The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded $700,000 to the ACM for a series of innovative faculty development seminars. “The new summertime seminars will provide ACM faculty a unique opportunity to examine timely questions at sites where the questions are most salient, so they can then use this experience to create cross-disciplinary opportunities for juniors and seniors at ACM colleges,” said Christopher Welna, President of the ACM. “We are very grateful to the Foundation for its generous support in making these unique seminars possible.”
Each of the ACM-Mellon Liberal Arts Faculty Seminars will focus on a topic that raises broad, enduring questions – for example, “What are the sources of war?” “How should we steward water?” “In what ways do cities shape creativity and innovation in society?” or “How does ethnicity influence human interactions?” The seminars will be held at locations that offer compelling contexts for the topics and foster fresh thinking and collaboration, much the way off-campus study does for students.
Working with outside experts and drawing on their own expertise, fifteen or so ACM professors from the humanities, arts, sciences, and social sciences will examine the topic from a variety of perspectives to increase their collective knowledge. This experience, in turn, will provide the basis for the faculty participants to create new course modules and courses for advanced undergraduates that bring a liberal arts approach to the specialized studies that students undertake in their major fields.
ACM Vice President John Ottenhoff sees the ACM-Mellon Seminars as an “extraordinary opportunity to help faculty build on their disciplinary expertise with new pedagogical tools and models for interdisciplinary learning.”
Although most colleges offer first-year and other introductory seminars highlighting integrative perspectives, they tend to focus on the discipline in teaching more specialized courses at the advanced level, Ottenhoff noted. Faculty members typically teach as experts, drawing on what they know in depth, in part because it is difficult to combine the roles of expert and novice that are needed to lead interdisciplinary scholarship at advanced levels.
“Many ACM students have ‘high-impact’ learning experiences through internships and off-campus study programs,” said Ottenhoff. “The Seminars will give faculty their own ‘high-impact’ learning experiences and help them build into the upper levels of the curriculum the insights students gain through off-campus and similar transformative experiences.”
Collaborating to create “temporary research centers”
The Seminars will draw on the collaborative strengths of the consortium by using locations, both international and in the U.S., where the ACM or its member colleges have established networks of faculty, local staff, partners, and facilities that can provide academic expertise and logistical support.
For example, the topic of “water” could be taken up at Colorado College’s Baca campus in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, at the shores of the Great Lakes, or in Pune, India. All are sites where the ACM has a presence and that would be propitious for considering the critical role of water from various disciplinary perspectives. The Seminar could ask questions such as “What patterns of social organization assure stable water supplies?” “In what ways can effective political policies reinforce the findings of water sciences?” “How do art and literature represent water in places where it is scarce as opposed to where it is abundant?”
The topic and location each year will be established through a competitive process, beginning with a call for proposals from ACM faculty. Once the topic, theme and faculty leaders are identified, a second call will invite proposals to participate from interdisciplinary teams of two to four faculty from ACM campuses. The participants will prepare together for the seminar in the months prior to the seminar, and will continue to collaborate afterward to develop new course modules or courses for their campuses that grow out of the topic they’ve examined together.
By convening at appropriate locations and with local experts, the Seminars will allow faculty to create learning communities. Each Seminar group will engage complex problems from multiple perspectives, fostering collaboration and the development of new approaches across disciplines. At different points during the Seminar, participants will combine both specialist and non-specialist roles as they work together to address the seminar question by incorporating these various perspectives brought by participating faculty and local experts.
In effect, the Seminars will constitute “temporary research centers” in which faculty develop new and interdisciplinary expertise in topics that interest them. These temporary research centers will be models for the advanced curricular activities the faculty will develop for upper-level students at their colleges.
Developing and sharing innovative, liberal arts curricula
During and following the Seminars, participants will develop and implement specific curricular projects aimed at helping junior and senior-level students make intellectual connections across disciplines and cultures. Projects might include new courses or significant modifications to existing courses, new pedagogical approaches, and collaborations with other faculty, especially those who participated in the Summer Seminar.
The curricular and intellectual results of the ACM-Mellon Faculty Seminars will be presented at ACM conferences at the midpoint and at the end of the project, to provide models that can be used broadly throughout the ACM and other liberal arts colleges. Campus presentations, panel discussions at national meetings, and the ACM website will also help make the results available more widely.
The Faculty Seminar project is designed to reinforce the liberal arts nature of teaching and learning at advanced undergraduate levels among individual faculty leaders and their colleagues, as well as among the cohorts of advanced liberal arts students who study with them. In addition the project aims to advance this idea more broadly throughout the ACM and the liberal arts sector.
If successful, this project will:
- Assist ACM faculty in developing expertise in cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural topics that enriches their capacity to improve curricula at their colleges by teaching with a liberal arts approach in advanced as well as in introductory courses.
- Add significant and exemplary innovations to the curricula at ACM institutions by creating new courses, sequences, modules, or faculty collaborations to help upper-level undergraduate students synthesize the strands of general and disciplinary education across disciplines and cultures.
- Strengthen the member colleges of the ACM through clusters of re-engaged faculty who have benefited from collaborative work with colleagues and experts.
- Strengthen consortial collaboration by building research communities of students and faculty among the member colleges and by using program sites for intensive faculty development.
- Contribute to the making of new knowledge within the liberal arts context by both students and faculty, highlighting the contributions of interdisciplinary collaborations, cross-cultural perspectives, and the connections between strong teaching and research.
The first of five annual ACM-Mellon Liberal Arts Faculty Seminars will be held in summer 2012. A Call for Proposals for the topic, location, and faculty leaders of the first Seminar will be issued to faculty at ACM colleges this spring. A Call for Participants will be issued later this year, after the topic, location, and date have been selected.