[Fresh] Future directions

John Immerwahr (john.immerwahr@villanova.edu)
Wed, 04 Apr 2001 14:14:42 -0400

This a posting for Fresh@News, Villanova's e-mail news service for
parents and friends of the class of 2004. New subscribers can see the
previous postings at: http://news.villanova.edu/fresh/

An interview with Dr. John R. Johannes, Vice President for Academic
Affairs, on future directions at Villanova.

Fresh@News. The readers of Fresh@News are quite sophisticated about
Villanova now, having watched their students navigate most of freshman
year. Perhaps you could give them a heads up on changes to expect over
the next three years.

Dr. John R. Johannes. Probably the most dramatic changes in the next
year or two will be in Engineering and Commerce and Finance. We are in
the final stage of interviewing for a new Dean of our College of
Engineering, to succeed Dean Robert Lynch, who will be retiring after 26
years of service. We have interviewed a number of prominent engineers
from all over the country. While all of the candidates have recognized
the tremendous accomplishments that the College of Engineering has made
so far, there has been a nearly universal consensus about some of the
directions we need to follow for the future. Regardless of which of our
final candidates is selected, I think the biggest change will be a
further acceleration of a trend toward outreach and integration. The
days when an engineer could study a single discipline of engineering in
isolation from the rest of the world are long gone (if they ever
existed), and the days when engineering schools could function more or
less independently of the engineering profession are also over. I would
expect to see much greater cooperation among the different engineering
disciplines, between engineering and the other undergraduate colleges
(especially Commerce and Finance and the Sciences) and between our
engineering students and the many engineering firms in our area. This
process of integration has already begun under Dean Lynch, but I would
expect that the new dean will continue and even further reinforce this
direction.

F@N. You also mentioned Commerce and Finance. What changes do you see
there?

JRJ. As visitors to our campus must have noticed, we are just in the
process of completing a major renovation and expansion of Bartley Hall,
the home of the College of Commerce and Finance. In addition to
expanding the available space, the entire building will be renovated so
that it supports the state-of-the art technology requisite for the study
of business today. The Commerce and Finance IBM notebook computer
program began four years ago, so this year we are just graduating our
first class of notebook seniors. But we won't really be able to take
full advantage of this program until the new building is finished in
July, giving us the wired classrooms that will allow us to take full
advantage of the fact that all of the students have the same portable
computer. Since many of our Arts and Science students are also business
minors (and also own the approved computers) they will also benefit from
the new facilities.

F@N. What about Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Nursing? Any
construction projects planned for those colleges?

JRJ: By now, of course, we have all gotten used to the newly expanded
Mendel Science Center (just completed this fall), so the next big change
for Arts and Sciences will be the completion of our recently announced
Performing Arts building. I am confident that the class of 2004 will
enjoy plays and other cultural events in this building before they
graduate. What has been somewhat more frustrating is our efforts to
create a new facility for the College of Nursing. Among the
possibilities is a plan to find a new off campus site for the Law
School, which would then allow us to move the College of Nursing into
the building now occupied by the Law School. Unfortunately, we have not
yet found a satisfactory site for the Law School, so Nursing has had to
wait in the queue. Whether our current nursing students will see the
new building before they graduate is something I just can't predict at
this time. What we can say is that Nursing, like our other colleges, is
just on the threshold of major technological breakthroughs; Villanova is
committed to keeping pace with those changes.

F@N. You've spoken about bricks and mortar, and new deans. What about
changes the more subtle changes that actually affect the way students
learn on a day to day basis?

JRJ. Now you are getting to my favorite subject, since it doesn't matter
how nice our buildings are and how much technology we have if real
learning isn't happening both in the classroom and all over the campus.
I think Villanova is currently in the middle of a major shift in the way
we think about education, and the progress of this shift will be
extremely important to our students. When I started in higher education
-- now over 30 years ago -- we spoke mostly of what would now be called
"inputs." We talked a lot about what we planned to teach our students,
and we also talked about how many Ph.D.s we had on our faculty, and how
many books we had in the library. These are, of course, important
things, and we still care deeply about them. But increasingly we have
turned to talk about "outcomes" as well, so the new questions we ask are
these: "What are the skills and contents that our students need to know
and the values we want them to develop? How are we going to help them
learn those things, and how will we measure whether they have, in fact
learned them?" In this regard, our parents are the toughest customers.
They are rightly saying to us, "Don't just tell me how wonderful you
are, what I want to know is what my student will gain from a Villanova
education that he or she couldn't gain a lot less expensively somewhere
else?" Many of the things that your subscribers have heard about
already this year are all a part of that vision.

F@N. What are some of the ways that this new focus will change the
lives of the class of 2004?

JRJ. Let me start at the broadest level, since this is one of the ways
that most differentiates Villanova from many other universities. What
we are trying to create here is an education that exemplifies what St.
Augustine called "the unity of heart and mind." One aspect is that a
Villanova education should be more than the acquisition of technical
skills and content, but should also be grounded in values and
community. The service and liturgical work of campus ministry, the
leadership and community skills emphasized by student life, are as much
a part of this mission as are the classes in ethics and theology that
are required of all of our students. One of the changes that our
students will see, then, is an even greater emphasis on the values of
our Catholic and Augustinian heritage. I would also expect to see many
more courses that have a service learning element, as well as a much
greater emphasis on internationalization both in our academic classes
and in our service programs.

F@N. But what about in the classroom itself, will there be changes
there as well?

JRJ. One of the best kept secrets at Villanova is the creation of the
Villanova Institute for Teaching and Learning (VITAL), now in its third
year of operation. While most students have never heard of this
organization, it has had a tremendous influence on our faculty. VITAL
is the center where faculty can turn to help them revitalize their
approach to learning. The emphasis of VITAL and its new director, Dr.
Carol Weiss, is primarily on what might be called "active learning."
Increasingly we are seeing the professor not so much as the "sage on the
stage, but the guide on the side." As we all know from our own lives,
just sitting in a lecture is only a part of learning. The real growth
in understanding and skill comes from doing, from actively constructing
knowledge. The new technologies have created enormous resources for
active learning, and VITAL -- with the support of our Center for
Instructional Technology -- is our way of helping our faculty take
advantage of the new possibilities. VITAL provides small grants for
faculty who want to develop a new approach, provides workshops with both
our own faculty and outside experts to explore new classroom strategies,
and also provides confidential observation and feedback to a faculty
member who may feel that a particular class just isn't going as well as
it might be. VITAL also publishes a wonderful newsletter, where each
issue focuses on a teaching or learning issue. Our students are already
seeing the impact of VITAL on their academic lives already, and I think
the ripple effect is just beginning. We find, in other words, that the
new generation of students responds, more than any other group we have
seen, to the idea of learning by doing. We will be increasingly be
adapting our strategies to harness that energy.

F@N. What about outside of the classroom?

JRJ. Students are always learning, whether they are in the classroom or
not. Increasingly, our challenge is to make their entire experience
here an intense and positive learning experience. Over a third of the
class of 2004 is involved in one of our learning communities, such as
the Villanova Experience, Visions of Freedom, or the programs in
Moriarity or O'Dwyer. Your subscribers have already heard about our
efforts to support students in the writing center, the math center, and
in their library work. We also anticipate a major growth in the number
of students who are studying abroad. Currently about 10% of our
students participate in international study, we hope to double that
figure in the next four years.

F@N. What advice do you have for parents?

JRJ. The first thing I would say is "Hold on to your hats." The pace of
change in higher education is dramatic, and I can't even imagine some of
the things that this class will be doing in the next three years. The
second thing I would ask is for parents to challenge their students
continually. The attitude we are always fighting against is the student
who says, "My goal is to get the highest grade for the least work." The
most important thing we can teach our students is to be life-long
learners, who understand the graduation from college is only the
beginning of education. This kind of learning has nothing to do with
jumping through educational hoops, but has everything to do with
self-motivation. Parents should ask, "What did you learn and how did
you change?" rather than "What grade did you get?" Finally parents need
to discover new ways to support their students as they confront the
inevitable educational setbacks that a student encounters. I think the
first rule is to try to have your son or daughter address the problem
directly. College students often need support in assertiveness in
having the confidence to ask a professor, an adviser, a chair, or a dean
for help. Not surprisingly, our students, especially as freshmen or
sophomores, are sometimes a little bit shy about asking for help.
Usually, at Villanova, a student who asks around will eventually get
whatever he or she needs. My own view is that it is a bad idea for the
parent to become involved directly until the student has made every
effort to solve the problem. Part of gorwing up is learning to address
problems head on, in a responsible fashion. That, it seems to me, is
every bit as important as getting a good grade in a class. Students
learn these skills by experience. If a problem is serious enough for a
parent to get involved, the parent should typically call the office of
the college dean (for an academic problem) or the Dean of Students for a
Student Life issue. My suggestion would be for parents NOT to call
faculty members directly. Because of legal restrictions, faculty
members are not permitted to discuss an individual student's work unless
appropriate permission has been granted, and usually the faculty member
does not know whether the permission has been obtained. Just to
conclude, it seems like just yesterday that I addressed so many of the
parents of the class of 2004 at New Student Orientation, and before any
of realizes how quickly the time has flown by I'll be seeing many of the
same faces at graduation. Thanks so much for sending us your students.
They are a great group and they are really enriching our lives.

--
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