Binghamton University has taken steps to begin implementing student-suggested changes to the undergraduate curriculum.
BU’s Task Force on Undergraduate Education for the Digital Generation has established two “teams” charged with responsibility for executing changes to undergraduate courses recommended by the Task Force based on students’ suggestions.
The recommended changes are two-fold: establishing an advising and mentoring network and creating an office to support undergraduate research, scholarship and creative activities. These recommendations arose from a year-and-a-half process of soliciting ideas from the campus and analyzing trends in education and conducting surveys, according to a press release on Inside Binghamton.
Former BU President Lois DeFleur initiated the task force in fall 2009 and passed responsibility for its supervision on to current President C. Peter Magrath following her retirement in spring 2010. The implementation teams were assembled by Interim Provost Jean-Pierre Mileur under Magrath’s direction.
Donald Loewen, vice provost for undergraduate education and chair of the Task Force, is leading the “research implementation team,” and Jeff Barker, an associate professor of geological sciences and environmental studies and faculty master of Dickinson Community, is leading the “advising/mentoring implementation team.”
Jen Schwartz, a freshman majoring in psychology, said that undergraduate students can and should play a part in University research.
“I don’t think a difference of a few years makes that much of a difference,” Schwartz said.
The Task Force surveyed more than 2,600 students, faculty, alumni and staff. An advising network and increased undergraduate research were the top additions to BU that the surveyees said they wanted to see.
David Morris, a freshman majoring in computer science, said he supported the University seeking students’ input.
“If you draw from the community, you’ll always get the best results,” Morris said.
Loewen said that although conducting surveys made the Task Force take longer with its project, he believed it was important to check that the campus community supported the changes.
“It would have been more efficient if we kept it internal but we essentially sacrificed a little bit of efficiency so we could ensure long-term benefits,” Loewen said.
Barker said the implementation committees are now committed to putting the proposed changes into practice.
“We’re not asking for opinions at this point,” Barker said. “We’re asking for expertise and facilitation to get these components functional … We’re not asking if we may, we’re actually supposed to do it. The big thinking was done a year ago.”
William Marsiglia, undergraduate representative of the research committee and a junior double-majoring in biochemistry and music, said the task was not an easy process.
“It’s not just throwing around ideas, anyone can do that for two weeks; it’s really how you can make it work,” Marsiglia said. “You have to really get into the psychology of faculty, how to make it appealing.”
Loewen said he wanted to broaden the definition of undergraduate research to any work done with a faculty member outside of a course that makes an original contribution to the subject.
“We don’t want to create a perception that this is limited only to a few departments,” Loewen said. “It’s not just test tubes. It’s making a concerto if in the music department, and it’s writing a thesis if you’re in the English department.”
Marsiglia said it was especially difficult for students in the social sciences and humanities to get research opportunities.
“For the sciences, it’s clear-cut, you go to the professor and ask and assist, whereas if you’re in humanities or arts, you have to come up with your own idea and that professor can shoot you down,” Marsiglia said.
Barker also hopes to broaden the definition of advising beyond mere course selection.
“I think the key word is network,” Barker said. “Some of that is advising in academic offices, another might be research, another might be your DA … Whether we call them advisers or mentors, it’s this entire network of helpers.”
Nicole Kupfer, a sophomore majoring in math, said she liked the idea of the advising network and added that she thought there should be an option for incoming freshmen when signing up for classes if they wanted a faculty master as an adviser.
There is no timetable for the implementation of the initiatives, but Loewen said he hoped the research committee would make significant progress by next semester. Barker said he hoped to have the advising network running by next fall.