Balancing Act

Mount News: alumni magazine

Our society is quickly changing, and so are students’ expectations for flexibility and real-world learning that prepares them for life after college.

Additionally, modern careers demand students learn skills that involve creativity and collaboration, skills such as communication, technology proficiency, leadership, teamwork, and critical thinking.

The Mount is meeting those demands, and preparing students for a diverse, fast-paced, tech-rich work world. Just how is the Mount keeping its academic programs relevant? By offering new courses, a revised Core Curriculum, flexible class scheduling, career-based learning, and more.

The Mount is continuing its evolution by renewing its original mission as a Catholic-founded institution, one concerned with the common good of each person in our increasingly global society. From its beginnings as the first college for women in Southwest Ohio, the Mount has continued to innovate and adapt its mission to both society’s and students’ needs.

Revising the Core Curriculum

In the fall of 2013, students will be greeted by a major update to the Common Core standards, their educational foundation. A 15-member faculty and administrative task force spent more than a year focusing on intensive campus conversations and thematic planning to revise the Common Core. The result is a set of courses that better meet students’ needs and continues to reflect the College’s mission.

In reviewing how the Mount prepared students for the future, the task force recommended a retooling of the college’s Core Curriculum. The Core Curriculum is a set of required, foundational courses every student must complete, regardless of major.

“This all comes as a result of evolved thinking around the relevance of higher education today and what students need to learn to be successful,” says Mount President Tony Aretz, Ph.D. “In order to stay current, it was time to update our
curriculum.”

“The point is to empower students to become critical thinkers, creative problem solvers, effective communicators, and ethical decision makers,” says Maggie Davis, Ph.D., associate academic dean. “We’re providing a strong, practical foundation so students can lead meaningful personal, professional and civic lives.”

“We’ve tried to create a Core that is more compact. There are fewer choices in the Core than before, but there is also more of a consistent theme through the different courses,” says Alan deCourcy, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs.

The total number of hours in the Core also has been reduced, along with an overall reduction in credit hour requirements for graduation. Core credit hours were reduced from 52 to between 46 and 49, depending on experiential education credits earned.

The Core Curriculum revisions followed another faculty-led initiative—an academic program review that examined each major’s requirements. “One of the recommendations from academic program review was to better integrate general
education courses. We’ve re-examined the overarching purpose of our general education curriculum. I’ve related it this way in the past: ’You can’t just collect bricks, you have to collect bricks to build something,’” Aretz says.

The Common Good

Underpinning the Core Curriculum changes is a theme of the common good, a unifying element that originates from the College’s founders, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.

“This gives meaning to the theme of the common good, how the common good guides perspective and lifelong learning,” Davis says. “That was part of the Sisters of Charity’s mission. When Elizabeth Ann Seton founded the Sisters of Charity, she wanted to make the world a better place, do good and help people get to a better place in life.

In addition to the course changes reflecting this theme, there will be a dramatic change to the freshman First-Year Seminar class. The class currently emphasizes personal development, as opposed to a focus on getting oriented to campus/ college. Emphasis will now be placed on the importance of self-knowledge, cultural understanding and the individual role in promoting the common good.

“The First-Year Seminar class will be grounded in the common good and the Sisters of Charity’s heritage, while incorporating cultural self-awareness. There is more of an academic focus in the seminar,” Davis says.

“One of the issues we had heard from students about the previous Core is they weren’t always clear what the theme of the Core was and how the different courses fit together. In the revised Core, we tried very hard to make sure everything fit together. We want to introduce students to the importance of thinking about the common good in different contexts, and to have the tools to get there. We’re not going to tell them what the common good is,” deCourcy says.

This theme treats the student as a whole person, tying together personal and professional needs.

“I think it’s really important for students in their work life to be able to have a real sense of purpose and meaning behind their work,” adds Mike Sontag, interim dean of the Arts and Humanities division, who contributed to the panel that developed the new Core. “Being able to think about how what you do relates to improving yourself, serving the people around you, and serving the common good is important for students to take with them in contemporary professional life.”

New Course Choices

The Core contains an additional religion course requirement. Students will be able to choose from several courses to fulfill the requirement. Examples include The Theology of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Theology and Human Ecology, and Christian Social Justice.

Behavioral Sciences requirements are also changing. Instead of choosing two courses in behavioral sciences, students will be required to take SOC 103–Our Social World class, then choose between a psychology or economics course. This change reflects the college’s commitment to cultural competency and understanding and the belief that every student will have the chance to develop foundational skills for cultural analysis.

Meanwhile, the student Capstone Project, currently a Mount graduation requirement, is broadening. This 400-level course will tie communication and critical thinking skills to big ethical, social or cultural challenges. The College believes this will spur students to develop broader perspectives and become lifelong learners. Capstone projects were previously restricted to a student’s major. Now the capstone will be open to students from different majors who can come together using their individual skill sets to address any issue or topic.

Finally, the Mount will also introduce an Integrated Speaker Series, which will bring in noted speakers from outside the classroom to talk about a broad range of ideas. The series will be integrated into classroom work and may include related readings, prompts or other projects.

“Nationally there is a growing consensus about what a college education should provide for our students. This includes equipping graduates with communication and critical thinking skills, ethical reasoning and basic cultural competencies. Everyone agrees these are important areas of learning, which are being represented more clearly in this new curriculum,” Sontag says.

Learning Beyond the Classroom

Experiential learning requires real-world, interactive experiences that connect academics and life experience, facilitating student reflection on personal, professional and social values. The new Core requires all students to participate in  experiential learning. Currently about 75 percent of Mount studentsparticipate in experiential learning, which includes career-related professional experiences. This type of learning can also be obtained through internships, study abroad, cultural immersion, student teaching, field work, and more.

Through the College’s Cooperative Education program, students learn what it’s like to work in a major-related field. Today, the Cooperative Education program has approximately 250 student placements each year. One hallmark of the Mount’s co-op experience is the faculty visit to the worksite. The faculty site visit ensures student progress while enriching the classroom and the curriculum with the latest trends in the workplace.

Co-op has another major benefit. More than a third of all co-op students accept jobs with their employers after graduating.

“In the new Core, every student will have the opportunity for hands-on learning. It’s important for students to experience first-hand how learning in the classroom connects to outside the classroom. We can say every student will have the opportunity to do that,” Sontag says.

College 2.0

Increasingly, the college experience is not one-size-fits-all, and the Mount is working to reach students who may have taken an unconventional path in their education.

It’s true that a majority of students come to the Mount seeking a four-year degree fresh out of high school, expecting classes to be on a college campus; but those demographics are changing. More adult students are returning to college for new or advanced degrees, others want to sharpen their skills for a particular type of work and many want to go in a new career direction. The Mount continues to expand opportunities to accommodate all students.

“The 21st-century student expects a more individualized path through higher education. The traditional model is becoming less significant,” Aretz says.

The Mount has offered weekend, off-campus and night courses for years, and will continue to build on creating options for students.

Starting in the spring of 2013, the Mount will offer its first fully online degree program. The RN to BSN online program builds on the Mount’s strong tradition of training the region’s nurses for more than 90 years.

“The Mount has a long tradition of meeting the needs of nurses and local hospitals. We are extending that tradition this spring with the addition of an online format for the RN to BSN program,” says Darla Vale, Ph.D., dean of adult and graduate studies and interim dean division of health sciences.

Additionally, the College’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program is designed for the busy professional. This part-timeprogram is completed in six semesters, through enrollment in two, simultaneous courses. The program is offered ina blended format online and on-campus. Blended courses integrate the best practices of face-to-face and online course formats in a planned, pedagogically sound manner. Students meet two times for each course, and the rest of the coursesare completed online.

The Mount has plans to continue expanding the online course option and will be launching two additional programs in the near future including a master’s program in multicultural special education starting in June and a degree completion
program in criminology.

Also being offered are more short-term learning opportunities to expand specific workplace skills. For example, the Mercy Health Leadership Certificate Program, in partnership with the Mount, graduated its first class in the fall of 2012.

The certificate program was designed to encourage critical thinking and to have a direct impact on leadership behaviors and skills used by the participants. It’s comprised of courses offered both through the Mount and leadership training
courses offered by Mercy Health.

There are many exciting changes taking place at the Mount, preparing our next generation for personal fulfillment and professional success. And the College continues to look ahead as we begin to implement our Vision2020 Strategic Plan.

By helping students find their individual path to higher education, and by offering relevant, competitive choices in degree programs, the Mount is ensuring it will be a place where students can learn and grow for decades to come.