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Undergrad education under scrutiny

With the departure of Ernest Morris, the UW's longtime vice president for student affairs, the arrival of Provost Phyllis Wise and a new Dean of Undergraduate Education, administrators are saying the time for change in undergraduate education has come.

Change will be implemented through the Committee on Improving the UW Undergraduate Experience, appointed to evaluate the system for undergraduate education and determine what new directions, if any, the UW should be taken in.

"The president and the provost have called for the campus to examine how we're serving undergraduates -- what is working well, what could work even better," said Christine Ingebritsen, the acting dean and acting vice provost for undergraduate education.

The committee is scheduled to report to Wise and President Mark Emmert by Nov. 30.

The task at hand

The committee is charged with four issues: what attributes of an excellent undergraduate experience should be, strengths and weaknesses of the UW experience, the best practices nationally and what models can be adopted for the UW.

To best tackle these issues, the committee has established subcommittees designed to map out the entirety of a UW experience, including pre-entry, first-year experience, exploration and discovery leading up to the selection of a major. The committee will also address what happens after students have decided their majors and what comes next -- departure, graduate school and the alumnus' or alumuna's continuing relationship with the UW.

"We need to think about the undergraduate experience in many ways -- not just in the classroom," said committee head Gerald Baldasty, chair of the communication department.

The committee is holding open forums for faculty, staff and students in order to get the widest range of feedback, he said.

"The committee members draw broadly from campus, [but] we can't get everyone on the committee," Baldasty said. "We're talking broadly to a lot of different people."

A student's role

Serving on the committees are three undergraduates and one graduate student, including ASUW President Lee Dunbar. Dunbar, along with Karen Clegg, Jon Lee and Adam Grupp, head of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, are on committees to give administrators perspective about how students themselves feel about the educational experience.

"It's just really bringing the student perspective -- not just my own," Dunbar said. "One of the big things we've been [bringing up] is the need for students to be able to connect with faculty and other students."

Dunbar said he hopes to bring members from the residence halls, Greek community, commuters and south campus -- namely members of groups centered at the Ethnic Cultural Center (ECC) to forums.

"There's so many communities on campus that students identify with," he said. "We need to insert that perspective."

By hosting forums targeted at each living group and the ECC, the committee hopes to grasp all the issues that matter to UW students, Dunbar added.

"If you have a concern you will be able to voice it," he said. "[For example] how the University can address text book prices, relations with different communities, what is our identity and how we address transfer students."

Where to look

The committee is pulling inspiration from other universities nationwide, looking at what programs are strong and what would be good to implement at the UW, Baldasty said.

One item under consideration is a "common book." Ingebristen said she is working closely with student affairs and students to adopt a book, with common themes of identity and community. The book being proposed for next year is Carlos Bulosan's autobiography America is in the Heart.

"It is an experiment to have the entire campus community reading one book," Ingebristen said.

The committee is also looking at programs already in place at the UW, such as the Center for Learning and Undergraduate Education (CLUE) and the Freshmen Interest Groups (FIGs).

Strengthening undergraduate education

"We're not saying anyone is doing a bad job -- the title is to improve," Baldasty said. "There are a lot of good programs here that we can broaden and strengthen."

Not all programs the UW offers need to be revised, Dunbar added.

"There are challenges and problems at the UW, but there [are] also things we do well," Dunbar said. "Don't reinvent wheel, don't change things that don't necessarily need to be changed."

Dunbar noted the Office of Minority Affairs (OMT) as an example of a program he would not want to see changed.

"OMA does incredible work without question," he said. "[It] should be seen as a model for what advising can be."

Undergraduate advising is a different story.

"[We're] looking to change [advising] in Mary Gates and also in each department," said Dunbar. "[We want to transition to] holistic advising where you are not just getting academic advice, but having someone from the financial aid office close by collaborating more."

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