Changing the face of the University: Part II

Thomas Celona

Like many other students, sophomore Raul Garcia is a double major. While his decision to double up may not seem unusual, what makes his academic plan atypical is the fact that one of his majors did not even exist at this time last year.

Garcia is pairing his more traditional political science major with one in global interdisciplinary studies, a program new to the University this academic year. Garcia is not alone in his decision to take advantage of Villanova’s continually expanding offerings, as students from across the University seize new opportunities.

As the student body has transformed over the past decade, the University has responded, expanding and aiming to improve both academic and extracurricular programming.

On the academic side, one of the biggest changes can be seen in the professors.

“The faculty has changed dramatically,” said Dr. John Johannes, vice president for Academic Affairs. “The faculty qualifications keep getting better. We have people with their graduate degrees from a wide range of schools, including the most prestigious schools in the country.”

Some of the changes ushered in by this revamped faculty have led to the creation of new programs. The two most recent – the Institute for Global Interdisciplinary Studies and the department of geography and the environment – were created at the opening of this academic year.

The Institute for Global Interdisciplinary Studies offers a major for undergraduates. The major focuses on developing students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills in order to foster responsible global citizenship, according to the institute’s Web site.

The department of geography and the environment also formed this past fall. The department combined previous programs leading to a Bachelor of Arts in geography and a concentration in environmental studies into one collective unit. While the department continues to offer the major in geography, students can now major in both environmental science and environmental studies.

“The new geography and the environment department is already popular,” Johannes said, noting the program’s quick success.

Additionally, the University has expanded its postgraduate offerings.

“We’ve launched a number of programs – perhaps the most significant would be the five-year bachelor/master’s,” Johannes said.

Currently, the University offers 18 programs in the College of Engineering, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Nursing that allow students to earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in a five-year time period. Students begin to take graduate-level courses during their senior year.

While these programs continue to expand, the University’s PhD programs have not experienced the same level of growth. Currently, the University offers only three such programs.

“The academic plan back in 2003 said we would selectively add some PhD programs where it made sense to do so – where a PhD program actually meets a need and we can do it without dipping into the undergraduate program,” Johannes said. “We added the engineering and nursing programs to go with the philosophy program. Right now, our official position is we’re open to looking at new PhD proposals if they meet the seven or eight criteria that we’ve set.”

Aside from these specific programs, the overall educational experience at Villanova has seen significant change.

Part of this change has come through curriculum reform.

“Father Dobbin, the previous president, when he stepped into office in ’88 began a real strategic planning process that set some specific goals and defined directions for the University, and increasing the intellectual climate in the student body was clearly one of them,” said Vice President for Student Life Rev. John Stack, O.S.A.

One decision that reformed University curriculum was the creation of the Core Humanities Seminar, now the Augustine and Culture Villanova Seminar.

“[The seminar] sets people off in the right direction of recognizing that the faculty is there to help, and I think it engages students in a way that helped really improve the intellectual climate,” Stack said.

Furthermore, each individual college has either remodeled or is in the process of remodeling their curriculum, according to Johannes. Most recently, the School of Business announced an overhaul of its core curriculum.

“There’s really a strong attempt by the deans of the colleges to keep their colleges up on the edge of what’s happening academically in the country,” Johannes said.

Additionally, Villanova has seen an increased emphasis on multicultural education, according to Dr. Terry Nance, assistant vice president for Multicultural Affairs.

“Multicultural education is the essence of education,” Nance said. “Coming to understand that there’s so much more to know about the word … that’s what it means to live in the 21st century.”

Due to all of the changes in academics, the educational experience at Villanova is radically different than it was in past years – something Johannes expressed great excitement about.

“You’ve got new students with better qualifications, huge faculty turnover, new deans at two of the colleges, curriculum reform at the undergraduate level but also at the graduate level, so I think all four of those things have combined to create a greater dynamism,” he said.

This academic dynamism among students is not confined to the classrooms, but it is rapidly spilling over into the University’s extracurricular programming.

“Obviously, academics is central to the University, but there is this recognition that learning can happen outside the classroom as well,” Director of Student Development Tom Mogan said.

Mogan said that the student body’s excitement about learning has translated into both the growth of student organizations and the creation of new ones.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in both the number and types of organizations,” Mogan said.

Mogan highlighted the Mock Trial Team as an illustration of the connection between academics and student organizations.

“The tremendous success that they’ve had is a credit to the students who are really actively engaged inside the classroom and outside the classroom,” he said. “It’s a perfect example of how they can apply the different skills and knowledge they pick up in the classroom, and it’s a way they can apply it to real-life situations.”

Mogan also noted that Student Development has received an increased demand for leadership programs as students look to strengthen their organizations.

“In response to that, we’ve tried to meet the demands of student organizations and leadership in general by helping to develop our own leadership programs and student organization training programs,” he said.

Some of the leadership programs include the Community Leadership Series and the At the Half program for sophomores, which saw its highest turnout this past February, according to Mogan.

Stack also discussed some of the issues the Division of Student Life has faced in response to the changing student body.

“One of Student Life’s challenges, ironically, is getting people away from their computers for a little bit – getting away from their cell phone, instant messaging, Facebook and everything and actually talking to other people,” Stack said.

One way Stack said his office has worked to bring students together is through the One Book Villanova program.

“The One Book progam is an example of something that has emerged as a community thing,” he said.

Nance reported an increase in programming organized by the Center for Multicultural Affairs. It offers a weekly Bible study; Second Sense, a discussion group for sophomores; WISE, a male mentoring program; Kicking it with Qi, a female mentoring program; and various development programs.

All of these extracurricular programs, along with the expanding and transforming academic programs, come in response to the changing needs of the Villanova student body. Members of University administration realize that the increased enthusiasm for learning both in and out of the classroom pervades campus.

So while Garcia embarks on his new academic studies in the Institute for Global Interdisciplinary Studies, there are 6,000-plus undergraduates just like him who are also seizing the new opportunities the University is creating.

However, with new programs comes the need for new spaces to house them. Next week, The Villanovan will explore the University’s plans for changing on-campus facilities, with the Campus Master Plan setting the course for a complete overhaul of the look of campus.