Based on that deep dive into the needs of society and our students, Unity College has launched an ambitious new project to redesign the early college experience to:

  • Honor learning wherever it happens, whether that is in a classroom, in the field solving real-world sustainability problems, or on the job.
  • Create immersive, intensive experiences with a flexible calendar that lets students who work hard complete a bachelor’s degree in less than 4 years.
  • Allow students to earn stackable credentials that represent relevant professional skills to employers.

There is much work to do! Follow the progress of the First Two Years project here to see how Unity College is taking a leadership role in creating a new college for the environmental century.

May 14, 2018

From: Dr. Erika Latty and Dr. Sarah Cunningham
To: The Unity College Community

Dear Colleagues,

Our discussion of college-wide learning outcomes continue to progress as we further refine our expectations for student learning. Of note recently is a common reference to the phrase “backward design” in these conversations. Backward design (also called backward mapping) is a process used for curriculum design in which the first step includes articulating learning goals, which is then followed by the design of the learning experiences. This commentary from the Chronicle of Higher Education considers the role of backward design in curriculum delivery and assessment. It provides some useful context for the outcome work in which we are currently engaged.

Process Updates

  • The most current drafts of the reworked college-wide learning outcomes were shared at the Strategic Academic Leadership Team (SALT) meeting and then presented at the last Faculty Meeting.
  • Jennifer Cartier is continuing her work with faculty on program-wide learning outcomes. Dr. Cartier reports that the groups she has worked with are satisfied with the results of their discussions.
  • Academic and Student Support worked with Stamats to complete a timeline for the online bulletin board and survey implementation. Together, we are now finalizing the content of the Moderator’s Guide for the online bulletin board. You will recall from an earlier email, that the purpose of the online bulletin board is to better understand the view of potential students in regards to innovative learning practices.
  • Senior staff voted to approve the First Two Years [F2Y] Project Team Phase 1 Ad Hoc Committee. This committee will be comprised of faculty, staff, and administrators with a charge to consider the curriculum, morphology, and calendar for the first two year experience. Expect to see the fruits of their labor in the months ahead.

Outcomes and Next Steps

  • We expect the online bulletin board to launch in early June.
  • During the May professional development days, we welcome Dr. Mahurin back to campus. Both Dr. Mahurin and Linda Suskie, assessment consultant, will be working with faculty during the professional development sessions.
  • Those involved in the First Two Years [F2Y] Project Team Phase 1 Ad Hoc Committee should expect to hear from Sarah and Erika during the next week.

The close of the semester always proves to be a busy time of campus life. Despite that fact, we are pleased that many of our standing committees were able to devote time to F2Y in the last weeks of the semester. Senior staff’s approval of our new committee will enable us to maintain continued progress on the F2Y initiative over the summer.

Happy “close of the semester” to all of you.

May 4, 2018

From: Dr. Erika Latty and Dr. Sarah Cunningham
To: The Unity College Community

Hello Unity Community!

We are excited to be moving forward with some new phases of the First Two Years program this last week.  We have submitted a year-end report to the Davis Educational Foundation explaining how we have used the funds they provided last year, and they have sent along the expected funding for this coming year.  The grant will primarily be used for planning and training time as we develop our curriculum and create implementation plans for operational changes to our catalog.  Our Director of Curricular Innovation continues to work with faculty on articulating learning outcomes and preparing for assessment work during professional development at the end of the semester.  That will be our next visit from Dr. Mahurin, who will join us for a set of workshops delivered by Linda Suskie, an author and expert on assessment and accreditation.

We are also launching some research efforts that will build on the work of the “Deep Dive” or strategic branding initiative that concluded last year.  Stamats, who investigated the academic interests of potential students and did some market research for us during that effort, is building a two-part set of surveys to preview some of our innovative strategies with potential audiences.  While we are also using feedback from our current students, we recognize that the First Two Years program might be attractive to students who do not currently choose to attend Unity.  Therefore, we’ll reach out to both high school prospects and transfer students currently at community colleges with questions about the program.  Starting with an online bulletin board/chat room, Stamats will process responses to some open-ended questions and use them to design a more focused web survey that is sent to an even bigger audience.  The results of this work will allow us to adjust our strategies as necessary and develop language to recruit into a unique program starting next year.

We’ll continue to include invitations to participate at the end of each of these updates, but we’ve heard from some of you, and this Monday Senior Staff will consider the charge of a First Two Years Project Team for Phase 1 of implementation.  We won’t be able to include everyone who has expressed interest, but there will be further iterations with changing membership as we tackle different aspects of the program and build on the work done to date.  If you have any questions about the process, send them our way

April 30, 2018

From: Dr. Erika Latty and Dr. Sarah Cunningham
To: The Unity College Community

Dear Unity College,

Our recent conversations have emphasized innovation in academia. Academic innovation can take many forms but most of us agree that it provides high-quality learning experiences that add value to the curriculum, not detract from it.  Other organizations, like the Lumina Foundation and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, have developed frameworks recognizing the dual importance of innovation and academic quality as described in this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

At Unity College, we have defined innovation as a mission-driven, yet flexible mindset that rewards and supports intentional risk-taking to support powerful new learning experiences and change higher education in order to address the evolving needs of society and the sustainability of the environment. We encourage everyone to take another look at the innovation planning document that defines and provides guiding principles for our work at Unity College.

Process Updates:

  • The CAPC has continued their discussion of articulating CWLOs related to sustainability science and, more broadly, to the foundational skills and knowledge that are needed for successful engagement in learning opportunities.  To further advance this work, Dr. Cartier has been working with colleagues to articulate the program-specific learning outcomes. She has also invited interested parties to schedule a work session her if they would like to be more involved in this work.
  • Stamats is using information from the student focus groups and other sources to develop the survey portions of the project.
  • Dr. Mahurin in continuing to conduct interviews with innovation leaders.  Initial observations are that the best work being done is driven by a clear vision, strong leadership, a focus on execution, and of course, ultimately, knowing and doggedly pursuing clear measurable outcomes.
  • Dr. Cartier is providing the context of learning theories (not only cognitive psychology, sociology, and psychology – but also neuroscience) to our outcomes work so that our new curriculum reflects the most current and powerful understandings of learning.

Outcomes and Next Steps:

  • More learning outcome discussions are planned for CAPC and faculty meeting next week.
  • We will hold a joint meeting with Stamats and Dr. Mahurin to discuss the purpose of the survey research, details surrounding an interview guide, timelines, and any other data we will need to identify high school juniors who are the target audience for this research.

That sums up our activity for the week and more updates will be forthcoming.

April 20, 2018

From: Dr. Erika Latty and Dr. Sarah Cunningham
To: The Unity College Community

Dear Unity,

While everything gets very busy on campus in April and leading up to commencement, we continue to work on the First Two Years project and engage the campus in considering what we want Unity graduates to learn and be able to do.  Serendipitously, the Council of Independent Colleges has just released a comprehensive report from the Securing America’s Future initiative that summarizes innovative changes at hundreds of colleges in our sector who are experimenting with responses to the challenges facing higher education today.  There’s lots of material to explore, but the section on Curricular Reform is most relevant to our current work and provides some examples of other colleges making changes similar to the ones we are exploring for F2Y.

Jennifer Cartier, our new Director of Curricular Innovation, has been meeting with program faculty as well as our key academic leadership committees to generate revised learning outcomes at the program and college-wide level. She’s excited to continue that work and will be reaching out to all of our program chairs and faculty to meet with them so that we can build out their program outcomes and incorporate their perspective on college-wide learning goals.  This week she is attending a Learning and the Brain conference all about current research on educational neuroscience that can guide our design.  At the same time, Student Success is exploring national frameworks for traditionally “co-curricular” outcomes in the areas of leadership, professional skills, and literacy that we can incorporate into our structure to ensure that our integrative F2Y curriculum is still transferable to the outside world.

The research arm of the project is also progressing.  Dr. Mahurin has begun conversations with eight organizations whose perspectives can help us build the best possible program.  Over the next week, we’ll be refining questions to ask in external market research that Stamats will conduct for us with high school and community college students to help us judge the best approaches to attract students looking for something different who have not (or not yet) found Unity College.

As always, these updates are intended to keep our community informed and ensure that everyone interested in participating has the chance to jump in at the right time!  If you want to join the conversation simply let us know.

April 13, 2018

From: Dr. Erika Latty and Dr. Sarah Cunningham
To: The Unity College Community

Dear Unity College Community,

We are continuing our work to develop the morphology of the first two-year experience.  Conversations this week have focused on the breadth and depth of student learning outcomes.  Our experiences at Unity College and elsewhere are leading us to develop learning outcomes that capture knowledge and skills related to disciplines, literacy, and leadership while incorporating our commitment to sustainability science.  We have long recognized the utility in building community-based learning into our curriculum and the world of education is catching up.  Take a look at this article in the New York Times to see how other institutions and programs are using project-based learning to develop career skills and improve teacher diversity in novel ways.

Process Updates:

  • The Curricular Assessment and Planning Committee (CAPC) picked up an earlier discussion at the Strategic Academic Leadership Team (SALT) to consider how to better align our college-wide learning outcomes with our definitions of sustainability science.
  • Dr. Mahurin is scheduling interviews with national thought leaders in developing innovative curriculum and credentialing.
  • The Student Success Team is considering a draft of outcomes relating to leadership and professional skills.

Outcomes and Next Steps:

  • CAPC will continue their conversation to create a draft of the updated college-wide learning outcomes.
  • The Student Success Team will continue their work relating to outcomes in order to arrive at a draft that can be incorporated into the college-wide learning outcomes.
  • Dr. Mahurin is investigating lessons and examples of curricular innovation, including those relating to pedagogy, calendar, competency-based education, enhanced credentialing, and community partnerships.
  • We are considering ways to continue our momentum on this project into the summer.  We will report on this in a future communication.

Have you read something in this email (or previous ones) that has piqued your interest?  Let us know.  We are happy to answer individual questions or explore an idea in further depth.

April 7, 2018

From: Dr. Erika Latty and Dr. Sarah Cunningham
To: The Unity College Community

Hello Unity!

We’ve had another great visit from our F2Y team, and we want to update you on our progress. Things are speeding up a little as we engage more constituencies on campus in the work to come, but we’ll continue to update everyone each week as we move forward. News from the outside world definitely fosters a sense of urgency as higher education continues to grapple with challenges of relevancy. This week we discussed a recent article in the Chronicle about how our public peers in Maine are responding to our state’s particular demographic challenges. These stories can be gloomy, but each of them has examples of institutions making changes that show real promise for reversing the downward trend, and we’re looking forward to Unity College appearing at the top of those lists!

Process Updates

We continued to develop timelines and project plans for F2Y, informed by vigorous meetings with a number of groups on campus, including:

  • Residence life staff talked about co-curricular outcomes and living-learning-working communities that we could create for our students
  • The Collaborative Learning Center is thinking about how to strengthen advising for our students so they can navigate a more flexible, rich learning environment
  • Dr. Mahurin conducted 4 focus groups with current students to test some of our early plans and get feedback on powerful experiences they either have or wish they had at Unity College
  • The Academic Leadership Team grappled with the creation of college-wide learning outcomes to guide the curriculum
  • Advancement helped us understand some important timelines and communication elements, and we discussed developing language about F2Y that they can begin sharing externally
  • The Chief Officers discussed important terminology that we are using as we develop F2Y so that we can ensure that we all mean the same things when we work together and communicate to others

Outcomes and Next Steps

  • Our students provided us with constructive feedback on current student experiences and signaled an interest in more opportunities for professional experiences and integrated learning. These initial conversations will inform broader market research conducted with high school and community college students later this year.
  • ALT discussed how to align CWLOs with the college’s sustainability science framework and the disciplinary content of our major degree programs. We’re engaging our standing academic committees in this work by bringing the challenge to the Curriculum Assessment and Planning Committee and the Strategic Academic Leadership Team to continue the progress.
  • Dr. Mahurin has begun conducting interviews with innovators in the educational space whose perspectives can help us navigate this process. His initial call with the American Council on Education generated great interest in the F2Y project and the potential for networking with some of their partners across higher education.
  • We are delighted to welcome Jennifer Cartier to the team as our new Director of Curricular Innovation! She’ll be helping shepherd our outcomes work now as well as assist the faculty at every stage of the curriculum development process moving forward.

Dr. Mahurin will be back on campus in May to join us for our professional development days, when Dr. Linda Suskie will deliver an assessment workshop to our faculty and we can make some sustained progress on our goals. Thanks everyone for engaging in this exciting project with us!

March 30, 2018

From: Dr. Erika Latty and Dr. Sarah Cunningham
To: The Unity College Community

Dear Unity College Community,

We are looking forward to welcoming Dr. Mahurin back to campus next week.  We have arranged a schedule that includes meeting with students, staff, and faculty.

Higher education news: The American Council on Education (ACE) is working towards determining how to assign college credits to work-based training programs with support from the Lumina Foundation as described in this article from Inside Higher Ed.  Similar tools are showing promise in attracting adult learners to complete their degree in Tennessee as part of a state-wide push to increase attainment of post-secondary credentials.

Progress to date: We have created an introductory narrative to frame our interviews with experts in curricular innovation from around the country.  In preparation for the Dr. Mahurin’s April visit, the Programs Chairs have been reviewing the program-level outcomes developed by the faculty during January professional development.  These outcomes range from developing the knowledge and skills to address the biodiversity crisis to preparing students to solve global issues surrounding sustainable development.

Next steps: Student focus groups will be conducted next week with students clustered by graduation date (e.g., 1st and 2nd-year students or 3rd and 4th-year students).  We also expect to review the campus-wide learning outcomes with the Curriculum and Assessment Planning Committee.

As we continue down the path of F2Y development please share any relevant articles, ideas, and design concepts with us as you come across them.

February 23, 2018

From: Dr. Erika Latty and Dr. Sarah Cunningham
To: The Unity College Community

Dear Unity College Community,

Since the campus visit with our external curricular consultant, Dr. Ron Mahurin, we have been reviewing previously gathered materials and summarizing the results of recent conversations to focus the next steps of the first two years initiative.  For those of you wishing to follow our progress look for our weekly emails and consult our new First Two Years page on the Unity College website.

Goal setting. To reach our goal of a Fall 2020 launch of the new curriculum, we outlined a project development plan consisting of 4 major phases.

  • Phase 1: Develop the content and morphology of the curriculum and align it with a revised academic calendar
  • Phase 2: Construct a viable financial model and build connections with external partners
  • Phase 3: Design an implementation plan that explicitly includes consideration of employee training needs and areas that will require augmentation
  • Phase 4: Launch marketing efforts and professional training sessions

Work in progress.  We are investigating curricular innovation models at other institutions in light of our conceptual goals for this initiative, broadly defined as creating a valuable, differentiated, accessible, and affordable education framed by sustainability science.  Our research also includes identifying leaders in alternative systems of teaching and learning, such as the development of shareable credentialing among employers.  As we consider how to leverage student engagement in this project, we are preparing questions for student focus groups. Continued discussion around these ideas has demonstrated a need for shared language.  To that end, we are creating a glossary to define such terms as curriculum, co-curriculum, and experiential, just to name a few words that require clear explanations.

March campus visit.  Dr. Mahurin is returning to campus March 14-15.  We expect to meet with student support staff, faculty, advancement staff, and students during this visit.

As always, reach out to us with questions you might have.

March 16, 2018

From: Dr. Erika Latty and Dr. Sarah Cunningham
To: The Unity College Community

Dear Unity College Community,

While the weather this week threw a small kink in our plans by cancelling a planned visit by Dr. Ron Mahurin, we have been moving ahead with the F2Y initiative on a number of fronts.

  • We’ve identified a set of higher education experts and innovation leaders that Dr. Mahurin has begun conducting in depth interviews with so that our project can benefit from their experience and expertise.
  • We have applied for inclusion in the next phase of the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers’ Comprehensive Learner Records project.  Funded by the Lumina Foundation, this ambitious initiative strives to create a framework and standards for schools to use in designing extended or enhanced transcripts that capture co-curricular and professional learning in addition to the formal curriculum.  This is just what we will need in order to represent the transdisciplinary learning our students will do in the F2Y program.  They are expanding from a successful pilot program, whose results you can read about here: Comprehensive Student Record Project: Final Report.
  • We have both upperclass and freshmen student focus groups arranged for Dr. Mahurin’s next visit, so that our decisions can incorporate the perspective of students engaged in environmental education. These will complement a more extensive set of surveys and web panels conducted with community college and high school students by Stamats in the second phase of our work with them.
  • We continue to work on outcomes definition with faculty, specifically members of the Curriculum Planning and Assessment and Academic Leadership Committees, with the goal of adopting a new set of College-wide Learning Outcomes this year that fully realize our sustainability science framework and serve as the scaffold upon which we can build more detailed expectations for students learning in the F2Y program.

If you have questions or are looking to get involved in these efforts, please reach out and let us know!

February 14, 2018

From: Dr. Erika Latty and Dr. Sarah Cunningham
To: The Unity College Community

During the last several months, we have been collating our community efforts on the First Two Year Initiative, to develop a framework to build out the vision for a novel curriculum that is relevant, accessible, and valuable for our students as they prepare for meaningful careers.  This academic year, a variety of stakeholder groups have provided valuable input during both August 2017 and January 2018 professional development sessions to inform this concept.

Of course this work has considered and built upon insights developed through the Strategic Branding Initiative (also referred to as the Deep Dive) and is framed by outcomes developed by the First Two Year Committee.  The work is further guided by our strategic plan (G1: OB1: INITIATIVE 001) to integrate curricular, co-curricular, and residential components of the first two years of Unity College experience into a transformative and developmentally differentiated living and learning experience through Sustainability Science.

Recently we announced our partnership with Stamats and Dr. Ron Mahurin to advance the discovery, design, and implementation phases of this flagship initiative. Last week we were fortunate to have Dr. Mahurin on campus to engage with some of the key faculty and staff constituencies involved in this process. We also leveraged this opportunity to consider how the first two year initiative dovetails with our definition of innovation at Unity College.  This is an important moment for each of us to consider how to best align our work with this institutional priority.

Our work to date, coupled with secured funding support from the Davis Foundation, has led us to developing the goal of launching the redesigned first two year experience in Fall 2020.  Between now and Fall 2020 there are many conversations to unfold, questions to answer, and accountability to realize.

Thank you to everyone who met with Ron during his visit and provided valuable input and perspectives on the decisions before us.  We had the opportunity to meet with the President, Chiefs, School Deans, First Two Year Committee, Student Support staff, Career Services staff, and members of the Curriculum Assessment and Planning Committee, Strategic Academic Leadership Team, and the Academic Leadership Team.

There will be additional opportunities to meet with Ron later in the semester.  Be assured, that we will all be involved in the steps along the way.  Please don’t hesitate to stop, consider, and ask questions as we make progress towards our ultimate goal of increasing the accessibility of a Unity College education and building a citizenry informed by the principles of Sustainability Science.  Please make room for this initiative in your daily work lives.  When prioritizing projects, consider how they advance our realization of a newly designed first two year experience for our students.