What does it mean to be an educated person? What should a Point Park graduate know and be able to do?
These fundamentally important questions are at the heart of the Point Park 2020 initiative, a comprehensive effort to examine and enhance key pillars of the student learning experience. Point Park 2020 encompasses everything from the core curriculum and academic structure to co-curricular experiences and city life, according to Karen McIntyre, Ph.D., senior vice president of academic and student affairs and dean of faculty.
Rooted in Point Park Excellence, the continuous improvement program that evolved from the recent Middle States reaccreditation process, Point Park 2020 began with examining characteristics of excellence, says McIntyre. “An important characteristic has to do with general [course] distribution requirements, but equally important are overall learning experiences, co-curricular opportunities and services for students. Based on indicators ranging from the University’s own self-assessment to feedback gained through the National Survey of Student Engagement, it was clear that “students want experiences that support their learning, that connect them to the community, that are meaningful and relevant, that are interdisciplinary in nature, and that provide choice and flexibility,” says McIntyre.
The first phase, therefore, has focused on the core curriculum, the fundamental building block of the learning experience. “Everything is tied to the core,” says McIntyre.
The process began two years ago with a series of campus conversations that invited the entire University community to discuss such questions as, “what does it mean to be a Point Park graduate,” says McIntyre. Everyone from students, faculty and staff to alumni and board members were invited to contribute ideas. “We began with these very personal, fireside-type discussions in which [students] had a lot of input,” recalls senior biology major Dillon Kunkle, who is now president of United Student Government. “Many students wanted more options. We are real people with a range of interests! Students are interested in things other than their major.”
“After the ‘conversation phase,’ we put out a request for proposals for a new core model and invited everyone in the University community to submit a model for consideration,” says McIntyre. Twelve proposals were submitted and subsequently evaluated by the faculty, “who have the primary responsibility for curriculum.”
Teams led by faculty were created to take model ideas and extend them into a more detailed framework – “involving not just courses but details about learning experiences,” says McIntyre. Since many of the models had similar elements, ideas were combined to four frameworks for further consideration by the faculty. A clear frontrunner emerged – now known as the “Confluence Core.”
The Confluence Core includes such elements as a first-year course that focuses on city university life, a capstone experience, and academic requirements balanced with flexible options, all of which are still in development. “All of the proposals were driven by the central theme, that is, ‘what does it mean to be a successful Point Park student,’” recalls Thomas Baggerman, a faculty member in the School of Communication who has been involved since the early stages. “From the initial visioning to the process of moving from proposals to the final plan, it’s been truly collaborative.”
According to President Paul Hennigan, a hallmark has been the involvement of many University trustees: “It’s been a very organic process –thoughtful, inclusive and comprehensive.” Trustee Loren Roth, M.D., M.P.H., agrees: “As a trustee, I am a strong advocate of advancing the mission of the University, and implementing a new core experience for students is a most important activity for future success.
“I’ve been very pleased with the deliberate and well-planned process implemented by the administration and faculty to achieve this goal,” says Dr. Roth, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and a distinguished leader in the fields of psychiatry, law and public health. He especially appreciated the hands-on collaboration with faculty. “This is a fine example of shared governance.”
Text by Cheryl Valyo
Photo by John McKeith
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University