Published 07/25/12

University launches multi-year curricular innovation with First-Year Gateway

SMITHFIELD, R.I.  (July 25, 2012) -- With the arrival of the Class of 2016 this September, Bryant University will launch the First-Year Gateway, a program so distinctive that the Davis Educational Foundation has given Bryant a three-year grant to support it.

"The First-Year Gateway is the initial component of a multi-year plan that is transforming Bryant's approach to teaching and learning," said Vice President for Academic Affairs José-Marie Griffiths. "The aim is to produce graduates equipped not only with the professional skills to succeed in a global economy but also with the critical-thinking skills needed to succeed as citizens of the world.

"With the First-Year Gateway, we've taken the opportunity to completely rethink and reinvent the core curriculum." Robert Shea

"In making its award to the Gateway, the Davis Educational Foundation has endorsed the path Bryant is taking toward its goal of becoming an agent of change in higher education," she said.

Central to the Gateway is a 10-credit core curriculum aimed at improving first-year students' writing proficiency, critical thinking, cultural awareness and ethical reasoning — skills students need for success during their four years at Bryant and beyond.

Inspired by her own research and a series of national reports on outcome-based learning-centered higher education, Griffiths charged a working group of faculty and staff to rethink the goals of a Bryant education, reimagine how faculty and staff can guide students toward those goals, and rely on assessment data to inspire and inform the process.

Led by Robert Shea, director of Bryant's Center for Teaching and Learning, the working group created the First-Year Gateway's interdisciplinary curriculum that all first-year students will take:

  • "Global Foundations of Character and Leadership";

  • "Global Foundations of Organizations and Business";

  • a writing course;

  • Innovation Design Experience for All (IDEA), an intensive 72-hour immersion into teamwork and creative problem solving. Students will be introduced to the concept of design thinking, and teams will be charged with coming up with creative solutions to real-world situations in everything from the arts to social services to the business sector.

A unique component of the First-Year Gateway is the integration of student life experiences with academics. "Colleges and universities for years have tried with varying success to bridge the gap between academics and student affairs. At Bryant we've decided to be very intentional about that," said Vice President for Student Affairs Thomas Eakin. "In collaboration with faculty, Student Life staff have identified co-curricular programs that are aligned with the broad Gateway outcomes, and have designed materials for faculty to incorporate into their courses, with the goal of helping students make connections between what they are learning in the classroom and what they are doing and thinking as members of a broader Bryant community."

Shea said that the $147,500 grant from the Davis Educational Foundation will be used to support, foster and reward classroom innovation through faculty development and curricular revision. The grant also will help Bryant assess whether changes are having the desired student outcome. The use of electronic portfolios will be an important component of the assessment process, Shea said.

"The assessment movement is a big focus in higher education," Shea said. "In the past decade, this has given rise at some institutions to retrofitting courses to achieve desired outcomes. With the First-Year Gateway, we've taken the opportunity to completely rethink and reinvent the core curriculum for our entering students. We are grateful to the foundation, which noted in the award letter that the strategy behind the creation of the First-Year Gateway 'reflects a strategic and thoughtful approach' to achieving a clear set of outcomes," he said.

The Davis Educational Foundation was established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis's retirement as chairman of Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc.

###