Published 01/26/15

First-Year Gateway primes students for success at Bryant and beyond

Bryant’s faculty and first-year students are participating in a groundbreaking curricular experience that is changing the way teachers and students approach learning: The First-Year Gateway Experience. The program, now in its third year, has become a model for first-year experience programs at colleges and universities nationwide.

The nationally-recognized First-Year Gateway, as it is called, features innovative scholarly opportunities that explore global foundations of 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.

The Gateway curriculum is built around fundamental questions about the role of the individual in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Faculty and staff foster the development of skills and habits essential for success – at Bryant and beyond – by encouraging students to draw meaningful connections between learning that takes place inside and outside the classroom, apply knowledge and skills from multiple perspectives, communicate ideas effectively, and reflect on learning experiences.

“The entire Gateway program is a set of classes designed to be an active learning experience,” says Michael Roberto, D.B.A., professor of management and director of the University’s Center for Program Innovation. “Students are not just passively listening to lectures. They are actively working on problems and projects, and learning through action in a way that gives them more insight.”

Developing global foundations

The 13-credit Gateway program is aimed at improving students’ writing proficiency, critical thinking, cultural awareness, ethical reasoning, and information literacy. First-year students take 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.

Course work is complemented by special immersive programs.

Teaching is predominantly discussion based. Many of the Gateway classes have 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 create e-portfolios showcasing their work and personal reflections.

In his GFCL class on “Citizenship in a Digital Age,” Marketing student 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.”

IDEA: Taking on real-world challenges

The capstone project of the fall semester’s Gateway curriculum is the Bryant IDEA (Innovation Design Experience for All), an immersive program that highlights design thinking. IDEA, which might be described as boot camp meets Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice,” gets students excited about a different way of thinking and learning.

"We are responding to trends for more active and collaborative programs."

From Jan. 19-21, more than 800 students worked in small teams to generate creative solutions to real-world challenges found in a wide variety of organizations.

“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.”

Teams were matched with mentors comprising faculty, staff, alumni, and upperclassmen (members of the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society). Each team was assigned to one of 34 projects they previously expressed interest in, in areas ranging from the arts and social services to education and the business sector. Throughout the process, they also explored the dynamics of teamwork, the innovation process, and design thinking.

“This was a hands-on program – an action-based experience where mentors guide, not teach,” says Professor Roberto. “It also provided an extraordinary bonding experience for the Class of 2018.”

A transformational experience

Students reported to assigned classrooms to discuss projects, develop plans, and begin working independently as teams in an array of off-campus locations. This field work launched the observation/research phase of the projects. Students interpreted their research findings and prepared a brief update for their mentors.

"The innovation and brainstorming ... are skills that organizations are looking for.”

After intense brainstorming about potential solutions, teams built their initial prototype and developed a presentation to share with mentors. Following feedback and final revisions, clusters of teams presented their projects in a trade-show format. At the end of three energizing days (and nights), judges – comprising industry leaders, alumni, faculty, and staff – heard presentations and provided valuable advice.

“I was really impressed with how inventive Bryant students are,” says Greg Pare, senior field campus recruiter at Target who served as a judge. “The innovation and brainstorming techniques they displayed are the types of skills that organizations are looking for.”

 “It was really fascinating going through this, and I took a lot out of the program,” says Brady O’Donnell ’18 (Smithfield, RI). “Whatever ideas came to our team members were spit out, and we all built upon them. That’s really how innovation works.”

Spaces that support innovative teaching and learning

The Ideation Lab is the most sought-after teaching and learning space on campus.

Bryant is also creating more active, high-tech, and collaborative classrooms. The Ideation Lab, for example, opened in 2012 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. The lab quickly became the most sought-after teaching and learning space on campus. In off hours, students use the room for group class projects or for co-curricular work.

Bello 102, located in the George E. Bello Center for Information and Technology, has been transformed into a Video Conference and Collaboration Classroom. It incorporates writable walls and features pods on wheels with wireless monitors and two-90-inch screens that are used for video conferencing or for projecting different versions of student work to compare and debate. “With this hands-on learning, students are learning from each other, and not just from the professor,” says Professor Roberto.