By Christopher M. Riggs
Newman University is introducing a program in the fall designed to help graduates do more than just remember information, it is designed to help them think – for the rest of their lives.
Newman’s President Dr. Noreen M. Carrocci said the program is cutting edge even though it is based on Blessed John Henry Newman’s “The Idea of a University,” his highly influential reflections on education published in 1873.
“The Newman Studies Program takes his idea of university and different levels of knowledge and says, ‘How can we make that current and relevant today for our students and create a signature program that all students who graduate with an undergraduate degree from Newman University will be rendered distinctive because of it?,’” Dr. Carrocci said.
That is what the faculty and Provost Dr. Michael Austin have done, she said. “It is truly remarkable in terms of commitment of the faculty to work together, to explore new territory together, and I think it’s going to provide our students with an incredible intellectual experience.”
Dr. Carrocci said “presidents’ jaws were dropping” when Dr. Austin presented the program at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities meeting Jan. 29-31, in Washington, D.C.
“You got the faculty to do what?,” she was asked. “Somebody said we ought to copyright it. I said, no, in academe, imitation is the highest form of flattery. So I hope many schools will look at this model and see what they might gain from going back to the roots of the idea of university.”
Dr. Austin said the Newman Studies Program completes a student’s general education.
“Real education is not just accumulating facts, it’s taking them and doing something with them,” he said. “We want to show them how to do that and we want to convince them to continue doing that because we believe that’s what it means to be educated.”
The four “capstone” courses that all junior and senior students will be required to take are not designed to teach them a collection of facts, instead they will learn what to do with facts and how to make meaning out of facts.
“We are a society awash in data, with very little idea of what meaning is,” Dr. Austin said. “These are courses about how to take a body of material and turn it into something meaningful, something resonant.”
Dr. Austin said Newman University previously had a fairly standard general education model where students had a cafeteria of courses in their freshman and sophomore years and then begin concentrating on their majors in their junior year.
The problem with that model, Dr. Austin said, is that students don’t learn much and what they do learn becomes very fragmented. Another problem for Newman University is that it’s a transfer institution with about 70 percent of its students transferring to the university after studying two years somewhere else. That means that the “key Newman experience” must be taught in the upper two years, he said.
A faculty committee under the direction of history professor Dr. Kelly McFall, worked for the last three years on the revised core curriculum.
“It was a hard nut to crack, but we wanted something that would be transfer-friendly,” Dr. Austin said. “At the same time we wanted something that was branded, something that was very specific to Newman, something that you could get nowhere else but at Newman.
“We plan for this to be what we are doing as Newman University that is unique to us,” he said, “rooted solidly in the tradition of our namesake that a student can only get at Newman.”
Cutting-edge program will be required for all students; honors the university’s namesake, vision
The Wichita Catholic university has designed a three-tier Newman Studies Program:
• The first tier focuses on building skills such as writing, communication, math and technology.
• The second-tier focuses on acquiring general knowledge about science, history, philosophy and other topics.
• The third tier synthesizes the first two. All junior and senior students will be required to take four capstone courses such as: “The Creative Spirit” and “The Quest for Meaning.” One course, for example, studies Spanish films from a Catholic social justice perspective.
“The capstone courses are the courses that are designed to be THE Newman experience, the experience that you just can’t get anywhere else,” Dr. Michael Austin said.