When faculty and students returned in large numbers at the start of the fall semester, I realized that coming to Simmons in the summer is a bit like going to the Cape in the winter. In July and August, I enjoyed morning and evening strolls to and from the Museum of Fine Arts T-stop without fear of being run down by a cyclist or a skater on a longboard, but I missed the energy of the Colleges of the Fenway in full swing. It was easier to find a seat in the Common Grounds Café, but harder to catch the strands of excited conversation between faculty and students at a neighboring table. I, for one, am happy to see the campus wake up again.
That said, I was grateful to have the summer months to ease into my role, to meet people in small numbers, and to observe some of the ways this community does its work. Let me mention just three.
In June and July, we welcomed twenty young women leaders from sub-Saharan Africa in the Women Changing the Face of Leadership (WCFL) program, funded by the U.S. Department of State. Students, faculty, and staff worked directly with these young women who were, in their own ways, also starting something new as they came together on our campus to think about leadership and to explore the contributions of women in U.S. history.
I had the privilege of hosting three African students for a weekend home-stay even before I arrived at Simmons. Later, I traveled to Atlanta and Washington D.C. with our African guests, five Simmons students participating in the program as “Richardson Fellows,” and several faculty and staff colleagues. Through that trip, I discovered the kind of value Simmons places on knitting together intellectual content, problem-based learning, and leadership development. And our Richardson Fellows had a global experience in their own backyard as they learned with and from their African counterparts. Over the five weeks of that program, Simmons's spirit of hospitality, global awareness, and multicultural respect was everywhere evident.
In August, I was able to attend the final presentations of three Simmons students who were awarded the Scott/Ross Center Fellowships in Nonprofit Management. Through a collaboration with The Boston Foundation, these students – two graduate students and one undergraduate – completed 8-week paid internships with local non-profits and had the opportunity to contribute to the mission and practice of these organizations. Their presentations were inspiring, and served as a reminder of how this kind of experiential learning is critical to our students as they learn how to "translate" their own skills and interests in professional roles and settings.
And finally, as the semester began in September, I attended the opening of the faculty art show, Confabulation. The work is a testimony to the extraordinary talent and creativity of our studio arts faculty and a reminder of the diversity of artistic genres that they bring to their classrooms. Moreover, their willingness to put themselves out there suggested the kind of life-long learning we model for our students. And the packed room that evening certainly spoke to the collegiality of the faculty, who showed up to support and celebrate the work of their colleagues.
So, what have these three experiences (and countless others) taught me about Simmons?
We are committed to developing what the American Association of Colleges and Universities has called "high-impact educational practices."
The WCFL program offered a high-impact practice in "Diversity/Global Learning” that allowed participants to engage with questions of inequality and to consider issues of human rights around the globe.
The Scott/Ross Center Fellows experienced two of the ten high-impact practices: “Service Learning” and “Internships.” In a work setting, the Fellows expanded their previous classroom learning and community service and benefited from the coaching of professionals in the field.
And the Art faculty modeled the importance of yet another high-impact practice, “Capstone Courses and Projects,” in their own exhibit--a “culminating experience" of sorts!
As we look ahead to some of the work we will accomplish together, I know we can collaborate to expand the scope of practices such as these and to strengthen other high-impact practices, including first-year experiences for our undergraduates; and learning communities, writing-intensive courses, and collaborative research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
What will this help us achieve?
There is considerable evidence that all students benefit from these practices and that building such engagements improves student satisfaction and persistence. Research also shows that students who achieve at low levels as they begin college derive even greater benefits from these activities than high-achieving students.
Knowing that a predilection for this kind of work already lives in the DNA of Simmons, I have great hope that we can create exciting new opportunities for all our students by purposefully shaping our curricula around practices that really do transform lives.