone for the next four years. On the other hand, most students are too overwhelmed to absorb much of the information provided. Thus we propose a second, more elaborate orientation from the departments in the pre-spring registration period, accompanied by a lecture from the Provost that introduces the Tufts teacher-scholar model and presents an overview of opportunities at Tufts for undergraduates, particularly in research and service. Other similarly guided initiatives include: a four-year writing program, where writing is taught as an ever-deepening set of skills essential to much of intellectual development (See elaboration in Section III above) and a fitness and the curriculum program. We also recommend a change in the organizational structure of the current Class Dean structure to provide a single Dean of Advising for students from the day they matriculate to the day they graduate (also discussed in Section III C above).
Task: From Intellectual Exploration to Decision
Challenge: Academic Indecision, Identity Formation and Belonging
The second college year is typically dominated for liberal arts majors by the necessity to focus their explorations and to choose a major. Engineering students, who have already made one level of decision, must refine their initial choices. [i] The second year is about intellectual discovery and decision; it is also about uncertainty, doubt, and the elimination of various potential pathways. The challenge to the University is to provide structures during this period to help students make well-informed choices and to feel well-supported and advised until they do.
Underlying the ubiquitously observed “sophomore slump” is the fact that many students do not feel prepared to choose a major in sophomore year, often for reasons that are as much personal as academic. The fear of “leaving behind” one’s family of origin, the fear of not fitting in, not belonging, and sometimes the reality of being rejected represent critical challenges. The increasing cultural diversity of our society and student body adds an additional layer to this set of tasks and challenges, with many young adults confused by multiple perspectives on what they are meant to do. Within this complex context, the pressure to choose a pathway that will determine who one may become represents far more than an already difficult academic choice. It should be noted that it can be difficult for sophomores to recognize these challenges or their sources, leading to confusion, isolation from each other, and their inability to help and support each other.
Helping students with these interrelated needs to learn about themselves, to belong, and to choose a major pathway is a critical challenge in the second year and requires, we believe, a perspective that integrates intellectual, social, emotional, and ethical factors. As discussed in recent faculty initiatives, understanding the role of cultural identity in students’ lives is an essential element in advising, teaching, and also designing residential options in a university community. A key component to success in these areas is a university community where students feel safe to explore and develop in both curricular and co-curricular realms.
The primary goals of our second year initiatives are to ensure that students become 1) better informed about their choice of major disciplines, research opportunities, and academic options (including going abroad); 2) more cognizant of the social and emotional factors like depressed feelings and disequilibrium that sophomores frequently confront; and 3) less isolated in their struggles in both areas. The proposals are designed, therefore, to facilitate intellectual choice and to engender a sense of belonging and support.
In the first set of recommendations, we propose an enriched, in-depth set of mechanisms for advising during the selection of majors with multiple layers and redundancy built in. At the departmental level, we propose a new Majors Day, where the major disciplines, their methods, and research programs are showcased at a large gathering. At the university community level, we propose a sophomore speech by the Dean of the Colleges “On Being a Sophomore,” that describes the intellectual and personal tasks and challenges that characterize this year. This speech is particularly important to provide students with a shared sense of the difficulties they face and the support systems Tufts provides to deal with them.
Other proposals concern community information about what is available at Tufts and about connecting students to each other. Described in Year Three, the Research Clearinghouse gives constantly updated information to students about offerings across all Tufts campuses. The World Day is meant both to inform sophomores about options abroad and to connect returning seniors (see Year Four) and international students with the rest of the community. Our international students offer a rich resource to other students that is rarely tapped in an organized way. World Day spotlights their knowledge.
Tasks: Exploration within a Discipline, Intellectual Immersion and Application
The Integration of Social, Ethical, and Intellectual Realms
Challenges: Lack of Engagement
This year is marked by a substantive introduction to the breadth, methods, and research possibilities within a discipline. Intellectual exploration and immersion within a field are the major tasks in the junior year for many students; for some this includes learning how to apply knowledge in diverse contexts and settings. A distinctive component of the third year experience at Tufts is that nearly 40% of our students study abroad for one or two semesters. For these students immersion within a chosen culture becomes the major intellectual and social task with two extra challenges: deepening their knowledge of the major field(s) while being abroad; and sustaining relationships with advisors, departments, and the Tufts community as a whole during their absence. We propose that departments discuss ways they can best address both of these challenges. Whether abroad or in Medford, this year should allow for the possibility of substantive introduction to research (e.g., with faculty who are teacher-scholars or via on-line research methods courses such as International Relations’ efforts to assist students abroad to use opportunities to work in libraries, archives, museums, in preparation for future senior projects).
Wherever they are, we want our third year students to become engaged in learning within their discipline. This means working more closely with faculty members and seeing their dual function as teacher-scholars; it means taking better advantage of the research possibilities at Tufts; it means raising important questions about the nature of knowledge for themselves. What are the boundaries of a discipline? How does one field relate to another? How can they integrate what they are learning? How can they contribute?
The challenge to the University is to create more intentional, transparent curricular and co-curricular structures that lead our students to become actively engaged in discipline-based learning, its application, and its fertilization across disciplines. The possibilities for exploration and engagement are very wide for Tufts undergraduates, but they are not always apparent. We propose, therefore, a Research Clearinghouse and an Internship Clearinghouse that connect all departments and professional schools within Tufts. In this way the research needs of both faculty and students can more efficiently be realized, and the links among the Schools at Tufts can better be utilized.
As attractive an option as living abroad may be, we propose an additional alternative: Tufts in Boston. Growing numbers of departments and programs are initiating seminars or other courses in which important research questions and methods are learned in the context of an internship (e.g., Community Health, Child Development, Engineering) or a project, (e.g., International Relations) or service learning in a community context (e.g., Peace & Justice, American Studies, Center for Reading and Language research, and Tufts Literacy Corps). Tufts is particularly well situated to integrate academically two areas in which many of our students show strong co-curricular interest: community service and cultural issues. While many students participate in community service through service organizations, others desire more sustained work that is related to their field of study. Recent initiatives suggest that academic work can greatly assist students to be more aware and more effective in their work in US communities, particularly when these cultures differ substantially from that which we have at Tufts. If knitted together across the University, such academic-community service learning could become a signature domestic study program in metro Boston, and a symbol of Tufts’ strength in applying knowledge in the communities it serves. Finally, whether one pursues research or project options, the end of the year’s Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Symposium should provide a well-publicized forum for recognizing student research and for disseminating information about what is available to other students.
Task: Intellectual Integration, Consolidation, and Learning in Depth
Challenge: Disenfranchisement and Unconnected Learning
In-depth study within a major and the integration of different types of knowledge are the intellectual foci of Year Four. The senior year challenges students to integrate and consolidate their learning, to bring their work to a personally enriching conclusion and prepare for entry into a professional position or other school.
Senior year, then, is a time of transition. For those who have been abroad, the challenge to accomplish something significant before graduation and the need to apply for post-graduate opportunities might be doubly difficult if they have not kept their connections with their major programs and with their professors alive. Also, many experience a sense of disorientation, returning to a campus that should feel familiar but, because of all that has transpired, does not. Their link to Tufts is made all the more tenuous if they choose, as many must, to live off campus. To help re-orient our seniors, then, we propose a number of initiatives, such as World Day, so that returning seniors feel not only welcomed home, but valued in their role of transmitting their knowledge to younger members of the community.
To help move our students toward depth in their field, and toward the integration and consolidation of their experiences and knowledge, each program and department might provide a clear curricular pathway to various culminating experiences, such as thesis writing, internships, and other projects and be explicit from the start of the major about the forms of achievement that each student can pursue. To this end, we should make both the Research Clearinghouse and the Internship Clearinghouse readily available. We should also recognize and celebrate the culmination of their achievements by making the Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Symposium the focus of campus life for one day each year. Senior Year is also the time to launch oneself into the future. How do we create an environment at Tufts where focusing on a thesis or taking a senior seminar is not compromised by the need to start or prepare for a job search?
Although this is less the case for Engineering than for Liberal Arts, some of our students reach their senior year unprepared to make a transition to post-graduate life. Some have not established close relationships with the professors who will recommend them for jobs, scholarships, and graduate admissions. Some do not know their field well enough to do high-level work. Most do not have the experience and the contacts that will help them find job opportunities. Several of our initiatives are directly aimed at addressing these needs: a Job Fair and an enhanced Career Night that brings alumni and soon-to-be-alumni together for the purpose of networking and getting “real world” guidance. Academic departments and Career Services could work together to provide students with information on potential careers and networking opportunities that are specific to the disciplines in which students major. Finally, Two-Part Commencement, in which departments and programs offer students an intimate ceremony or event prior to the all-university ceremony, will give students, their parents, and the faculty in their majors a sense of having come together, and will provide them with a meaningful opportunity to connect with one another and the University such that their transition into the world is marked by a sense of their enduring membership in the Tufts community.
If the eventual demands of the senior year are made known to our students in their first, second, and third years, then they will be better prepared for the fourth. More to the point, if our curriculum and co-curriculum are more clearly designed to move our students developmentally toward a culminating experience for which they have been well prepared, then the senior year will be a time when students can better recognize their accomplishments at Tufts, and they will leave Tufts well prepared for what lies ahead. We must establish a vision of undergraduate life, and we must keep it before our students throughout their undergraduate years. To this end, we seek to lend deeper meaning to the various developmental milestones of intellectual formation enumerated here by taking into account how carefully and variously that knowledge for a lifetime is acquired.
[i] Note that the close relationship between Engineering and Arts and Sciences raises another set of pathways in the second year. Many students shift from Engineering to Arts and Sciences or vice versa.
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