Provosts plan immersive program

An immersive studies learning experience for sophomore year is in the works

Photo courtesy of Xavier University | An sophomore-year learning experience focused on immersive studies is currently being developed. Dr. Diane Ceo-DiFrancesco, who leads Xavier’s study abroad trip to Peru, is among those collaborating on the project.

Associate Provosts Dr. Steven Herbert and Dr. Thomas Merrill are currently working on changes to Xavier’s Signature Experience to better align the core curriculum with the six Jesuit values. Their current project is an immersive learning experience for sophomores across all majors and departments.

Though the changes will affect all students on campus, many of them might not even know who the provosts are or what they do.

“A provost is the chief academic officer of the institution,” Herbert said. “…A provost is in charge of all things academic, but then there are things that relate to academic affairs that often report under it. That manifests itself in different ways. At Xavier, our IT department reports to the provost…Student affairs reports to the provost because it’s related to the academic enterprise.”

There are four Associate Provosts at Xavier: Herbert, Merrill, Jeff Edwards and Dr. Dave Johnson. Herbert is the Associate Provost of Academic Affairs; Merrill is the Associate Provost of Academic Initiatives, Innovation and Strategic Planning; Edwards is the Chief Information Officer; and Johnson is the Chief Student Affairs Officer.

Merrill’s main project for the next two years is to solidify Xavier’s Signature Four-Year Undergraduate Experience, better known as the Road Through Xavier.

“The bookends of (the Experience) are pretty well established, so for the first year it’s Manresa and the first-year seminar and GOA, and at the end of the road is a capstone experience,” Merrill said.

With the beginning and ending experiences already established, the focus for the next two years is the experiences during the intermediate years.

For sophomores, the experience is immersive studies. Merrill said the reason for implementing immersive learning during a student’s sophomore year is that it will help open up more opportunities earlier on in their academic careers.

“If you haven’t been exposed to any type of cultural immersion or immersive studies, (it is) better to do it sooner so that you’re more aware as you progress through your education at Xavier of what’s out there rather than save it for the end,” Merrill said. “…

Why not do the immersive studies bit as soon as you can so you open up a whole new world for people?”

Sean Rhiney, the director of the Eigel Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Dr. Diane Ceo-DiFrancesco, a professor in the Spanish department and the new faculty director at the Eigel Center, and Father Nathan Wendt, S.J., a new member of the Jesuit community on campus, are also involved in the project.

“They are really focused on helping faculty develop this because anything with an academic component is in the hands of faculty,” Merrill said. “They just put together a faculty committee, an advisory committee of six or nine folks, two or three from each college, and they’re developing student-learning outcomes.”

Herbert pointed to Dr. Wendy Maxian’s communications classes as examples of how immersive studies might play out in a classroom.

“She’d go out to the community or work with the Eigel Center, identify someone in the community who needs a communication plan, a marketing plan, whatever case it might be,” Herbert said. “They’ll bring the client into class, they’ll meet with the students, they’ll talk about…the challenge. Over the semester the students will brainstorm, put together a plan, present it to the community partner, vet it and then perhaps even start to implement it.”

Herbert said their goal is to include similar experiences in all majors across all departments. The next part of the process is to figure out how to assess the experiences, which could differ drastically across departments.

“Do we make it a flag in the core?” Merritt asked. “Do we assign a dummy course number?…There are a lot of questions we have about how that works.”

Overall, Herbert and Merilll said, the goals of the program are to “have the experience that is immersive and slightly uncomfortable,” “encounter a culture other than your own” and to “then have a guided reflective experience on the back end.” Both added that they are excited to launch the program.

Next year, their focus will be on the junior-year experiences of vocation and discernment.

By: Maddy Goodman | Staff Writer