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As part of a new intentionally focused curriculum, Earlham College students will have the opportunity to complete at least one immersive learning experience, including faculty-student research, before graduating.

New core curriculum to help students better navigate the liberal arts, prepare for future

March 24, 2014

Earlham College has enhanced its curriculum to help students benefit from the extraordinary teaching, hands-on learning, and close collaboration with professors that are hallmarks of the College’s education.

Beginning this fall, incoming students will have the opportunity to experience a new intentionally focused curriculum in the liberal arts that includes discussion-based first-year seminars, writing- and research-intensive seminars, and at least one out-of-the-classroom experience before they graduate. 

“Earlham has always prepared students for meaningful careers or graduate school but one of the focuses in our Strategic Plan is being more intentional about helping our students think through what a liberal arts college can offer them,” says Associate Professor of Chemistry Lori Watson, who has been appointed dean of first-year students. 

“You could be a student at Earlham College for 15 years and never fully take advantage of all the things that we have to offer,” she says. “So you have to pick intelligently in ways that will help you get to where you want to be after graduation.” 

As part of the improvements, students will begin their general education requirements by taking two semester-long Earlham Seminars. Both sessions will offer students a more effective orientation to the College’s intellectual community, 40 areas of study and the Center for Integrated Learning, a new hub for experiential learning and career advising. 

“One of the things we realized is we make a massive assumption that students coming in know what the liberal arts is and know what the four-year trajectory of Earlham looks like, and what opportunities are available to them,” says Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Jay Roberts, who is also the director for the Center for Integrated Learning. 

“Earlham Seminar is an intellectual engagement in the liberal arts,” he says. “And integrated into some of the seminar is purposeful advising, along with the necessary planning and crafting that is required to get students’ minds ready for what’s ahead.” 

Both seminars will have a cap of 16 students and be taught collaboratively by faculty across the College’s academic divisions, says Registrar Bonita Washington-Lacey. 

“This gives students the opportunity to become grounded in disciplinary thought in the language of biology, physics or math, but not in a typical classroom or laboratory setting,” Washington-Lacey says. “From the very beginning, students will branch out from that discourse and ask, ‘Is this what I want to do with my life?’” 

The writing intensive and research seminar enables students to complete multiple writing and research projects that will be integrated into their chosen courses of study.

“We know that our students who come out as strong writers are disproportionately more likely to go to graduate school or have interesting job opportunities,” Roberts says. “Also, we know that when students have multiple opportunities to practice research, they get better at it and are able to articulate it into skill sets beyond what they’re doing research on.” 

The immersive learning opportunity offers students a chance to study off campus, complete an internship, participate in faculty-student research or conduct a service-learning project. 

Earlham is already nationally recognized for its commitment to experiential learning, with many students conducting research or participating in some form of immersive learning experience during their four years at Earlham. 

Nearly 70 percent of the College’s graduates participate in off-campus study at about 20 sites both domestic and abroad. While there, students earn credits while completing internships and living with host families. 

Further, about 85 percent of the College’s faculty collaborates with students on meaningful research, including Ford/Knight Grants. Students involved in hands-on research gain several benefits long identified by educational researchers, including increased motivation to learn, augmented independent thinking, greater reliance on evidence for decision-making, enhanced creativity and improved communication skills.

“These enhanced opportunities allow all of our students to really delve in, experientially, and use that experiential opportunity to gain tangible knowledge, skills and abilities,” Roberts says. 

A new administrative structure will support the changes. Joining Watson as deans are Associate Professor of Religion James Logan, who is second-year dean; Associate Professor of Geology Andy Moore, the third- and fourth-year dean; and Professor of Philosophy Marya Bower, who is serving as the “bridge” dean, bringing student life and academics together. 

“Some students come to us with a really clear idea of what they want to do here,” Watson says. “And for those students, it’s helping them discover the many other disciplines and experiences they might have as part of a liberal arts college that might inform what they want to do.

“Others don’t come in with a very clear idea of what they would do like to do in the future,” she says. “For those students, this plan is helping them explore the breadth of the curriculum so they find where their passion is and connect what they’re best at doing with other co-curricular experiences.”

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Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at (765) 983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.


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