Higher Education in Focus: Engaged Scholarship

Higher Education in Focus: Engaged Scholarship

September 12, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski


>>Support for Higher
Education in Focus comes from the Penn State
Alumni Association. Serving Alumni and alma mater
for more than 145 years. On the web at alumni.psu.edu. Penn State bookstore. Now in an expanded location
in the Hub Robeson Center. Improving the student
experience at Penn State with philanthropic support of student causes
throughout the university. PSECU. A credit union
providing financial services to its members throughout
Pennsylvania since 1934. More at psecu.com. And from viewers like you. Thank you. [ Music ]>>Since the concept of engaged
scholarship was first introduced in the 1990s, we’ve seen
outreach and service grow in importance in
American higher ed. Today, engaged scholarship
encompasses a full range of out-of-classroom experiences. From study abroad. To service learning. To community-based research. And it brings the vast knowledge
of colleges and universities to help solve the
world’s problems. What is engaged scholarship
in practice? How is this work
funded and sustained? And what does it mean
for students, faculty, and the community at large? In this edition of
Higher Education in Focus, Penn State President
Eric Barron will focus on how this so-called engaged
scholarship is evolving. Here to talk with him are
two university presidents from the state of Virginia. Both are leaders in the
engagement movement. Jonathan Alger became
sixth president of James Madison
University in 2012. And Timothy Sands
joined Virginia Tech as its new president in 2014. Now, here’s President
Eric Barron.>>I thank both of
you for being here. It’s great to have
you at the end of a successful conference
here, and we’re talking about an engaged scholarship. Now I often think about this as
going way beyond the classroom. You’re not going to class. And leaving class. And getting a grade. You’re looking for
all those things that really make a
difference in extending that classroom experience. And learning more. And having a greater impact. And so if you think about
that as the definition, why is this so important
to student success?>>When we think about
the concept of engagement in higher education,
we’re really talking about a very active learning
process; not a passive one. At James Madison
University, for example, we talk about engaged learning. Community engagement. And civic engagement as
cornerstones of what we do and what we provide
for our students. And really it helps them
to apply the concepts that they’re learning inside the
classroom to real-world problems and challenges outside the
classroom all around them. And I think that makes it much
more relevant and exciting for them, to see how their
learning can make a real difference in the world.>>I agree. When we talked to our alums, and asked them what was most
important about their experience at Virginia Tech, a common theme
is an experiential learning opportunity that they had. And often these are engaged
learning in the community. Could be an internship
where they’re engaged with a startup company. All sorts of options
there and possibilities. But it’s this environment where they can practice what
they’ve learned in the classroom in a real-life environment. And so from the student
perspective — and of course there are
many other perspectives. But from the student
perspective, it’s absolutely critical
to a, I think, successful experience
at the university.>>So you put the
suggestion there that an internship is one
form of engaged scholarship. What do you put on your list? What are the types of activities
that you would include, and say okay, that’s an example of engaged scholarship
at a university?>>Well I think there are a lot
of different types of practices. And it’ll be different things
in different disciplines. So for example, I
think internships and experiential learning
are a great example. Service learning
in the community. Especially where there’s some
supervision and reflection, can be a very powerful
form of engaged learning. There are other things. Study abroad is a very
high-impact experience that 25% of our students engage in. Working in teams. Working with people from diverse
backgrounds in very active ways. I think there are quite a few
ways in which we can do things that are active, and
really get students relating with one another.>>Yeah, I think the
more we can guide that as faculty or
staff, the better. So that they have a chance to
reflect on, as you said Jon, on what they’re experiencing. I think that’s a trend
that we need to solidify, because we need to make sure that they’re actually
getting something out of it. And that guiding is part — that mentoring is part of what
makes it a special experience. One of the things
I would just add, is that I think another
dimension we’re trying at Virginia Tech to
figure out how to do. It’s not that easy. Is to make sure that when
our students are involved in engaged learning, that
they have a chance to reflect. So hopefully if they’re
off-campus they’re living together. They’re not spread off
and commuting to back home or whatever it might be. But they’re coming together
and having those conversations around the dinner
table, just randomly when they run into each other. That’s the part that I
think we need to get to. But there are challenges. Some of them are cost.>>You know; I try to
connect engagement activity to an outcome. You can’t always do it. But, you know, internship;
real-world experience, and it’s a ticket to a job. Over and over again,
we’ve seen people hired.>>Right. Right.>>One-on-one research creative
activity with a faculty member; huge correlation with
getting an advanced degree. Study abroad? How many companies want you to
have a world view out there. But the list actually
ends up to be quite long. Would you put student
leadership on the list?>>Yeah. I think so. When we talk to employers about
the skillsets that they want to see, it’s actually
less, in many cases, about a particular major. And more about things like
leadership and teamwork. Problem solving. Resilience. Overcoming obstacles. Critical thinking and
analytical skills. Communication skills. Those are the things that the
employers tell us are really important to them. And these engaged learning
activities provide a great way to develop a lot
of those skills.>>So an incredibly
important point. And I often sit there and hear
people say, okay history major. What kind of job are
you going to get?>>Right.>>But yet, history majors
can be incredibly successful. Because they learn a
lot of those skills that you’ve just described. So it really becomes
an advantage.>>And we also know that
students are deeply engaged in — student organizations
on campus — are engaged as employees
when they leave. There’s a very strong
association with that. You can ask whether
— what was first? Was it the student who was
just naturally inclined to be engaged? Or did they learn some of the
benefits of being engaged, and some of the skills
associated with that in student leadership
opportunities that then carried over. And, you know, I always
reflect on — we have four kids, so they were each an experiment for us [laughter] intentionally
and unintentionally. And I’ve seen both. I’ve seen some of our kids
being just naturally engaged. But others, one or two of
them came out of their shell, if you will, when they
became engaged and realized that they had these talents. And then they carry
on into the workplace.>>And there’s an opportunity.>>Yeah.>>And it carries over
even beyond the workplace. When we talk about
engaged citizens. People that are going
to be involved in volunteer organizations
and opportunities to better their communities. People who are going to
be specifically involved with the important
policy issues of our time. So we’re preparing
students, I think, for a life. Not just a career, but
also for a satisfying life where they can make a
difference with their education.>>And if you really
want to be blunt, and just say okay, service. You’re making a difference. But my suspicion also
is — to be blunt — there’s a lot of companies
out there that look at that and says, okay, this is a person that would treat
customers different. This is a person that
would treat fellow employees different. Because they’re giving back. They care about more
than just themselves. So there are a lot of signals
that come out of these types of engagement, I think, that
make a difference to employees. Would you put entrepreneurial
activities as an engagement topic?>>Absolutely.>>Oh, I think so. A student who’s involved in
an entrepreneurial venture of some sort, whatever scale, has got to engage
their future customer. They’ve got to engage
their partners. They’ve got to work as a team. They can’t do it on their own. They’ve got to go out
and find resources. And ultimately, they
get involved in hopefully making an
impact in their community, or whatever that may be. So it’s a very — I
think a very strong, and almost pure form
of engagement.>>And really follows through
on what they’re learning in the classroom potentially.>>Absolutely. And it gets students
involved with taking risks with working with other people. Very few entrepreneurs
are going to be successful without finding ways to
work with other people. A lot of these are
really relationship skills that are incredibly valuable
in any sort of workplace.>>You know there are a lot
of people that are starting to do assessments of this. And they look at it and say,
you know, you’re engaged in worthwhile activities;
so is your peer group. These are your friends. If you’re engaged 10 to 20
hours a week in activities, you have to manage
your time better. So you’re a little bit
healthier and happier, because you’re getting this
positive reinforcement. And you’re paying attention. And you’re probably
not as involved in some adverse behavior. And you’re building your resume. And so this creates a
tremendous success cycle. And they — engaged students
tend to have even higher grades than others because of all
those different factors. So if we know this is
such an important area for student success, what do you
do at a university — yours — to help promote student
engagement? Active programs? You know, philosophical bent? What are you sitting there
looking at that you’re saying, okay we’ve got to drive students
to go in this direction?>>Well I think there
are various approaches. We just launched a program
called a Keystone Experience. So we’re essentially creating
a co-curricular transcript. And I think most of our institutions have gone
somewhere along that spectrum where the students
create a portfolio. And they get essentially,
you might call it badges, for various forms of leadership
of community engagement. And we’re trying to build
that into, and have it merge with the academic transcript. Because I think we’ve
gotten to this point where it’s so obvious. As you said, based on the
research that’s been done, that this is an important part
of our student’s experience. And so we have to figure
out a way to recognize it. We need to be a part
of the resume. And when the employers or
the graduate schools look at the students, and they see that they’ve been
actively engaged. Not superficially, but deeply –>>Yeah.>>They’re going
to rise to the top.>>So I really like that
idea to think about badges. Do you — and having it
connect to their transcript. So that not only
are you recognizing, but they’re taking
something else with them. So would you go so far as to
say you’re a service scholar? Is that a badge that you
could have, for example, in trying to see exactly
what a badge means?>>I think so. But you’ve got to
validate it somehow.>>Yeah.>>You’ve got to have some
— you can’t just say, well, I did that activity
so I get the badge.>>Yeah.>>It’s got to be guided. There’s got to be some evidence
of some outcomes being reached. And if the partners — sometimes
it’s not a professor — maybe it’s an employer — buys
into this, then they could help, essentially be part
of the guidance; the mentoring for that student. But there’s got to
be some criteria. And we have to set the criteria.>>You’ve got to
be able to count. You’ve got to have
realistic criteria.>>Right.>>It has to be real.>>Yeah.>>And I think that’s where the
role of assessment comes in. One of the big challenges we
have in higher education today, is a lot of people are
questioning the value proposition for higher
education. You say that you’re
promoting all of these great learning
outcomes. Prove it to us. And I think that’s
one of the challenges that we currently face. We have a very strong
center for assessment at James Madison University,
that works with our faculty and all the academic
departments. To try to actually look at
the student learning outcomes that they say that
they’re trying to achieve. And finding ways to
measure them to see if it’s actually happening. And more and more we’re
looking at that also with things like community engagement
and civic engagement. And trying to come up
with meaningful measures for those types of outcomes. And that also involves
working with alumni sometimes. Because the impact is not
just while they’re on campus. But hopefully it’s
something that will continue to occur well after
they graduate.>>So John do you feel
like that’s a hard sell, when people want
education to be cheaper and cheaper, and more efficient. And you’re sitting there saying, I need to have my
students have a world view. I need them to be out there
in their communities working on projects that really
extend their education. Is that a hard sell?>>It is. I think in the
current environment we hear so much about, you know,
we should just get people through school and check
off the boxes in terms of different classes
or coursework. But it’s about much more than
just subject matter content. What we say is that
we’re preparing students to be life-long learners. And that there are
tremendous public good — public benefits to having
students who are going to be more engaged citizens. Who are going to be more
likely to participate actively in volunteer organizations. That that benefits the entire
society; not just themselves. And so part of it is
getting the public to realize that what we’re doing
is to prepare people to be active and
engaged citizens. Who in turn will be
of service to a lot of other people in society.>>If it’s a hard
sell for the state, is it a hard cell for alumni? Can we convince people that this
is a great fundraising topic? This is the cream that will
distinguish a Virginia Tech from other institutions
because you’re providing that level of experience?>>I think so. But we’ve just completed
our Gallup Purdue Index, applied to Virginia Tech. Looking at wellbeing in later
life, and the five dimension that Gallup and their partners
have developed over the years. And there’s, of course the
physical dimension or health. There’s financial communities. Social and purpose. Those are the five dimensions
that we study in wellbeing. And I think they — the
more we talk about that, and talk to our alums about this
broader view of what it means to have had a successful college
experience that prepare you for a meaningful — that prepared you for a
meaningful life of service to humanity, or however
you want to word it. The more that our
alums recognize that in their own experience
and start to value it. Because if you look back, one
thing that we learned is looking at our graduates in the 40s, the
50s, the 60s, the 70s, the 80s. The current students and the
most recently graduated students have had a much more
engaged experience. And when I think
— when I was in — a student in the 70s,
I was not engaged. I look at — I don’t think
I could have gotten away with that in this decade.>>You — probably not.>>So you have to convince
the alums, yeah that was — this is really important. We know it’s important. But it’s not a hard
sell at that point.>>And I –>>And –>>Oh sorry, go ahead.>>I was going to say that
also leads to the idea of intergenerational
connections. Part of what we’re trying
to do as a university, is to really encourage
the alumni to engage with our current students. To be a resource to them. To see why these things
are so important both in and outside the workplace. I think a lot of our alumni
have realized with hindsight, oh I wish I had had more of those engaged
learning experiences. I can see how valuable
they are now. And I appreciate
what I am seeing from the students
coming out today. But the more we can create those
intergenerational conversations, I think, the better.>>Well, you know,
it’s interesting. I don’t know how many people
in the audience have heard about the Gallup Education Poll. But there’s a direct correlation
between how satisfied you are with life, and your
engagement activities, and your level engagement
at college. Which, did that surprise you?>>Well, not really. But it was interesting
to see the degree to which that is true. And how many of our alums will
say, yes, that’s something that they very strongly
agree with. And — but it’s not
completely surprising. I think, one thing I learned when I first became
university president was, I could learn a lot by
talking to our alums. And every time you talk —
every time I got engaged, or my wife got engaged in
conversations with alums — it didn’t matter
what generation. And you asked them, well
what about your experience at Virginia Tech
do you remember? There are two things
they always talk about. Engaged learning — they
don’t use those terms, but they always talk
about an internship or an experience they had with
a faculty member in the lab, or whatever it may be. And the other thing
they talk about — getting back to your
point John — is they talk about mentorship. Somehow those are so
important to their development.>>Mm-hm. They do.>>So I’m not surprised, but on the other hand I think
it’s not widely [inaudible]. And there’s certainly — the
public discourse doesn’t talk about the value of that. As you said, they talk about how
cheap can you offer a degree? How cheaply can you get
our student through? And that’s the wrong
conversation.>>And when you think
about what inspired people, so often what I hear, talking
to alumni, is the names of individual faculty members. And sometimes –>>That inspired them.>>Yeah. And sometimes the names
of fellow students as well. But it’s those relationships
that really inspire people to better themselves
to dream big. And I think that’s
something we can’t forget. That we are in a
business that is actually about relationship
building as much as it is about sharing content.>>Now my feeling is, and I don’t know whether you
feel this way [laughter], we’re really good at bragging
about our institution. You can’t be a president
without being really good about bragging. So we can go find those students
that are incredibly engaged. But who are we missing? Who’s not? Because we can go find
the perfect examples and highlight them. But we have a lot of
people being left out.>>There’s very stark
disparities. I — we just finished a study of
— our own study abroad program, and discovered — it’s
not too surprising — but about 14% of the students who do study abroad
have financial need. So what that tells you is that this is an opportunity
for the wealthy. And who isn’t — and if you
talk to the students who come from a lower family income,
they want to study abroad just as much as the wealthier
student, they just can’t afford it.>>Yeah.>>Or think they
can’t afford it.>>Yeah.>>And so that’s a huge
hurdle for us going forward.>>And the same is going
to be true with things like internships and other
forms of experiential learning. If students don’t
have the resources. You know, they may not
be getting a salary for that internship.>>Yeah.>>So these things
do require resources.>>You’re working a whole
series of minim wage jobs –>>Yeah.>>You don’t get to have
the types of experience that can really make
a difference and enhance your education. Which I also think focuses
our attention on the degree to which we can fundraise. To be able to have students do
things that are very different. Okay, now I see this huge
arena of things we can do. How do you prioritize? How do you figure out where
to make that investment to have the biggest impact in student engagement
and the value it has?>>Well, you know, I
think first all the — all the different
academic units need to be involved and participate. And it will be different things. You know, different forms
of engagement perhaps in the biology department. The history department. The music department. And they will know best what
works in their particular areas. And then, of course, you want to have interdisciplinary
opportunities as well. I think what can be
really helpful in terms of priorities is to
have some resources that will help faculty,
in particular. That want to provide
this kind of engagement for their students, but
maybe they don’t know how. Maybe they didn’t have that
experience, like Tim said, when they were in school. So we have a center for faculty
innovation that helps faculty to know how to use some of these
engaged learning practices. We have an office that focuses
on community service learning. That will work with faculty
that want to incorporate that into their classes. So I think having some resources
like that really will help you in terms of priorities. And making sure that
things are wide-spread.>>Do we have to recognize and
reward faculty for engagement? I think of all those
faculty that are working on one-on-one with students. Is this their love and we
shouldn’t worry about it? Or do we have to consciously –>>Well, at the very least we
shouldn’t punish them for it. Sometimes I think our
traditional policies do punish them in some ways, because
there’s an opportunity cost associated with it. They could have been
doing something else. But I feel like there’s so much
momentum behind not only the students wanting this,
but a large number of our faculty wanting
to be engaged. Especially the — I don’t
know if you’ve seen this on your campuses, but the
faculty we’re bringing on board now, early
career, are all about this. About being engaged faculty. And working with students. So I think the tide’s
turning, and they’re the ones who will populate the
tenure promotion committees. So I feel very optimistic. But there’s a lot of work
we have to do to figure out how to measure it. How to value it. So that we don’t have this
constant, up-hill battle.>>And I think that’s where, as presidents we can use the
bully pulpit of our position to really celebrate engagement and good role models
who do this. One of the things we did at JMU
to try to support these kinds of efforts, we developed a
faculty mini-grant program to support different engagement
projects that faculty wanted to do, but required a little
bit of extra resources. So I provided funding
to our faculty senate. They developed a competitive
process, and had a committee that vetted all of
these proposals from faculty across the campus. It was a great success,
and we celebrated that across the university. So people could say,
this is something that we value as an institution.>>Our faculty at Penn State
all said, we need to set up the curriculum so
that every student has an engaged experience.>>But that’s also not an
inexpensive undertaking. How do you get as many
faculty involved as possible?>>I actually think the
way that you’re doing it at Penn State makes sense to me. That we’ve been talking
to our department heads, and those who lead
our academic programs. About the concept
that every track; every degree program ought
to have a parallel sidecar in experiential learning. Either an internship
that’s built in, that our alums maybe
come back and support. Or if it’s study abroad,
there ought to be a way to spend a semester in another
country, or maybe another part of the US, and to
have that not slow you down toward your degree. So we’re challenging
our faculty. But we’re not at the
point where I could say that every program has
experiential learning built in, where it doesn’t slow
the student down. And we need to get there.>>And we have created an
engaged university council to try to provide some
leadership to work with all the academic units. Because I think what many of us find is there are a
thousand flowers blooming on our campus. There’s a lot of engagement
probably happening everywhere over all the units.>>Everywhere, yeah.>>But is everybody really
getting that opportunity?>>Yeah.>>And so part of the idea of our Engaged University
Council is to try to look at that systematically. To make sure that we could
ensure that every student who comes into the
university will have that kind of experience.>>Well I think another
interesting thing — because I also have a campus in which a thousand
flowers are burning — [background laughter] blooming. Yeah –>>And I think we lose a sense
of best practices in there too. Of what really works, and
has a level of impact. Will this have staying power?>>I think so. I mean, one thing — I
reflect on that a lot because I often note
— to myself usually — that this generation of students
is a lot like the generation that I came from in the 70s. I kind of identify with their
world view and orientation. It was a little different
time, but they seem to be very oriented
towards service. Towards being engaged. And being part of the community. Will that pass? Maybe another generation
will come, and then we’ll be
fighting uphill again. But I just don’t think
that will happen. I think we’re in a long period of increasingly valuing
the engaged university. One thing that I think
we all recognize, especially in public
universities, is that the public
good/private good shift. Well this is a way to get
back, that this concept of the public is to
be thoroughly engaged.>>I think one of the reasons
that it may very well last now, is that we’re preparing
life-long learners. We know that our students are
not likely to just have one job or one career in
the 21st Century. And so we have to give them
skillsets that will allow them to take on new challenges
and opportunities. And I think that’s what
engaged learning does.>>Go out 20 years. What will universities —
residential universities look like in terms of
engaged scholarship?>>Well I can say an
aspiration would be that people in the community — and I’m
not just talking about the town that the college is based in. But people in the
larger community; maybe the state that you’re in. Will all know about
your university, and how it did something to
engage that community and help that community develop. And if we get to that point, I think we’ve really
come a long way.>>The level of impact
will change.>>It won’t be the ivory tower. It will be the engaged
university. I’d say –>>I absolutely agree with Tim.>>Exactly.>>That’s perfect. We’re out of time. I so much appreciate your
time being here with us today. Thank you so much.>>Thank you.>>Thank you.>>On behalf of Penn State
President Eric Barron, I’d like to thank our guests, President Timothy
Sands of Virginia Tech. And President Jonathan Alger,
of James Madison University. For Higher Education in
Focus, I’m Patty Satalia. Thanks for joining us.>>Support for Higher
Education in Focus comes from the Penn State
Alumni Association. Serving alumni and alma mater
for more than 145 years. On the web at alumni.psu.edu. Penn State bookstore, now
in an expanded location in the Hub Robeson Center. Improving the student
experience at Penn State with Philanthropic support of student causes
throughout the university. PSECU. A credit union
providing financial services to its members throughout
Pennsylvania since 1934. More at psecu.com. And from viewers like you. Thank you.