Weinberg’s plan: develop, innovate and support

By Adam Weinberg

President of the University

Each year, different parts of the college develop priorities for the academic year. Over the last year, I have been working with the board of trustees, faculty and staff to explore longer term ideas that will unfold over the next 3-5 years. I would like to take time this semester to engage students in the process.

Denison is in remarkably healthy shape. We have fantastic students, a world-class and dedicated faculty and staff, a beautiful campus and a strong curriculum and co-curriculum. Our goal is to build on this strong foundation to focus on a few core initiatives that will: 1) deepen the student experience, 2) prepare students to transition from Denison into graduate programs, jobs and other professional pursuits and 3) meet the needs and interests of prospective students.

The emerging plan focuses on five goals:

Expand the curriculum to meet student needs. We are examining a range of interesting options including: 1) proposals for new majors, 2) building on Fys103 and AS101 to develop Advising Circles for interested first year students, 3) investing in the arts with a new performing arts building and other new programs and 4) creating more global and cross-cultural experiences that bridge the curriculum and co-curriculum, as well as our campus and the world.

Developing the Gold Standard in Career Placement. We are developing plans for a new program called Denison+ (we need a better name if anybody has one) that will build on the strong foundation our career exploration office already provides to help students use their liberal arts skills to construct powerful professional pathways. The emerging program has five elements: 1) strong advising from faculty, 2) alumni as career coaches and mentors, 3) summer internships, 4) pre-professional seminars offered between semesters and 5) support post-graduation as students make the transition into jobs and graduate programs.

Increase Denison’s Visibility. This is a great college that deserves more visibility. To that end, we are going to focus on educating, exciting and engaging our 40,000 alumni, parents, students, faculty and staff to be ambassadors for the college. We need to tell the Denison story louder and more clearly, especially to prospective students, employers and graduate programs. Students can play a huge role in the process. We have great students. You are ambassadors for Denison.

Support our faculty as teachers, scholars and mentors: Over the last two years, we have piloted a Center for Learning and Teaching that is focused on faculty professional development. We will institutionalize it and probably house it in a renovated space in the library.  We also will expand the mission of the Gilpatrick Center to make it a hub for scholarly and intellectual work. This will include a new program to support research tables that brings together groups of faculty from different disciplines to explore issues of common intellectual interest for extended periods of time. Each table will have a student component. 

Co-Curricular Innovation: We are working on three ideas. First, to establish a Design Lab that would integrate lessons found in our current leadership, civic engagement, entrepreneurship and innovation efforts into a unique program that can be employed for creative problem-solving and design thinking.  The Lab will help students and their organizations, residence halls and the campus as a whole to lead change, to realize aspirations, and to solve problems creatively.

Second, we are going to invest energy in how we can more fully embrace, and more dynamically support, the diversity of our student population. And, third, we are exploring ways to weave together a number of existing efforts to create a wellness program that brings new approaches health and well-being to campus. As part of this work, we will seek to renovate Whisler.

The plan is designed to achieve the goals above while also keeping Denison affordable. I am proud that 97% of Denison students receive financial assistance. We should strive to be among the most affordable of the national liberal arts colleges. This will require implementing the plan in ways that is fiscally conservative. 

I would ask students to help shape these ideas. Students were involved in earlier phases of this process. And much of my thinking has been shaped by students. First, I am meeting with DCGA tonight to more fully explain the ideas and discuss ways for DCGA to be involved. Second, we will hold community sessions that will bring students, faculty and staff together. Look for announcements in the coming weeks. Third, I would be interested in meeting with group of students and/or student organizations who want to discuss the plan. Email Trish (ruess@denison.edu) to express interest.    

In August and January, I sent emails to you talking about the need to move to a model of shared governance where students play a larger role in helping shape the day to day life of the college. This process is another way to move in that direction.