Hampshire College leaf over The Notch

Summary of September 8-12 Meetings with Students, Staff, Faculty, and Alums

Given the speed with which we need to engage with this process, we’ve decided to write a single summary across the four constituent (student, staff, faculty, and alum) meetings, in which we reviewed slides that synthesized ideas gathered over the past several months. What’s most valuable for this process are the places where these discussions converged. We read closely all the notes from individual discussions as well as from the larger discussions that followed the on-campus break-out sessions. Finding the points of convergence turned out to be remarkably easy, and it helped us articulate a set of principles that seem to be guiding people’s thinking.

Discussions among students, among staff, among faculty, and among alums converged on the following principles that should guide the development of the core vision of Hampshire’s way forward:

Any changes to the Hampshire College academic program should:

  1. Not narrow what we offer to students or limit our appeal to only some fields.
  2. Contribute to building community as part of the design.
  3. Be attractive and accessible to diverse students.
  4. Not require more resources than the college can support.
  5. Be unique to Hampshire College.
  6. Build the skills and supports to enable students to succeed in that model.

One theme that emerged across all of the discussions was the essential importance of building community, connection, and collaboration within the student and campus community. Hampshire must address these concerns in order to improve the student experience. Discussing strategies that could contribute to that goal will be one theme of next week’s conversations.

These 3 models came to the surface as resonating most consistently within and across groups:

  • Applied and Experiential Focus: This model was seen as embracing many aspects of what already happens in student experiences–pursuing internships, hands-on experiences, research, and community-engaged activities–that enable students to apply their learning in real-world contexts, and bridge theory and practice. Groups also saw opportunities for engaging broadly with the alum community through building a wide network of internships and professional mentoring experiences.
  • Project Design / Entrepreneurial Skills: The principles this model expresses seemed to resonate within most constituent discussions, insofar as it involves helping students learn to design and carry out meaningful yet manageable projects, individually and collaboratively, and providing room to explore, fail, and explore some more, together with others. Linking these first two models reinforces the sense that Hampshire enables students to “learn how to learn” and acquire the skills to make a difference in the world. Based on the fact that the term “entrepreneurial” was widely critiqued in discussions, we propose “project-based learning” as an alternative term for this approach, though we may all find even better language for it.
  • Global Challenge Projects: This model excited people as a way of integrating a focus on complex and compelling real-world problems, skill-building for project design and management, and opportunities to cultivate community – e.g., in the context of a single project that small groups of students could collaborate on – in the first-year program for students. There was some discussion of the value of embracing local and global challenge projects and relationships between them.

These models were seen as containing elements that would be valuable to keep or integrate into any new directions, but not to serve as a guiding vision:

  • Transfer and Adult Learners: There is interest in increasing transfer students and inviting adult learners into the college, but not in transforming the primary focus of the college away from traditional undergraduates.
  • Social Impact and Activism: While many groups expressed concern about making this the primary focus of the student experience, it was generally viewed as an important lens that should be available to students in whatever model we pursue.
  • Graduate School for Undergraduates: Ideas that resonated included taking students’ work seriously, considering the real impact of student work (doing “real work right away”) rather than learning for its own sake, intentionally supporting skills that work toward readiness for Div III, and considering a fourth- or fifth-year MA program. Other aspects of the model raised concerns about questions of access, particularly for first generation students.

These models were routinely seen as directions that the community does not wish to embrace:

  • Aggregate and Validate Open Educational Resources: This model could offer some strategies for techniques and skills, or to provide supplemental resources to the curriculum, but was routinely seen as not a central direction to pursue. Further, there was concern about the change this model would bring to faculty roles.
  • Emphasize Current Strengths and Unique Offerings: This model was seen as narrowing the curriculum and departing from the breadth of liberal arts education.

Questions for Constituent Discussions this week:

  1. Models: Does this summary resonate with people?  If we work with this general framework, can we design a student experience that is genuinely unique and accessible, within the resources available at the college?
  2. Community: How can we design curricular, extra-curricular, and residential structures that would build community as part of the new vision?  How do each of the “top” models present opportunities for cultivating community?
  3. Alternatives: Is there anything else of primary importance that these models have missed, that you see as important for a main vision moving forward?
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