By Larry Atkins
Entering student SAT scores. Student research. Faculty publications. College Board rankings. U.S. News & World Report college rankings. All of these factors come into play as parents and students make the decision about "where to go." But do they tell the real story about what happens at any one college or university?
Arcadia's newly inaugurated president, Carl (Tobey) Oxholm III, recently gave voice to his thoughts regarding the meaning of academic excellence in the context of private, not-for-profit higher education, where Arcadia has been a national leader for most of its 158 years. "The politicians are focusing on jobs, jobs, jobs, as you would expect in a down economy where there is high unemployment. But we are not educating our students so that they can make boxes. We are giving them the abilities to design new boxes, and imagine alternative packaging and even the absence of boxes." This gives new meaning to "thinking outside the box."
"Academic excellence for me is the success we have in stirring new neutrons to life and getting them to bounce around inside our students' brains," he adds. "For me, we succeed when our students leave here eager to confront the unknown with their imaginations and intellect, and confident in the face of new experiences and the unknown.
"The academic endeavor is meant to be a challenge. Here we demand rigor every day; we pull and stretch and challenge and prod. Success must be earned. The goal is to create critical thinkers who can question and evaluate on the merits, draw upon analogies as they apply the scientific method, live for and draw from the diversity of life, and be productive and engaged employees, leaders and citizens.
"Innovative faculty and student research is a major part of academic excellence and is essential to true learning. "It allows personal exploration and discovery, the opportunity to work closely with a faculty member engaging in the creation of knowledge.... Students get a sense of self and their potential. They've done it and watched it, understood what they're seeing and why it's done. When they experience the unknown of a problem, they can attack it with the same imagination and persistence that they learned at the professor's elbow."
This was demonstrated through Arcadia's third annual Faculty and Student Research Expo, which took place in March. Students demonstrated firsthand the cutting-edge scientific research they are doing with faculty in the labs of Boyer Hall and the Health Science building in biology, chemistry, psychology, physics and physical therapy.
The research presentations ranged from projects on tree-ring dating in West Virginia forests, the effect of biopesticides on Asian tiger mosquito reproduction, to parallel computing strategies.
Another way Arcadia is promoting student scholarship is though the publication of The Compass: Arcadia University's Global Journal of Student Scholarly and Creative Work. The Compass is an online showcase for work done by Arcadia students on their own or in collaboration with faculty members. Student submissions are sought and published in several areas, including Analytical Reflections, Cultural Legacies, Global Connections, and Self and Society. In addition to traditional scholarly articles in the sciences, social sciences and humanities, The Compass also publishes critical reflection essays, photo essays, fiction and poetry, and films and multi-media projects. Recent topics covered range from "Exploring the Nietzschean Impulse in the Presentist James Joyce" to "Are the Philadelphia Phillies Fans Entirely to Blame for Their Appalling Behavior?"
In "Sink or Swim," a Feb. 8, 2012, article, junior English major Nichole Hall writes about her struggles in learning how to swim. Her article begins:
Goosebumps cover my body as I ease myself into the cold, reflecting, blue water. (I am) whining like a baby that it's not warm and I want to leave. My pool teacher in a one-piece bathing suit wades over to me at the shallow end of the pool and yells over the loudness of the other kids that are splashing each other.... Is this an analogy to the full immersion in academic excellence Arcadia students receive from exceptionally well credentialed faculty as soon after they have unpacked their belongings into the residence halls?
Dr. Steve O. Michael, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, adds his perspective to Arcadia's academic excellence: "My own definition is the relentless critiquing of the status quo with respect to stock of knowledge, generation of knowledge, and the transmission of knowledge for the purpose of transforming civilization. That definition drives all I do as the head of academics in the hiring of faculty and deans, developing academic plans, and curriculum." "This is a philosophical definition of excellence that is universally embraced in academia," Michael adds. "Through this understanding, our students and faculty challenge existing knowledge, push against the frontiers of the unknown, and explore and develop innovative pedagogies for knowledge transmission. The culture of excellence permeates what we do as we continue to extend our global presence."
Arcadia is increasingly a "gateway to the world." Through Arcadia, thousands of students each year are confronted with and come to respect different cultures, traditions and beliefs. Some of that takes place through study abroad opportunities. Some of it takes place through the curricula that challenge students to make global connections right here in Philadelphia. And some of it takes place just by students learning, living and working with people from different backgrounds.
Michael also encourages faculty to participate in international conferences. He established an international association with his colleagues, the Association of Global Advancement of Universities and Colleges. After last year's inaugural conference in China, this year's conference takes place in Russia. He also cites the strength of Arcadia's programs, such as Physical Therapy, Physician Assistant, Forensic Science and Psychology. Through his campus communication, Provost Plaudits, Michael regularly salutes faculty members—in Glenside, but also the faculty and directors of The College of Global Studies worldwide—for their research accomplishments, and he is always looking for ways that more faculty and students can conduct joint research.
Provost Michael lauds the academic strategic plan and curriculum that the faculty designed and implemented, which provides a solid foundation for general understanding and depth in such critical areas such as writing, communication, global reflection, cultural awareness, and quantitative reasoning. "The Arcadia Undergraduate Curriculum prepares students not only to become globally aware, but also to become global leaders," Michael says.
While Arcadia has become a healthcare powerhouse that also continues to offer a tradition of national excellence in the fine and performing arts, the University remains best known for its historic leadership in study abroad. Today, the overseas education takes place in more than 122 programs in 75 cities in more than 20 programs on six continents. For almost a decade, the Institute of International Education (IIE) has ranked Arcadia University among the top 10 universities in the United States for the percentage of our undergraduate students studying abroad.
Just this month, Arcadia was named the "outstanding chapter" of the international Phi Beta Delta Honor Society, the goals of which are to recognize the scholarly achievement of international students and scholars, U.S. students who have studied abroad, and faculty and staff who are involved in international activities. Arcadia inducted our largest group ever during November's International Education Week: 83 students and six faculty. And last summer, the American Council on Education (ACE) recently honored Arcadia by naming us as one of just eight universities in the country to participate in a cutting edge program focused on integrating international and domestic diversity funded by the Henry Luce Foundation called "At Home in the World: Educating for Global Connections and Local Commitments."
The entire Arcadia community is proud of the University's unique approach to global education. President Oxholm regularly notes that when Arcadia sends students overseas, they aren't placed in "an American bubble," but are intentionally injected into the culture and community of the host country. "They live in locally owned housing, suffer the same water and electric outages as the hosts, take the same public transportation, shop at the same village markets as those with whom they live, work and study," Oxholm says. "When they go on an outing, we take them to places that are cherished by the local community, not what Fodors recommends to tourists. They study the language of the country and cultures of people. We have them perform public service that is valued by the community. The extraordinary richness of experience changes the students and equips them to embrace diversity."
Oxholm says that while the study abroad program is "the definition of excellence" in exposing students to the world's diversity, he is intent to make Glenside itself into a hub for international education. "Our faculty has done a remarkable job of integrating global aspects into the curriculum. Our opportunity now is to leverage our amazing overseas academic affiliations to the advantage of faculty and students at our campuses in Glenside, Christiana, and King of Prussia." In the coming years, Arcadia will concentrate on encouraging joint global faculty research, faculty exchanges, international co-teaching using technology, networking across international institutions, and increasing the cultural, religious, and geographical diversity of our students, faculty, staff and trustees.
"It's the variety of ways that we are resolutely focused on preparing our students to succeed and lead in a global economy that is Arcadia's 'value proposition,'" says Oxholm. As Arcadia welcomes a record number of first year students this fall, that value has obviously found acceptance in a tough economy. "Higher education will always be essential for our society if it is to continue to provide the opportunity for individuals to realize their potential. The cost of higher education and the current economic climate challenge us to do the very best job we can to ensure we provide lifelong value to our students and to articulate to the business community what that value is, so wise consumers can invest in their futures through us."
And it is a life-long benefit. Whenever and wherever they get together, our Beaver College and Arcadia University alumni note the "transformative" effect the school and its faculty had on them. It's a constant refrain. What the faculty love best is when they receive notes from their students, as Dr. Steve Robbins, chair of the Psychology Department, did recently from Luke Ayers '08, currently in a Ph.D. program in neuroscience at the University of Delaware. In the e-mail, Ayers wrote of the faculty, "You guys were leagues ahead years ago….When I arrived here [at grad school], just having the exposure you gave us through our class-required labs set me at a great advantage, and I really owe my personal success here to that program. Since visiting [campus] I've had this relentless feeling that I want to help out somehow…let me know if there's anything you guys could use help with."
That is what provides the fuel for Arcadia's academic excellence—the generous support of those who had the privilege of experiencing it firsthand, and who make it a point to stay connected with their alma mater, and to contribute their time, talent and treasure to support "the gem" that is our school.
BOGUE FINDS HER FOOTING ABROAD
For International Studies major Faith Bogue '12, studying abroad experiences shaped her career goals, changed her view of the world, and inspired her to become involved in important global social causes.
"My study abroad experiences have transformed my life. My initial travels in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam at the age of 18 are what made me choose to be an International Studies major.
I saw the poverty and devastation caused by the Cambodian genocide and decided that atrocities of that nature (and the following legacies) should not be allowed to happen, and devoting my life to ensuring that seemed like the only correct way forward with my life.
"My semester spent in London as a first-year student helped me become incredibly independent and aware of my own passions and interests. Living independently in a city and being able to travel around England and Europe was one of the most transformative experiences I've ever had, making me adventurous, independent, and confident. My semester in Beijing solidified my passion for issues pertaining to Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, and also helped me realize that there is no easy path to development.
"My experiences abroad helped me academically in that they helped me focus on what I want to study, learn about, and write about. They also help to affirm that what I am studying is real and important as it pertains to the world. My experiences helped me discover my strengths, passions, and abilities. They also prepared me for my most recent trip to East Timor for my internship. Part of my boss's decision to take me lay in her knowledge that I have traveled independently before. I traveled to East Timor (which is still recovering from a decades-long struggle for independence) to check on our projects (maternity clinics, youth centers) and laid the groundwork for future developmental projects. Thus my travels have come full circle, and I am finally fulfilling my dream of traveling to help in development work." Internships also played a critical role for Bogue. Serving as an Assistant to the Executive Director for the Foundation for Post Conflict Development in New York, Bogue maintained the Foundation's online presence, managed all advertising and professional research and writing, traveled to East Timor to assess progress, coordinated publicity, and developed a new website.
Research played a significant part of Bogue's Arcadia experience, as she designed and executed a large-scale efficacy study on the Pipeline Fund Fellowship Program in New York, an investment firm and social enterprise that mentors women philanthropists in how to be socially-conscious investors. She also served as a Research Assistant for GrowthLeaders Inc. in New York, where she provided research and editorial support on business development and program design.
"The education I received in Arcadia's International Studies program worked in tandem with my internships and study abroad experiences to shape my knowledge, interests, and skill sets.... Themes and regions discussed in class, such as the issue of slavery or human trafficking, have the ability to spark an interest which leads to further research and career exploration, which leads to further narrowing of one's interests, which helps one to choose more trafficking, [can spark] an interest….It is a cyclical and complementary process. I feel confident as I near graduation that I am pursuing a field and a job selection that I am truly passionate about."
Bogue has earned Dean's Distinguished Honors, participated in Honors Program, and been awarded the Distinguished Scholarship, Campus Achievement Award, and the Gilman Scholarship. She was a conference presenter at the National Collegiate Honors Council and was a workshop facilitator at the UN Youth Assembly.
AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE INSPIRES EFFECTIVE PRACTICE
Tanya Santangelo, a tenured Associate Professor of Special Education at Arcadia and a recognized leader in the Education profession, utilizes her real-world experiences as a teaching tool.
Santangelo is an editor for several major educational publications and serves as an expert panel member and content reviewer for the U.S. Department of Education. She says her research and scholarship aid her teaching.
"The classes I teach are related to effective practice. I draw upon my own experience and research I've done, both on my own and in collaboration with students. In my doctoral quantitative class, I use designs and research experience as examples. I do that to illustrate examples and to how to work through things that I hadn't anticipated. The students tie my experience to theirs."
Arcadia's Education Department focuses heavily on providing "authentic field experience in all of our programs. Research has shown that career success for teachers isn't as great where it consists of classroom education devoid of setting. It's understood in the field that from the beginning, students should have classroom experience but must also work in the field. You connect the two together."
She specifically notes one class with a colleague where they taught the students overview concepts during the first couple of weeks. Then the students taught at the Wissahickon Charter School for 10 weeks. Then the students came back to their Arcadia class and did an overview of what they learned.
"We were with them in the field to give them support," Santangelo says. "For the last couple weeks in the semester, we all returned to campus to continue to synthesize and also to extend what they learned at the school. Through this kind of authentic field experience, the students saw the challenges and the triumphs that occur every day in classrooms and schools. This approach helps our students become exceptional teachers on multiple levels."
"We have high standards and expectations in the Education Department," she says. "The students use their classroom teaching experience to stretch themselves in multiple settings. They go into teaching situations with anxiety in teaching real kids. We provide support and are with them in the field, almost like scaffolding. They find out that teaching can be hard, so they know what to expect.
"I stay in contact with many of the Education Department alumni. We exchange resources and share success stories. We collaborate and grapple with challenges together. Many of our alumni are willing to host my new students to monitor their classes. On the doctoral level, I continue my relationship with many alumni on a professional and mentoring level. Some of them come back to be guest speakers for my classes. We keep the connections active.
EARHART '94, '96MSPT DISCOVERS STRENGTH IN HER BEAVER COLLEGE ROOTS
"Arcadia is a haven for academic excellence," Dr. Gammon Earhart notes. "The faculty model academic excellence and encourage it in the students. This creates an environment where expectations for all are high. These expectations are matched with the support needed to achieve excellence while at Arcadia and beyond, as this support does not end with graduation but rather continues as one moves through different career stages but remains part of the Arcadia community."
Dr. Gammon Earhart '94, '96MSPT is doing groundbreaking research at a top-notch facility, but she hasn't forgotten her Beaver College roots.
Earhart, a tenured Associate Professor of Physical Therapy, Anatomy & Neurobiology, and Neurology at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, returned to Arcadia in January to receive the first Alumni Achievement Award given by the College of Health Sciences at the 2012 Doctor of Physical Therapy Commencement Ceremony. She also gave a lecture, in which she spoke about her career and her latest research on the use of dance as a form of rehabilitation for people with Parkinson's disease.
"My connection to Arcadia as a whole was renewed and strengthened during my recent visit to campus, my first in 15 years," Earhart says. "Having now been in many different academic environments, it was great to see Arcadia from my current perspective as I was better able to appreciate the uniqueness of Arcadia as an institution with high academic standards nestled within a nurturing community fostered by a truly exceptional faculty.
"I have always felt very connected to my former faculty and departments at Arcadia. In particular, I have maintained contact with my undergraduate mentor, Dean Archie Vomachka, and graduate mentor, Dr. Rebecca Craik. Though I graduated many years ago, they continue to foster my professional growth and development.
"One key was the wealth of experiences offered at Arcadia. As an undergraduate, I had numerous opportunities to work in the lab and conduct my own research projects both on campus and abroad. I was free to explore my interests and figure out which career path was best for me, and this process was guided by mentors who challenged me to work hard and always had my best interests at heart.
"Arcadia is a haven for academic excellence," she notes. "The faculty model academic excellence and encourage it in the students. This creates an environment where expectations for all are high. These expectations are matched with the support needed to achieve excellence while at Arcadia and beyond, as this support does not end with graduation but rather continues as one moves through different career stages but remains part of the Arcadia community."
Earhart's recent awards include being awarded the Outstanding Faculty Mentor Certificate of Special Recognition at Washington University, being a nominee for the Golden Synapse Award for Best Paper Published in the Journal of Neurological Physical Therapy, and receiving the Friedman Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Advancement of Geriatric Care. She has editorial responsibilities for many major publications, including the Journal of Neurophysiology and the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy.