Chad Beck, a Randolph communication studies professor, conducts class during the spring semester.
When Chad Beck learned the results of the presidential election last year, one piece of data that caught his attention was the surge in voting by Hispanic citizens, who cast 12.5 million ballots in the election. He saw this as further evidence of the impact of a growing Hispanic population and another demonstration of the importance of Randolph’s new Latin American studies minor.
“This is changing everything from media, to politics, to economics, to business and advertising here in the United States,” said Beck, a communication studies professor who helped create the new program. “Students learning more about the heritage and cultures of Latin American countries can learn about the country they’re living in now.”
The new Latin American studies program is one of many recent changes and additions to Randolph’s academic program, which is designed to help students thrive in a changing world. Over the past six years, Randolph professors and administrators have focused on the College’s core strengths and expanded the curriculum with new programs and more experiential learning. That means Randolph students have more academic opportunities inside—and outside—the classroom.
“There is vibrancy about what’s happening,” said Paula Wallace, associate dean of the College. “People have said, ‘How can we build on our strengths?’ And faculty members are coming forward with these ideas.”
Many of these discussions have led to new academic programs and opportunities. In addition to the Latin American studies program, the College added a new major in sport and exercise studies, along with minors in multimedia journalism, equine studies, and curriculum and instruction, which is geared toward helping non- education majors learn about the process of teaching.
Beck said the journalism courses have strong enrollment, and every year, he talks to prospective students who are interested in the field of study. “We have a unique program among our peer institutions in the sense that we train journalists by giving them professional skills using multimedia technologies. We combine that with production history and critical thinking skills,” he said.
“We are really interested in refreshing the liberal arts curriculum and thinking of ways to improve it so that it remains relevant to great traditions as well as to a changing world.”
– Heidi Kunz, Professor of English
Carolyn Sarson, a physical education professor, teaches students in Randolph’s weight room.
The new sport and exercise studies major focuses on nutrition, the diagnosis and treatment of injuries, and the psychology and social impact of sports. The first students to major in the program will graduate in 2014.
In addition to the new offerings, other academic programs have also been reinvented. In 2011, the economics and business department proposed an overhaul of the business major, which had been introduced in 2007 on the cusp of the coed transition. New courses and requirements couple an understanding of business and finance with the wider world of liberal arts.
“Developing one’s abilities in areas such as critical thinking, communication, and quantitative reasoning is important to any career,” said Jeff Heinfeldt, a business professor. “Studying business in a liberal arts environment ensures that students receive a solid foundation in these areas and are prepared for their careers, no matter what, or where, they may be.”
The English department also revised its major requirements to focus on genres rather than literary movements and time periods. This allows students to focus more on the craft of literature in addition to the context. “Given the results that we’ve seen in student writing and comprehension so far, we are pretty optimistic,” said English professor Heidi Kunz.
The curriculum modifications demonstrate the College’s willingness to innovate, Kunz added. “We are really interested in refreshing the liberal arts curriculum and thinking of ways to improve it so that it remains relevant to great traditions as well as to a changing world.”
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Carl Girelli said liberal arts colleges today face significant pressure to focus more on vocation than on traditional academics. However, the exact qualities that employers most desire—a dedicated work ethic and the ability to persuade others and to solve problems—are skills that the liberal arts develop better than any other kind of education.
“There is abiding value, both vocationally and personally, in the liberal arts,” Girelli said. “Liberally educated people will continue to be valued, will continue to prosper, and will continue to have lives of joy.”
Still, the College is enhancing programs to help students cultivate opportunities for careers and graduate study while studying the liberal arts. A year ago, the College organized the Center for Student Research and the Center for Ancient Drama to promote research, the Greek Play, and other hands-on learning experiences that strengthen students’ résumés.
More recently, the College began allowing students to complete internships for academic credit as sophomores rather than waiting for their junior year. This will provide more incentives for students to seek internships earlier and more often, which will demonstrate and strengthen the skills they learn in the classroom, Wallace said.
“It’s not about what you do with a major, but what does a major teach you to do,” Wallace added. “The liberal arts is our past, but it is also our students’ future.”