An education in the arts and sciences—of the broad plus deep, “t-shaped” sort that we provide our students in the College of Arts & Sciences at Boston University–trains students to frame experience through theoretical, disciplinary lenses, to interpret and evaluate the sources and meaning of evidence, and to appreciate the lessons taught by history and literature. For critical thinking and for thinking about thinking, there can be no better preparation. Yet we can do so much more than think together in the classroom to prepare students to become leaders and innovators who see problems as they arise and create lasting solutions. We can provide our students with opportunities to apply what they learn, and to articulate the connections between their studies and their goals.
Research on undergraduate learning and success shows that students who engage in at least two “high impact practices” in college are not only more likely to graduate, but also more likely to succeed later in life. Experiential learning, which includes undergraduate research, study abroad, internships, and service and project-based learning, is considered a high impact practice. By developing their skills and experiences and by interacting with individuals and communities beyond Comm Ave, our students not only learn more deeply, they also develop confidence and the ability to articulate how they can add value to and change the world. These activities are especially important for our students in arts and sciences, who seek to respond effectively to the real and imagined pressures on them (from parents, pundits and politicians on all sides, and potential employers) to show that they are prepared to make a life beyond college.
I am pleased that there seems to be a great deal of interest among students and faculty in experiential learning. In the graduating class of 2016, 35 percent of CAS undergraduates completed a study-abroad program at least once during their time at BU. One hundred forty students have completed the CAS On-Campus Internship Program in the four semesters since its launch, gaining work experience in BU offices (from the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center to the sustainability office). Numerous CAS faculty members have applied for and received money for class field trips, museum visits, and theater attendance through the Virginia Sapiro Academic Enhancement Fund. CAS students participate in research through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, complete senior theses through the Honors in the Major program, and receive funding for domestic and international travel from the Honors Research Travel Awards. Some of our majors (e.g., lab sciences, majors with required capstone projects such as those in World Languages & Literatures) expose students to experiential learning in the course of their programs. In the history department, students seeking honors in the major participate in a two-semester research seminar during their senior year.
The College and our departments are developing exciting new experiential learning opportunities for our students. I consider these so important that I have directed our Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives, Lucy Russell, to catalog our diverse activities and work with units in CAS and across campus and beyond to develop more. A section on the new CAS website highlights this work as part of our strategic vision. We seek input from faculty, staff, students, and alumni as we build out our offerings.
Newly developed course- and major- integrated opportunities include a Pardee class taught by Noora Lori, which developed an app to assist refugees in accessing resources, and the Experiential Lab in Software Engineering (ELSE), developed by the computer science department to provide its majors with opportunities for project-based learning. The computer science department has also created new summer internship opportunities through the BU in San Francisco internship program. A new university-wide program, Innovate@BU, intended to empower more students to connect their creative solutions to real world problems, will soon open in the former Radio Shack building. Innovate@BU will partner with existing offices, such as BU Spark!, to encourage student innovation and entrepreneurship, including social entrepreneurship, arts initiatives, and other forms of socially transformative innovation that our students are eager to engage in. The president of Oxford University Press USA, Niko Pfund, will be visiting BU next week, speaking with students about careers in publishing and with CAS representatives about a possible internship program for BU students.
And more is in the works. CAS is working with the Initiative on Cities to launch a program in 2018 through which BU will partner with a nearby city for a year, matching challenges and projects set by the city with classes at the university. Students will apply their in-class learning to those real-world problems, and the city will receive usable, informed, and in-depth studies to help address the issues it has identified. Our program, which will join a network of such programs, will follow a model that has worked extremely well at many universities, including the Universities of Oregon and Washington. The IoC will soon be advertising for a staff member to help build the program, find the right city partner, and coordinate the program. We will be seeking a faculty advisor in the spring, as well, to oversee the academic aspects of the program.
Undergraduate research, project-based and service learning, study abroad, and internship opportunities can all significantly enrich our students’ educations in the arts and sciences and increase their abilities to make positive impacts on the world. I support and applaud the faculty and departments that are working to create these meaningful educational experiences for our students.