Quality Enhancement Plan Builds on Previous Success

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Publication Date: 5/13/2009

Reprinted from The Sou’wester, March 4, 2009
By Dean Galaro ’11

The hallmark of an institution that meets and surpasses the standards of educational excellence, accreditation is an important part of every college’s life. Taking place every ten years, the process tests whether or not a school is up to snuff with its facilities, faculty, and programs in order to ensure the best educational experience for the students. Rhodes sits under the watchful eyes of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) which in recent years has implemented a requirement among all of its schools that they develop and implement what is known as a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP).

Every SAC S accredited school has a QEP, but it is up to the individual institutions to decide what learning outcomes their QEP will promote and how it will be implemented. The Rhodes QEP istitled “Rhodes Fellowships: Linking Education And Practice” (LEAP), building upon prior work with fellowships that the college has already been implementing and keeping in line with the college’s vision to inspire “a lifelong passion for learning, a compassion for others, and the ability to translate academic study and personal concern into effective leadership and action in their communities and the world.”

Key to the success of Rhodes’ QEP is the idea of “experiential learning,” which can be broadly defined as learning that happens outside the classroom. The concept of experiential learning is not new or specific to Rhodes, but what sets Rhodes apart is the breadth of our commitment and effort to provide greater institutional support for these experiences.

The goals of the Rhodes fellowship program go beyond the general principle of extending learning beyond the classroom. Rhodes has identified five categories of student learning outcomes as part of the program: (1) Integration of factual knowledge, fundamental principles, and/or specific skills learned in the classroom with the fellowship activity, (2) Strengthening analytical (or, in the arts, also creative) abilities toward establishment of a professional identity, (3) Evidence of participatory, collaborative, and/or team-oriented learning, (4) Personal and social development and (5) Development of critical reflection skills. . These learning outcomes have been honed through student participation in Rhodes’ current experimental learning fellowships, including the St. Jude Summer Plus Program and the Bonner Scholars, which have already shown, through student reporting, to be effective in pushing the boundaries of what students are learning and engaging them in new ways.

In order to do so, Rhodes will be linking merit aid scholarships with learning opportunities in areas such as student research and study abroad. These opportunities are all going to be categorized under the blanket of “Fellowships,” being defined as “an activity outside the conventional classroom that complements and broadens the student’s program of liberal arts education.” Any student who receives merit aid will have the opportunity to participate in these fellowship opportunities which will meet high standards and contain reflective work to make sure students are getting the most out of their time.

Building upon initiatives that have been in the works since 1999 when Dr. Troutt become president, Rhodes’ fellowship program already has a firm foundation for the growth of new fellowship opportunities. Over the next four years the goal is to create and manage enough space for roughly 650 students to be involved in experimental learning. Currently there are a little over 100 students who participate in fellowships annually. If all current programs are approved, there will be slots for over 400 students available through 21 different fellowships including the Crossroads to Freedom program and the Summer Service Fellowship across the next four years. To reach the goal of 650, a small percentage of fellowships will need to be created while the rest are already available programs that may end up being transformed into fellowships. It is estimated that approximately 80 new fellowships (at a rate of 20 per year) will be approved and funded between 2010 and 2013. If students present and future want to gain fellowship experience, there will be plenty of space and plenty of new and exciting opportunities.

The LEAP program is not designed to bring drastic changes to campus and the way Rhodes operates, but rather to change the way students think about interacting with their environment in respect to their liberal arts education. One significant change that will take place though, is the addition of the Director of Fellowships who will run the Fellowship Office which will be in Burrow along with the other administrative offices. There will also be the addition of an online resource management system that will work alongside Banner Web to allow student research and engagement with fellowship opportunities online, as well as reflection and reporting.

All of this is simply talk until it is implemented by the college which will actually start to happen very soon. Working through a high paced calendar, reporting from students currently involved in fellowships will begin this semester, and by the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year there will be orientations in place for those joining the new fellowship programs. By July of 2011, data entry will begin for the new online management system. Working through a constant cycle of activity and review, Rhodes will hone the fellowship program over the next few years, culminating in a report to the SACS in 2014.

What does this mean for the student body? Simply put, there will be more opportunities for students to learn hands-on through a rapidly expanding fellowship program. For those yearning to get outside the classroom to get their hands dirty with real life work, this is a golden opportunity. And for those who know nothing of fellowships, now is the time to learn and become a part of such a rewarding curriculum. Thanks to Rhodes’ avid support for new learning outlets, the fellowship program will become more than just a step in the right direction, but a jump towards a better educational experience.