core of freshmen learning
set the course for change
installment in a four-part series about recent changes at
UNM made to boost retention and create a "freshman
experience," a holistic approach to assist students
entering college life.
of the Hewlett Core Cluster program is to bring senior faculty
together to teach around a common theme and to help change the
way students look at learning.
effort now in its last year, the program set the standard
for exposing students to various learning opportunities, says
Nancy Uscher, associate provost for Academic Affairs and program
Core Clusters have exposed students to learning in an interdisciplinary
context, Uscher said, adding that the program is committed
to improving undergraduate education and student retention.
Clusters, sponsored by a $150,000 three-year grant from the
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, are based on broad themes
that link three different requirements of the core curriculum.
The funding is matched by the University.
says two major success stories came out of the program. First,
senior faculty from across disciplines are working together
and blending their knowledge. Second, students say that the
clusters have changed the way they look at learning.
Core Clusters have brought together faculty who otherwise would
have never had the opportunity to work together, Uscher
said. Its fitting to see faculty who have been here
for so many years working closely.
to receiving face-to-face contact with faculty, students participate
in field trips, class discussions and get a chance to make new
have been fortunate to have had such a great response from the
students, she said. The students really enjoy the
fact that they have access to UNMs top senior faculty.
star faculty participating in next semesters program include
William Gross, engineering professor emeritus; Paul Nathanson,
director of the UNM Institute of Public Law and faculty at the
School of Law; Everett Rogers, regents professor in communications
and journalism; Laura Crossey, professor and associate chair
in earth and planetary sciences; Virginia Scharff, professor
and director of the Center for the Southwest; Wirt H. Willis,
Regents Lecturer; Karl Karlstrom, Earth and Planetary
Sciences professor; Jeff Froehlich, anthropology professor;
Vera Norwood, American Studies professor and Arts and Sciences
associate dean; and Gary Harrison, English professor.
the first year, the faculty participated in training on collaborative
teaching to help them rethink how they would present course
material. Three training retreats were held which addressed
teaching methods, involving students in discussion, making assignments,
working with groups and coordinating syllabi to ensure that
exams or paper deadlines were not held at the same time.
says the goal of the project is ultimately to find a way to
sustain the core cluster principle.
idea is to continue to link courses and make connections across
the curriculum, she said.
Core Clusters have brought together faculty who otherwise
would have never had the opportunity to work together. Its
fitting to see faculty who have been here for so many years
Director Nancy Uscher
a teaching assistant in the Medicine and Culture Cluster, said
he hopes students not only gain the knowledge that each of the
three courses impart, but that they become attached to the new
practice of learning and thinking.
connections between subjects, with other students and as apprentice
scholars with their teachers can be very exciting, Wilks
said. It is the intellectual excitement that is generated
in the Core Clusters that I hope students can carry through
their college education and on into whatever follows in their
said the cluster courses allow students who may be early on
in their college education to explore a new area about which
they may be curious, but apprehensive, while still maintaining
a safe hold on their area of primary interest.
Baca, who taught theater in a cluster about Nuevo Mexicano culture
and language with two other professors, said the idea was to
reach out to a Hispanic student population, which has a high
drop out rate at UNM.
important foundation of the cluster is to give the students
a sense of belonging to the University community and creating
a peer group, so there is also a sense of responsiblity to the
other students in the three courses.
Core Cluster Program gave me a better sense of membership in
the University community and it was the first time I had taken
any instuction on how to teach, she said.
the cluster helped students form relationships with one another
and create an alliance with professors.
wouldnt happen in a cattle class, she said.
was interesting to teach students who, in general, had no interest
in theatre, she said. Most of them had signed up
for the other two courses, and assumed that theatre would be
of no interest to them. Teaching that class has been one of
the most rewarding experiences I have had at UNM.