John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

What Will Our Students Remember?

This weekend there was a thrilling, memorable, event going on in the city near where I live, Asheville, N.C.: our President, and First Lady Michelle, were in town for a vacation. No matter what your political persuasion, most Americans get a real kick out of getting even near a sitting President. And this evokes for me my memory of the first Presidential candidate I saw, when I was a senior in college.

And this makes me think about the larger subject of just what does stick with our students? What are they likely to remember, in this case referenced above, 46 years later? And is what they remember connected to anything we did intentionally for our students in either the curriculum or co-curriculum?

It was early fall, 1964 and US Senator Barry Goldwater was running against sitting President Lyndon Johnson. Goldwater was making a mid western “whistle stop” campaign tour which in itself was sufficient to invoke all kinds of nostalgia. And he made a stop in Marietta, Ohio, a rural community in Appalachia. It was a thrill.

He stood on the back of the very last car of the train, surrounded in tri-color patriotic bunting. And there in the heart of Appalachian coal country, he railed against Social Security—mind you some 31 years after that legislation had been enacted (with plenty of Social Security recipients in his audience). And he quoted his running mate, a retired Air Force general, Curtis LeMay, who threatened to “bomb the North Vietnamese back into the stone age!” In light of all that happened over the decade, and upon my reflection on those events, this was really an incredible appearance. He spoke, quite appropriately, beside an old, run down flop house hotel, which proudly proclaimed that it offered “since 1897– the best hospitality in Marietta.”

This sets me to wondering if it would be a worthwhile exercise to ask your students, perhaps in first-year seminar, what have they experienced as a focused event in time, during college so far, that they think they will remember one, two, three decades out or further. Was this something that happened “in class” or out of class? Was it something that a faculty member or professional staff member planned specifically and hence was under institutional direction? Or were the majority of these experiences unplanned, serendipitous, beyond the control of the institution.

Perhaps if we/you thought about what the students tell us stays with them, we might be able to more intentionally plan some of these events in advance, and hence become true “facilitators” of student learning. Let me know if you try something like this.

-John Gardner

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