ASG moving forward with 3+E proposal

Rebecca Savransky, Campus Editor

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Student leaders are preparing to present Northwestern administrators with feedback they gathered on implementing a plan to allow students to earn academic credit for certain extracurricular activities.

One of the four pillars of Northwestern’s strategic plan is “Integrate,” requesting the University combine learning within and outside of the classroom and “make changes that enable students to earn more credit toward graduation from experiential learning activities.”

Although NU has programs allowing students to receive credit for their experiences outside of formal academic environments, students still take part in multiple extracurricular activities during the year and receive no formal signs of recognition.

But with student action and administrative support, that could soon change.

Associated Student Government members are in the process of compiling data and speaking with administrators in an effort to assess the potential of the 3+E initiative, which would award students credit for experiences and activities outside of the classroom.

After several months of hosting focus groups and analyzing survey data, Weinberg senior Sofia Sami, former ASG academics vice president, said she is looking into the best ways to recognize students for their contributions outside of the classroom.

“Now that we have a lot of information, I’m looking to compile the self-reported data and merge it with the focus group results, so basically we can move this conversation not only from a conceptual level but also to provide a foundational map as to how people can actually begin to acknowledge these things,” Sami said.

ASG members working on the initiative are nearing the end of the research and discovery phase and heading into the development part of the project, said Weinberg junior Erik Zorn, ASG executive vice president. Students involved are hoping to create a presentation to give to administrators within the next few weeks. Information compiled from both the focus groups and a campus-wide survey sent out at the beginning of the year will be presented to gauge administrative feedback and develop a plan going forward.

University President Morton Schapiro said although the idea is embedded within the University’s strategic plan, the plan aims above what can feasibly be accomplished. Due to various logistical issues, the “integration” part of the strategic plan is the aspect most likely to be unsuccessful, Schapiro noted.

“There’s nothing in (the strategic plan) that doesn’t have some chance of success, but there’s certainly things in there that are not going to be successful because otherwise you probably didn’t aspire high enough,” he told The Daily. “When people say, ‘What’s the one most likely to fail?’ it’s probably integrating.”

Schapiro noted it is easier to implement this kind of program under the quarter system, where students are required to take more credits, and there is more room for flexibility. However, a similar initiative was pursued at Schapiro’s last job and ultimately did not come to fruition.

“At Williams, when we also in our strategic plan had a version of that, people seemed pretty excited,” he said. “Then when it came down to how do you really count these things, there was a lot of that excitement eroded.”

In an effort to effectively execute the idea, ASG held about eight focus groups during Winter Quarter, primarily with outgoing seniors. Zorn said the programs targeted seniors largely because they are in the process of applying for jobs and have “had a better chance to reflect on their experiences.” The individuals in each focus group had a common interest, such as being involved in theatre.

During the meetings, several topics were discussed, and students were asked what they would like to see in return for their involvement on campus. Responses from different groups showed one of students’ main priorities is being given respect from students, administrators and faculty.

“The fact that all of (the focus groups) were different but that was still the connecting theme was quite interesting,” Zorn said. “That was kind of the most interesting find from the study — just because it came up in every single focus group — was this desire for respect.”

Zorn said students in the discussions expressed that their experiences outside of the classroom taught them important skills they did not gain in their academic studies. He added after hearing student responses that the most feasible areas to start pilot programs would likely be the journalism and theater departments because individuals in those programs often take part in extracurriculars more relevant to their respective majors.

“I think that’s where there’s been a lot of demand for it,” he said.

In establishing the programs, several elements will be taken into consideration, including time commitment and the amount a student is learning in the extracurricular activity, but Zorn noted those elements can be difficult to quantify. He added several administrators have expressed a willingness to incorporate the concept into their departments, while others have been more hesistant.

Burgwell Howard, assistant vice president of student engagement, said he has been engaging in the discussion. Howard said he thinks it is an important concept, but there are several potential problems associated with such a large-scale initiative. Students are frequently involved in programs not aligned with their particular school, which could prompt difficulties in deciding what experiences would count for course credit, Howard said.

He added academic departments will have to decide what kind of credits to award to students, so the system would likely have to be developed within each school rather than be established University-wide.

“It’s harder for Weinberg to do this because Weinberg is less school-oriented than departmentally-oriented,” he said. “That’s a department-by-department conversation, which is a little bit harder than it is for some of the other schools.”

Howard offered overall praise for the concept, saying it is attempting to complement students’ academics with rewards for experiential learning.

“We don’t want to take away anything from the academic experience,” Howard said. “We want to enhance it.”

Zorn said the initiative has not been fully undertaken by NU’s peer institutions, so there is no formal program to base it on. He said the team is looking into similar NU programs, such as the Chicago Field Studies and Center for Leadership, but wants to expand the framework so it is more relevant to a student’s degree instead of simply an elective course credit.

As a “bridge between experiential learning and what Northwestern currently has,” Weinberg junior Anna Rennich, ASG vice president for academics, is working to institute service-learning classes within NU, which would create formal courses that have a community service aspect to them.

“We kind of see that as a short-term solution to the lack of experiential learning at Northwestern,” Rennich said.

Rennich said that the initiative is still in a “fact-finding phase,” but she plans to make it a priority over the next year. She noted that the program, in contrast to 3+E, is utilized by several of NU’s peer schools, including Stanford University, Dartmouth College and Duke University, which hold academic classes with a graded community service aspect. Although the two initiatives are different, the general idea of integrating learning both within and outside of the classroom remains an overarching theme, Rennich said.

“I think it’s really interesting when you think about the Northwestern academic experience as a whole. There’s definitely an aspect that occurs outside of the classroom that I think has to be taken into consideration,” she said.

Zorn said the team working on 3+E hopes to develop a pilot proposal sometime before the end of Fall Quarter, and members of ASG’s academic committee will likely be responsible for facilitating and continuing to research this concept.

However, Schapiro remains skeptical that a program will be implemented across NU’s six undergraduate schools.

“My guess is if you look back in say five years, there are going to be instances where it’s really successfully done, and there are going to be schools and programs at Northwestern where there’s almost no evidence that it was ever a priority,” he said.

Email: rebeccasavransky2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @beccasavransky

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