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In Brief

Sugaring Time Again; Former President Writes Autobiography; Alum Signs with Baseball Team; News from the Nursing and Business Administration Departments and more.

Making Their Mark

Learn about how our community members engage in writing, presentations and exhibitions.

Past as Prologue

Explore Haystack, a portal to the history of Colby-Sawyer College.

Colby-Sawyer Courier

Keep up with campus news from students' perspectives through the Colby-Sawyer Courier.

Solidus

This new literary magazine features creative writing in many genres by current students and alumni, faculty and staff, and a few friends and partners.

Q&Alumni

Find out what Colby-Sawyer alumni have been up to since graduation.

Currents: path to pathway

Colby-Sawyer's Inclusive Approach to Curriculum Reform

To many just getting to know Colby-Sawyer, the Pathway program is one of the college's most intriguing and distinctive features. Each incoming first-year student at Colby-Sawyer chooses a Pathway seminar that will shape much of their education for the next two years.

Pathway seminars have a refreshing, interdisciplinary approach and intriguing titles like “Where are We? Finding our Location in Space and Time” and “Art and Science of Secret Communication.” Each is designed to be broad and rich enough take the seminar's 18 or so students and their teacher on a two-year educational journey, with learning across many fields and forms.

The full Pathway program involves a total of five courses. First-year students follow up the Pathway seminar with three “stepping stone” courses, chosen from a list of electives. In the second half of their sophomore year, having explored on their own for two semesters, the original 18 students and their teacher reconvene their Pathway seminar for a concluding semester.

At the end of the Pathway experience, students are prepared for their last two years of college and a lifetime of learning.

A Three-Year Conversation

Colby-Sawyer's Pathway plan grew out of educational questions common on most American campuses since colonial days. But the college's search for the answers took an unusual approach and found a unique solution, one directly tied to the college's own values and traditions.

“We had had an earlier Liberal Education Program of four core courses,” recalls Randy Hanson, professor, Social Sciences and Education. “It had been in place for over a decade…. Even though it was good in conception, it had flaws.

“You could take the core classes any time in your four years here. That was problematic because it gave students no sense of common experience. The program didn't do good job of letting students and new faculty know what the core curriculum meant. Too many faculty didn't want to teach core courses. Too many students didn't want to take them. The same small group of faculty were teaching the same core courses over and over again.”

Gathering the Community

The reform project was a daunting one. In 1998, Judy Muyskens, then the college's new academic vice president, researched “best practices” for liberal education at other schools. But she soon realized the task of changing the college's entire approach to the liberal arts had to involve more than a handful of senior administrators and faculty committees.

“We gathered the community,” says Muyskens, who is now interim vice president for enrollment. “We asked ourselves: what do students need to be liberally educated in the 21st century? What do they need to know?”

“There were a series of us who served on teams,” Hanson recalls. “We had conversations, discussions on campus, at all sorts of times, so everyone could come to some of them. The participants included everyone from students and Sodexho [Food Services] to deans and faculty members, across the spectrum.”

The broad planning process lead to much more than the two-year Pathway program. “We started a discussion about what is a liberal education,” Hanson explains, “what learning outcomes we wanted, how a set of courses could be designed.

“Part of the across-the-campus process was that we recognized that learning happened inside and outside the classroom. As much as possible, we wanted to integrate the learning processes, to blend student affairs with the academic side---including faculty in our leadership program, using cultural planning in the residence halls, making the Academic Development Center more tightly tied into the curriculum.

“We needed to start at the bottom with academic policies. Judy [Muyskens] really gave us inspired leadership. She gave us the freedom to roam and explore and still kept the need in mind to come up with something in the end. She enlivened the discussion across the college in the process.”

“The idea is that the best things come from people talking,” says Muyskens. “Getting people together from different perspectives, there's a lot of grey.

“It's not easy to build a consensus. You have to form people in teams, you have to set goals and priorities, focusing on the real philosophy, the real advantage to the plan, so everybody understands what you are doing. Then people buy in more and can explain the program to students. We are all educators on campus, each and every one of us.”

An Integrated Outcome

The three-year Pathway planning process involved many phases, including off-campus retreats for core planners as well as the on-campus meetings. The two-year Pathway model became the foundation of a new, integrated approach to the entire curriculum.

At Colby-Sawyer, people now speak of a “unified” approach to learning, in which opportunities in and out of the classroom, on and off campus, all contribute to the education of the student.

“Several things were key [to the success of the Pathway program],” Hanson says. “Faculty buy-in was one. A second thing was that it was a good idea. Faculty passion and buy-in meant that they generated fun topics, interesting topics, for their courses. They teach their passion--- things they always wanted to teach.

“The sense of connectedness was also really important. Students in Pathways know each other for two years and that lasts as a network of connections. Connectedness is one of values of college. It's a neat idea to go on a two-year journey with a group of folks--- a 'Fellowship of the Ring' sort of thing.

“A fourth thing was that we created superstructure across the college, a conversation. There's been a huge collaboration from different parts of the campus. Learning has been going into residence halls, not just in the classroom. The Academic Development Center, the Library, the Cultural Events Committee all gave the program huge support.”

Five years after the start of the Pathway curriculum, the program already seems part of the college's deepest foundations.

“When we interview people to hire as faculty here,” Muyskens says, “we ask what ideas might they have for Pathway courses. Some people come with ideas, but you can easily tell if they are thinking within their own discipline. We are looking for people who think outside their disciplines. I really think it is a tradition here to teach in an interdisciplinary way. Pathway comes out of that tradition."

-Peter Walsh