Friday, August 22, 2014

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ImagineUVA’s Open Forum Gets Students Involved in Strategic Planning

University of Virginia undergraduate and graduate students from multiple schools and concentrations came together Thursday night to discuss University issues and programs at a forum hosted by “ImagineUVA,” the student-led initiative involved in the strategic planning process that President Teresa A. Sullivan began earlier this academic year.

At the forum, held in the Harrison Auditorium of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, facilitators gathered students’ opinions and suggestions to help shape the future of the University, said Mark Gruetzmacher, a fourth-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences.

In the next few weeks, the strategic planning steering committee’s seven working groups will draft proposals that will be submitted to the Board of Visitors for approval next fall. Student input collected from in-person forums and ImagineUVA’s Facebook and Twitter accounts will help the groups craft more effective plans, Gruetzmacher said.

The forum Thursday night focused on three areas: academic advising, learning experiences outside the classroom and teaching methods within the classroom. About 30 attendees split into two groups to discuss possible solutions.

In one group, students gave high marks to U.Va.’s learning experiences outside of the classroom, noted there was an abundance (maybe even an overabundance) of opportunities and events on Grounds and that the advising process needs restructuring.

Second-year student Katharine Sadowski, a member of the synergy working group, facilitated one of the group discussions and listened as students shared their thoughts on the proposed topics. The group included undergraduate and graduate students from the College, the Darden School and the School of Architecture.

Within the group, most students agreed that U.Va. provides lots of learning experiences outside the classroom, citing programs such as flash seminars. In fact, students said, too much information about opportunities and events sometimes backfires and decreases engagement.

“I feel like we’re oversaturated with opportunities,” a fourth-year architecture student said. Oftentimes such events and opportunities are lost in the flood of emails students get from organizations and U.Va. programs, he said. “It would be better if the University could present and advertise for these programs more concisely.”

The groups also discussed effective and ineffective teaching methods and what professors can do to keep students better engaged.

Sadowski said that the strategic planning steering committees have considered a “cross-school learning” curriculum, which would encourage interdisciplinary studies and strengthen the dialogue between academic programs. Most students reacted positively to this proposal, though some were skeptical and worried the program would be too broad. They emphasized the value of focused expertise and research.

Students had many ideas for restructuring the advising program. Some of the more popular suggestions were to have a staff of specialized advisers rather than faculty members or to engage graduate students and fourth-years in the advising process for first-years.

“The important thing to remember is that it is an advising system, not just one-on-one meetings, but a system of collaboration between students, faculty or even administrators specialized in advising,” fourth-year student Hillary Hurd said. 

The forum concluded with an open microphone session. ImagineUVA also collected written suggestions.

Fourth-year biology major Saheel Mehta said that the forum successfully sought out student input. ImagineUVA “is doing a good job and doing what they’re supposed to be doing, reaching out to the students,” he said.

He wished the forum had been longer than an hour, though. “There’s a lot that needs to be said. It’s great to have the student voice heard and to be a part of the process.”

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