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Southwestern Receives $500,000 Grant from The Mellon Foundation to Reshape Its Paideia Program

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    The Paideia program encourages students to make connections between what they are learning in the classroom and the world around them, and to act upon their learning. Students in coach Don Gregory's Paideia cohort have focused on the issue of homelessness, and run a yearly food drive to benefit homeless children in Georgetown.

New initiative will bring the benefits of the program to all Southwestern students

Key elements of Southwestern University’s signature Paideia®  program will now be available to all students, thanks to a $500,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Paideia program was started in 2003 to give students additional opportunities to make connections between what they are learning in the classroom and the world around them, and to act upon their learning. In addition to their overall academic curricula, program participants fulfill requirements in civic engagement, intercultural learning, and undergraduate research.

Another key element of the program is that it brings students from all disciplines together for regular small-group seminars with a faculty member. Initial support for the program came from an $8.5 million grant from the Robert & Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust.

Since its inception, about one-quarter of Southwestern students have participated in the Paideia program. For the past several years, faculty and administrators have been trying to figure out how to bring the benefits of the program to more students.

An opportunity presented itself when, as a result of its upcoming re-accreditation process with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), Southwestern was required to implement a new “Quality Enhancement Plan” (QEP).

After universitywide discussion and a vote on what Southwestern should select as its Quality Enhancement Plan, a consensus was reached that the University should create a new program for all students that would combine the growing academic trend toward interdisciplinary studies with key elements of its Paideia Program. The new program, which is being informally referred to as “Paideia For All,” is scheduled to start in the 2014-2015 academic year.

“This new program will make Paideia central to rather than ancillary to our academic program,” said Provost Jim Hunt.

After taking the required First-Year Seminar, all Southwestern students will choose an interdisciplinary theme that will guide the selection of some of their general education courses. Eight to 10 classes from different departments will be offered in each theme and students will choose three of these courses to make up their “Paideia Cluster.”

Alison Kafer, a faculty member who chaired the committee that developed the proposal for the new program, said the QEP committee will hold focus groups or other conversations with students and faculty members to start generating ideas on possible themes for Paideia Clusters.

“We’re really excited about the possibilities this new program offers for collaboration among faculty members and among faculty and students,” Kafer said.

After completing their three-course “Paideia Cluster,” all students will take an interdisciplinary “Paideia Seminar” during their junior or senior year that is related to their chosen theme. These seminars will be team-taught by two faculty members, who will help students place what they have learned in their cluster courses into the context of real-world issues. For example, seminar groups might work with local community organizations on research projects that could benefit both students and the organizations.

“The Paideia Seminars and Clusters will provide both faculty and students with the opportunity to intentionally engage in making meaningful connections among their learning experiences, which was one of the key components of the Paideia Program,” Hunt said.

The funding from the Mellon Foundation will help support the intensive faculty development activities required to launch the new program. These activities are expected to start in 2013 and will include both on-campus seminars as well as opportunities for faculty members to attend conferences related to interdisciplinary learning or visit exemplary programs at peer institutions.

“Over the past eight years, the Paideia Program has transformed Southwestern in significant ways,” said President Jake B. Schrum. “The re-imagining of Paideia will make our interdisciplinary efforts more visible, intentional and coordinated across the curriculum and the community as a whole. We are very fortunate to have a partner like The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help make this possible.”