Are you excited for Founder’s Day? This celebration of our school’s history falls at an exciting time for our future as well – the Strategic Planning Committee has just officially begun its work and Mac’s Board of Trustees will be meeting on campus all day Thursday and Friday of Founder’s Day Weekend. Who knows – maybe you’ll even find some trustees joining in on Friday night’s festivities! The Board will be talking a lot about the future of our school, continuing conversations that begin during a kick-off meeting for Strategic Planning this past January. As the Student Liaison to the Board, I was able to join in on these brainstorming meetings and get a unique look at the process that will define our values and goals as an institution in the coming decade.
Some key ideas and questions that really jumped out at me from these conversations were 1) How does Macalester provide a transformational experience, and what is the value of this in an increasingly transaction-based world? 2) How do we organize knowledge and disciplines with a focus on interdisciplinary studies? And 3) What will the role of technology in higher education be in the years to come?
To the first question, my impression is that many of us at Macalester came here because it ‘just felt right,’ or felt like a place where we could thrive in academics while, importantly, growing and being ourselves. We came here because we valued that aspect of our college experience. In a time when more people are questioning the value of a four-year, residential, liberal arts experience, it will be important to be very intentional in asserting the value of what we have to offer. Mac’s Strategic Plan that comes out of this process should address this question of value and the liberal arts identity.
The second idea regarding the organization of knowledge came as a surprise to me at first, but ultimately became the idea that I was most excited to see what direction the Strategic Planning committee takes with it. I love that Mac has been adding interdisciplinary concentrations (Critical Theory, Community and Global Health, etc). I also love that nearly everyone I know has an in-depth involvement with multiple academic departments, and in many cases have majors and minors that are seemingly completely incongruous. As students we are way ahead of the game, constantly hopping around to various departments and bringing benefits of diverse wisdom with us. It would be great to see an academic structure that matches our fluidity and fosters greater dialogue between different fields. We all have a lot we could learn from one another.
Finally, a large portion of the discussion was spent on the role of technology in higher education. There was a common theme of being tempted to set ‘technology’ and ‘community’ as mutually exclusive items. With that assumption, technology comes to be viewed as a threat to a residential liberal arts school like Macalester. This strikes me as a potentially unsound outlook to have because each year of students that enters Mac is more and more integrated with the latest technology and use of the Internet. In regards to traditional academic values such as the writing requirement, Internet literacy is becoming an increasingly important skill for success in both careers and in personal life. By no means should we do away with traditional academic values, but it may be important to consider updating the skill set that will be useful to future Mac graduates. This is the area that I think will be most important for students to provide input on because how we interact with technology is constantly changing with new generations of students.
The biggest take-away from these brainstorming sessions was that I am extremely encouraged by the conversations that were happening between Trustees, Faculty and Staff. It was reassuring to hear them bring up some of the same concerns that I and other students have had and talk passionately about making things work. I am proud and excited about where we are heading and I am glad that we are taking the time to come up with this plan for the next several years.
Following the ideas and questions brainstorming session, there was discussion about the process that will be utilized to come up with a final Strategic Plan document. This discussion resulted in the Strategic Planning Committee that you have likely heard about. It consists of Staff, Faculty, and two Student Representatives. They will be working hard to garner feedback and create a document that addresses the needs of our school from the perspectives of all of us. The Board of Trustees will also be participating in the Strategic Plan at their meetings, including the one next Friday, March 8. If you have any questions about the Board of Trustees or the Strategic Planning process and/or content, please email me at [email protected]
In addition, we are in the process of seeking applicants for the Liaison position for the 2013/14 school year. The application is in your inbox as a Student Announcement. Contact the email above with any questions about this position or the application process.