Bryn Mawr Faculty Looks for Ways to Diversify Student Academic Experiences and Encourage Greater Faculty Advising and Mentorship

Posted July 21st, 2011 at 9:38 am.

Late this spring, Bryn Mawr’s faculty voted to further explore an academic blueprint for the future that will introduce ways to create more varied and individually tailored degree paths and make more prominent the role faculty plays in mentoring and advising students.

Much of the increased mentoring and advising will be focused on first-year students and sophomores with the idea that a student working collaboratively with faculty members early in her time at Bryn Mawr will be able develop and explore more tailored academic pathways. The plan also creates even greater opportunities for faculty-student interaction as part of a senior-thesis experience.

“What we want to do is have the faculty, who have a deep understanding of the liberal arts and their importance, working with these students as early as possible in helping them figure out what they need to do to reach their individual goals.”

To make the increased mentoring and advising possible, the plan gives faculty an option of teaching five courses in a given academic year or teaching four courses and undertaking additional advising and mentoring duties.

“Bryn Mawr has always prided itself on our faculty/student interaction,” says Provost Kim Cassidy. “This plan rightfully acknowledges the importance of the mentoring role faculty play by treating that time just as we do time in the classroom.”

The plan, which was drafted by the Committee on Academic Priorities (CAP) in consultation with the general faculty, also calls on each department and program to look for ways to make core requirements more flexible so as to allow for greater diversity of academic pathways.

“Conceiving of majors this way makes concrete the basic structure of a liberal arts education: a major is a part of the overall academic experience and does not so much lead to one career or one type of final product, but to multiple ways a student can connect to a wide range of fields and issues. This approach also revitalizes the notion of the Bryn Mawr student forging her own way,” write the authors of the report outlining the plan.

Within each major there may be multiple tailored paths, such as a Ph.D. path that requires the most major-specific courses and a transdisciplinary path that relies more on coursework from related departments and programs.

The report offers a multipronged approach to redesigning majors to allow for multiple pathways. Potential options include:

  • increased interdepartmental collaboration and coordination in course offerings
  • the development of culminating senior experiences for all students that fit the multiple reasons for being in a major
  • reconsideration of some double majors as “transdisciplinary tracks” within a department, and
  • changes to the independent-major process

In addition to expanding the paths of scholarship students can take, the CAP report calls on the faculty to diversify the academic experience of Bryn Mawr’s students by recognizing and supporting different ways of presenting intellectual work, including digital and multimedia formats or presentations suitable for public forums (e.g., opinion pieces or Web-based media).

The development and implementation of this blueprint is funded in part by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as part of a $1 million grant the college received for its ongoing efforts to create “an innovative and sustainable liberal arts curriculum for the 21st Century.”

That grant will also make possible the exploration of new initiatives such as the Tri-Co Digital Humanities Consortium, 360° course clusters, half-semester courses and writing-intensive courses. Funding from this grant will also help the college explore the targeted use of online and open courseware; pursue “signature” Tri-College academic programs with Haverford and Swarthmore; and investigate the possibility of developing partnerships with research universities.

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