Big Idea #1: Bringing Theory to Practice

As part of a nationwide initiative to positively impact students' lives both in and outside the classroom, Geneseo's faculty and staff have joined together on President Christopher Dahl's foundational Big Idea: bringing theory to practice.

"Bringing theory to practice is about enhancing students' experiences in their educational life and that in the sense of taking the kinds of things you learn in classes and recognizing that they have an application beyond class," said Celia Easton, dean of Residential Living and co-chair of the Task Force. "For Geneseo, this involves finding ways in which all of our students can have what is called a transformational experience. A kind of experience that would make you say: 'This changes my life.'"

The force, which is also chaired by Associate Provost David Gordon, "was the first out of the starting block because [the force's] work on transformational learning had already been taking place during the year," Dahl said in his Fall 2009 convocation address.

Since the group's official inception as one of the Six Big Ideas last May, the force has been working to "catalog experiences in which students have said to us that it has made a difference in their lives," Easton said.

Because each student is unique, the "transformational experience" will vary for individuals. Easton and Gordon's team has identified 10 different areas for possible "high impact experiences:" first-year seminars, common intellectual experiences, writing-intensive courses, collaborative research assignments and projects, undergraduate research, diversity and global learning, service- or community-based learning internships, and capstone courses and projects.

"It's when you finally get to do something and you have that 'Aha!' moment," Easton said. "It's what makes all come together in life. But it won't happen if we don't find ways to ensure that all the stresses and strains that go along with being a college student are also addressed. We want to put that on the foreground."

One of the initiatives the force plans to actively support is the integrated course program known as Real World Geneseo. This program, which was developed by the Commission on Diversity and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, will be offered this spring and is designed to expand students' social awareness so that they will be better prepared as leaders.

The task force is also exploring various ways to develop an efficient and universal tracking system for recording experiences, such as service learning and internships. There are no official recommendations on how to do so as of yet, as task force members have not had the opportunity to meet collectively this semester.

"What I believe we're envisioning is a way that we can more qualitatively describe when our students have these experiences and getting them to share with us about what these experiences were about," Easton said. "It shifts the focus from talking about what Humanities class is going to fit at 11 p.m. on Tuesday. You're going to say, 'I have three more years here at Geneseo. What's going to make it amazing?'"

In response to the force's August interim report, Dahl said he "especially appreciate[s] the sharp focus on student development and well-being that has characterized" the force's work thus far.

By December, the force hopes to fine-tune the "way in which we will convey to the college the institutional value having this transformational experience and articulate how we will convey institutionally to the whole college a plan for integrating the way student affairs and academic affairs work together," Easton said.

Easton anticipates that the "bringing theory to practice" idea will exist past the Six Big Ideas' December completion date, as the national project continues to develop in campuses across the country.