Published 12/27/12

First-Year Gateway primes students for Bryant IDEA

Internationally acclaimed economist Jeffrey Sachs, Ph.D., described Bryant’s approach to education as “pathbreaking and just what is needed,” citing its unique blending of business and the arts and sciences in a real-world context.

Bryant’s faculty and first-year students are breaking new ground, immersed in an innovative curricular experience that is changing the way teachers and students approach learning. The nationally-recognized First-Year Gateway, as it is called, features innovative scholarly opportunities that explore global foundations for character and leadership skills, as well as a global perspective on businesses and other organizations, whether students choose to pursue programs in Bryant’s College of Arts and Sciences or College of Business.

“We created outcomes for the Gateway program – then built the curriculum. That’s a big step forward,” says Robert Shea, Ph.D., director of Bryant’s Center for Teaching and Learning. “I don’t know of any other institution whose first-year program is that fully integrated and outcomes-based. Though most of the content our students need will come to them later in their professional lives, Bryant will provide them with a superb foundation.”

IDEA is a "hands-on program – an action-based experience where mentors will guide, not teach."

Professor Mike Roberto

The Gateway curriculum reflects a rapidly-changing world and its unlimited global opportunities through a variety of social, cultural, and political contexts. While the framework is identical for each course, faculty address the broad themes from their respective disciplines. One course, for example, explores genocide from a historian’s perspective, while a sociology colleague delves into citizenship in a digital age.

“We’re preparing our students with a solid base of knowledge and a skill set that will allow them to maneuver in a world that is changing in ways that we can’t predict,” says Vice President for Academic Affairs and University Professor José-Marie Griffiths, Ph.D. “While we were developing The First-Year Gateway, Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education came out, and it confirms that Bryant is on the right track.” The national study was undertaken by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The 13-credit Gateway program is aimed at improving students’ writing proficiency, critical thinking, cultural awareness, ethical reasoning, and information literacy – skills needed for success during their four years at Bryant – and beyond. First-year students have already taken part in Global Foundations of Character and Leadership (GFCL), Global Foundations of Organizations and Business (GFOB), a writing course, and an introduction to literature course.

Teaching is predominantly discussion based. Many of the Gateway classes have fewer than 18 students, and all are capped at a maximum of 35. Students sharpen their communication skills through reflective writing assignments, where Bryant faculty members guide their journey of discovery. Course work is complemented by special immersive programs that offer a look at the world from an outcomes-driven perspective, providing students with experience that is highly valued in the marketplace and by leading graduate and post-graduate schools. Additionally, students are creating e-portfolios showcasing their work and personal reflections.

In his GFCL class on “Citizenship in a Digital Age,” Marketing major Daniel DeSimone ’16 (Mansfield, MA), explored civic engagement, censorship, freedom of speech, and voting rights – domestically and abroad. “In the United States, we live in a very free society, relatively speaking, compared to some other countries. My generation will be involved in the daunting task of making global decisions about online policy, since international and domestic law has yet to catch up with the constantly evolving Internet.”

DeSimone’s goals include taking part in Bryant’s Sophomore International Experience and studying for a semester in Australia, where he could also network and apply for internships. “That would be spectacular, because I want to live and work there.”

The capstone project of the fall semester’s Gateway curriculum is the Bryant IDEA (Innovation Design Experience for All) slated to begin January 21.

“Institutions of higher education are being held more accountable for their students’ education – what they know and what they are able to do,” says Shea. “At Bryant, we are responding to trends for more active and collaborative programs, where students can work in groups and share ideas. We are setting the foundation for academic and personal success, and cultivating the qualities of character vital for leadership and for the health of a democratic society.”

 Ideation Lab and Bryant IDEA

Bryant is also creating more active, high-tech, and collaborative classrooms. The Ideation Lab, for example, opened this fall and was designed to promote this type of collaboration. Working in teams, students draw and write on every surface in the room – including walls and glass. Movable tables and chairs enable collaboration and interactive work. Instead of standing at the front of a classroom, faculty members teach from the center of the room using a keyboard and projection screens.

On January 21, the Class of 2016 kicks off the semester with the Bryant IDEA – a 72-hour immersion into teamwork and creative problem solving that is the capstone project of the fall semester’s Gateway curriculum. IDEA, which might be described as boot camp meets Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice,” is aimed at getting students excited about a different way of learning.

“This will be a hands-on program – an action-based experience where mentors will guide, not teach,” says Trustee Professor of Management Mike Roberto, D.B.A., who is spearheading the project. “It will also provide an extraordinary bonding experience for the Class of 2016.”

The 155 teams have been matched with mentors comprising faculty, staff, alumni, and upperclassmen (members of the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society). Each team has been assigned to one of 31 projects they previously expressed interest in.

Brian Chapman, head of global design and development for Hasbro Toy Group, is slated to speak. Dozens of prominent Bryant alumni will share their expertise, among them: Dustin Goldstein ’95, senior vice president, RBS/Citizens; Ann-Marie Harrington ’86, president and founder, Embolden Design; Judd Taylor ’10 MBA, senior manufacturing manager, Genzyme; and Jennifer Parkhurst ’97, ’06 MBA, regional HR manager, Fidelity Investments.

The teams will generate creative solutions to real-world challenges in organizations ranging from the arts and social services to education and the business sector. Throughout the process, they will also explore the dynamics of teamwork, the innovation process, and design thinking.

A transformational experience

Students will report to assigned classrooms to discuss projects, develop plans, and begin working independently as teams in undisclosed off-campus locations. This field work launches the observation/research phase of the projects. Students will interpret their research findings and prepare a brief update for their mentors.

After intense brainstorming about potential solutions, teams will build their initial prototype and develop a presentation to share with their mentors. Following feedback and final revisions, clusters of teams will present their projects in a trade-show format. At the end of three energizing days (and nights), alumni judges will evaluate projects, and prizes will be awarded to the top teams.

All first-year students will receive a letter grade for their participation in the program. They will also be required to write a brief executive summary and to complete peer evaluations for each of their team members.

“When I left Harvard, I chose to come to Bryant because I was captivated by the vision of a student-centered school where students have opportunities to apply what they’ve learned in real-world settings,” says Roberto. “Programs such as the First-Year Gateway underscore that focus.”