John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Let’s Hear It for Alma Mater

John Gardner

Surely some of my readers still have powerful or meaningful connections to their undergraduate alma mater. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. My alma mater is a very special liberal arts college, Marietta College of Ohio. I had a “powerful and meaningful” connection for 12 years when I served on their Board of Trustees from 1993 to 2005. I think and hope I was helpful to them. I eventually realized about this kind of service:

  1.  it is difficult to go back home again
  2.  it is difficult to be a prophet in one’s own land
  3.  a little bit of me goes a long way
  4.  having me as a trustee is a good news/bad news story—good because I offer some good suggestions; bad because I know enough to make senior campus leaders occasionally uncomfortable
  5.  that I had been on the board three times as long as I had been in college there as a student
  6.  and had donated more money than it cost my family to send me in the 60’s.

But I love keeping up with alma mater. And I am very proud of them. And very grateful to them for making me what I am today. But I do want to finally get to the point of this blog—and that was I recently learned something neat that alma mater is attempting.

Last month, as my readers know, I attended the 31st annual FYE conference. And there I had the opportunity to talk with several Marietta faculty and staff and learned this: Marietta has taken the idea of the first-year seminar and given it a unique Marietta twist. They have been offering various versions of this course genre since I started working with members of the faculty there in the late 1970’s to replicate an adapted version of my course at USC, University 101.

What I have learned is that the College has just started using mid term grade reports as a trigger for inviting first-year students in academic difficulty to enroll immediately in an optional, one hour credit, first-year seminar that begins immediately, right there at midterm. And I understand that demand for the course has greatly exceeded their initial predications and planning. Nice problem to have.

Long ago I learned from my student affairs colleagues about the concept of “developmental need to know.” This is really a very simple idea, namely, when students develop the need to know something that is the time to deliver to them what they now have realized they need to know. It is identical to just-in-time delivery in the manufacturing world.

Of course, when I learned of this innovation I was delighted and praised the Marietta folks responsible. And I told them that this should make for a most interesting controlled study to compare the academic performance and other measures differentiating the students who were in academic difficulty at midterms and who did chose to participate in the optional course versus those like qualified students who did not.  Stay tuned and I will report what I learn.

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