Published: April 18, 2018

Editor’s note: “Notes from a great conversation” continues with members of the Academic Futures subcommittees, who are updating the campus on their early work to identify key themes and transformative ideas submitted by the campus community during the fall semester.

This week features Jason Shelton and Ted Stark—with contributions by committee co-members Jennifer McDuffie and Amy Kirtland—writing on behalf of the student success subcommittee.

Jason Shelton
Academic Services Manager, Academic Advising Center, Jason Shelton

Ted Stark
Senior Instructor, Department of Theatre & Dance, Ted Stark

In considering Academic Futures, it seems crucial to examine current practices and structures from the undergraduate student’s perspective.

When the university was first founded, the campus experience was wholly student-centric: a place where undergraduate students gathered with faculty to learn historic ways of thinking and apply these ideas to their own contexts. This synthesis would result in the discovery of new intellectual paradigms, greater than the sum of its individual components. Fostered by faculty, students went on a journey of “discovery.”

As CU has matured into a tier-one research university, we sometimes end up with a bifurcation that seems to require a choice between research and teaching—but isn’t this is a false dichotomy? 

We assert teaching and research are codependent partners in the journey toward discovery and innovation. We propose leaving behind the notions of research or teaching, and instead recognize that these are two pillars that, working as counterparts, support a platform of discovery. 

How might we achieve such a goal?  First and foremost, we suggest that the University should actively move away from the current binary and recognize the symbiotic relationship of teaching and research, encouraging their simultaneous development in faculty and students alike. This will provide a new lens through which we can view practices and structures. That lens will reveal where we currently support discovery and where reimagining would yield greater results. 

Throughout the spring we have been applying this lens, digging into the specifics of what makes a student-centric university. We began by focusing on the student’s admission and first-year experience. While much attention has been paid to the first-year experience, both in concept (via efforts such as the Residential Academic Programs (RAP) task force or Foundations of Excellence) and in execution (introduction of First-Year Seminars, First-Year Interest Groups and the like), we felt like it still merited conversation, as parties weigh in and programs are piloted.

The campus presents a number of interesting and often competing ideas as to how to best serve students—a good example can be seen in our approaches to academic advising. To encourage discovery, we feel it’s important to identify which elements of student exploration are best supported by disciplinary faculty and staff, with the additional coordination and efforts from other campus partners, such as the Division of Student Affairs. We are encouraged by the work of Foundations of Excellence, which has identified and defined many of these same challenges.  

As the conversation continues to unfold, we continue to discuss the notion of “student success”—what that phrase means and what qualities our students should possess upon graduation. Consequently, we are looking at faculty roles, teaching/learning environments and the notion of discovery to supplement the established models of teaching and research that already exist on our campus.

Some of these discussions overlap with other parts of Academic Futures and other efforts on campus. At the heart of these discussions is finding a path that allows our students and our campus to embrace discovery at the core of their experiences. 

Jason Shelton,
Academic Services Manager, Academic Advising Center

Ted Stark,
Senior Instructor, Department of Theatre & Dance