A New Era for Academics

Move forward, or fall behind.

That is the sentiment Heidelberg’s new Academic Strategic Initiatives for Improvement Plan (ASIIP) is addressing.

“It’s not the same world it was 10 years ago,” said Assistant Professor of Special Education Dr. Julie Green. “Education is about change, and we have to keep up with what’s going on to continue to be a place students want to be.”

ASIIP focuses on three areas – program enrichment, teaching excellence and academic support. The initiative was launched last fall by Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost Dr. Beth Schwartz as a way to evaluate the state of Heidelberg academics and move forward with new initiatives.

“We are a strong institution, but we need to continuously reflect on our curriculum. Trends in the market and individual disciplines need to be evaluated,” Schwartz said.

The first year involved a lot of legwork from faculty, but most understood the necessity of the work they were doing.

“This is the most important work of the decade,” Green said. “I’m excited about ASIIP. It will do wonders for attracting and keeping students.”

As co-chair of ASIIP’s Academic Support Committee, Green has spent a lot of time working with faculty members to identify holes in academic support and discuss what they’re doing well and what they need to improve.

“We’re really just asking the question, ‘How can we best support students?’” she said.

Improving the entire academic experience is the driving force behind ASIIP, but doing so requires additional financial resources. Since its inception, the Academic Comprehensive Campaign for Excellence (ACCE) has financially supported academic enhancements. This new work done by the faculty refines and refocuses the funds provided by ACCE to address the needs identified by ASIIP.

“It’s about identifying strategies to improve academics and prioritize available resources,” Schwartz said. “We’re looking at where we can focus resources to have the greatest impact.”

There are cascading benefits that come from improving academics. Stronger academic programs improve the experience of students. Happy and successful alumni increase Heidelberg’s academic reputation. A more prestigious reputation attracts more students. More student interest increases enrollment, which increases the budget to make more academic improvements. It’s a cycle that can build momentum.

“The only way to achieve sustainable growth is through providing a quality product,” said Dr. Bryan Smith, associate professor of chemistry and co-chair of ASIIP’s Teaching Excellence Committee. “We’re moving to improve the academic reputation of the university.”

Smith and his committee looked at ways to improve first-year teaching, how best to evaluate teaching and identify resources needed to support faculty in the classroom. He likes that ASIIP inspires learning communities and cross-departmental collaboration.

“It’s allowed me to work with colleagues I normally don’t,” he said. “It’s opened my eyes to an area of pedagogical research I hadn’t thought of before.”

Each subcommittee conducted self-studies and produced recommendation reports that the committee chairs prioritized. Academic departments identified possible immediate, short- and long-term adjustments including new majors and minors, adding and removing courses, improving communication chains and creating more transparency for students.

In a world of limited time and resources, not every idea or request can move forward, but it’s important for all the faculty to be on board and support whatever decisions are made.

“It’s human nature to be protective of your own domain,” Smith said. “But we need to all be on the same page across campus and be flexible and welcoming of changes.”

“If Heidelberg wins, everyone wins,” Schwartz said.

Other desired outcomes for ASIIP include greater selectivity in the admission process and higher graduation and job placement rates.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight, but you have to start somewhere,” Schwartz said.

Smith hopes students understand the value of what they’re getting at Heidelberg.

“We need to communicate the value of a strong foundation,” Smith said. “We need to show students the clear link from where they are now to where they want to be.”

Every faculty member served on an ASIIP committee, and even though it’s just the beginning, the excitement is already here.

“It feels like we’re on the cusp of something big,” said Smith. “I think when the dust settles, we’ll be in a better place.”

A better place, and a better Heidelberg.

Published in Fall 17

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