Education for life - Academic reorganization helps define future

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We prepare our students for life, work and citizenship in the twenty-first century

“We are not a research school.”

“We are not a community or technical college.” Too often in the past universities – including St. Cloud State – have been defined by what they are not rather than by what they represent, according to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Devinder Malhotra.

Through a four-year process of strategic program appraisal and reorganization, St. Cloud State has been refocused and restructured to move forward with a stronger identity. A new mission statement more clearly defines the university’s goals: “We prepare our students for life, work and citizenship in the twenty-first century.”

Academic units have a new, more nimble structure that will produce graduates who are better prepared to enter an ever-changing world. Their identity is centered around four attributes – elements that the University has determined should be part of a St. Cloud State education. They are: active and applied learning, community engagement, global and cultural understanding, and sustainability.

“Our new covenant is that our graduates will exhibit these traits and they will be good stewards well engaged contributors to society,” Malhotra said. “That will hold true whether students graduate with degrees in mechanical engineering, music, economics or health. They will all exhibit the same traits.”

In creating this new framework, university leaders were guided by three elements:

  • Establishing a university that remained relevant and stood up to the rigors of a changing society.
  • Providing for an integrated student experience, not only in the classroom but outside as well.
  • Meeting the needs of an ever-changing and increasingly diverse community both locally and globally.

“As a campus we asked ourselves this question: ‘What kind of structure would help us achieve these goals?’” Malhotra said. It was being asked during a time when resources were declining. And while those cuts accelerated the planning process, they did not define it, Malhotra said.

What came to fruition was an organizational model that would deliver an applied curricular structure that has a solid foundation in liberal arts and science.

“We will produce not only a competent engineer but a well-educated, competent engineer,” Malhotra said.

The new university “prepares students more broadly,” said Lisa Foss, associate vice president and associate provost in the Office of Strategy, Planning & Effectiveness. “What does it mean for students? It’s more about building a base of knowledge. It helps them become critical thinkers and problem solvers.”

Malhotra said the new organization was structured around schools. These schools are aimed at professions that are becoming more relevant and important. The new School of Health and Human Services is a prime example. That school is focused on preparing students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to be successful and productive in health care and human service careers.

The School of Health & Human Services is bringing departments and programs from four different colleges into a new structure,” said Monica Devers, interim dean. While the school is new the departments and programs are well established and have distinguished track records in teaching, research, and community partnerships.

“This is an exciting place to be,” Devers said. “This new structure will allow faculty to expand on their work in the classroom and in the community and offers the potential for interdisciplinary work and enhancing community partnerships. Community engagement is a critical component of the work in all of the programs in the school. Importantly, it will allow students to gain a deeper and broader perspective of their discipline and its relationship to related disciplines.”

Devers and others are quick to point out that the reorganization isn’t over, but just beginning. “In our inaugural year, faculty, staff and students will discuss this new structure and work on defining who we and develop a plan for who we want to be,” Devers said, alluding to the fact that in today’s learning environment, universities must prepare students for jobs that didn’t exist 10 to 15 years ago – not to mention for jobs yet to be created. Engagement with our community partners will be critical at all steps of this process.

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