Cassie LaJeunesse, Campus Carrier Deputy News Editor
This summer, a focus group for Berry’s new Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) turned into a pilot course almost overnight. In order to maintain its accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Berry must implement a QEP. According to assistant vice president for student affairs Lindsey Taylor, this plan must be something that enhances the academic experience of students.
To fulfill the QEP requirement, an exploratory committee and a drafting committee of faculty and students developed the Signature Scholars Program, which consists of three steps: a Signature Learning Experience (SLE), a reflection-based course and an ePortfolio.
An SLE can be a study abroad program, an internship, a high-level student work experience, undergraduate research or any similar experience.
“[Berry students] do incredible things on this campus,” Taylor said. “We know [they] are having these top-notch experiences.”
Though Berry students are having these experiences, Taylor said that Berry students’ self-reported statistics of integrative and reflective learning were lower than those at other institutions.
“Maybe our students need a space to truly reflect and integrate what they’re doing with the rest of their learning,” Taylor said.
This thought led to the development of the Signature Scholars Program. According to Taylor, the goals of this program are to improve the quality of student learning that results from participation in these SLEs, and to improve students’ ability to “tell their story.”
“We have the most humble students ever,” Taylor said. “But [they] all have amazing stories to tell.”
Over the summer, the drafting committee organized a focus group of students who have already participated in SLEs. They asked the students what incentive they would need to take the course, but student interest led them to start a pilot course this fall.
The pilot course, taught by director of women’s and gender studies and associate professor of psychology Susan Conradsen, meets for an hour a week and has 12 students. Senior Alex Eberhart is a member of the pilot course who participated in the focus group. His SLE was his job as head SOAR leader.
“I think [this job] made me grow up a little bit in a lot of ways,” Eberhart said. “It made me appreciate Berry a lot more.”
Eberhart believes that the class has already helped him learn, not just about his own experience, but about various experiences across Berry. He says that the reflection in the class is helping him look toward the next step.
“It’s helpful for me because now I can put a finger on the skills that I have learned and the skills that I can bring to the table,” Eberhart said.
Senior Rachel LaFroscia, another member of the pilot course, is using her work experience as a student supervisor at Berry College Volunteer Services (BCVS) as her SLE. Like Eberhart, LaFroscia says the class is helping her look toward the next step.
“I really enjoy reflecting, so it’s been really interesting for me to connect [my experience],” LaFroscia said. “Taking the class has allowed me to think deeper into it and realize that the skills I’m getting from this office job will fit into what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Sophomore Elise Hackett says that she has had a different experience with the class because she is taking it early in her time at Berry. Hackett spent seven weeks teaching English in Costa Rica over the summer, which she is using as her SLE for the course. According to Hackett, she is already a reflective person, so she enjoys that aspect of the class.
“I’m really passionate about everything that I did,” Hackett said. “I love being asked [reflective questions], especially because [my SLE] was such a positive experience for me.”
Though she is not sure what she wants to do after college, Hackett believes that the skills learned in this class will help her look toward the future in a different way.
“Because I am doing it so early on, I think this class will help me narrow my decision-making process for my career and my major,” Hackett said. “It’s a godsend, because I hate not knowing what the future has in store.”
According to Taylor, it will be up to students if and when they take this class during their time at Berry. Students will have to apply for the program and be selected for the class.
“We want to curate the class,” Taylor said. “We want the classes to be diverse in experience so that students are learning from each other.”
Right now, the program is being brought to the whole campus. Taylor and the drafting committee have given presentations about the QEP to SGA, academic departments and other groups on campus. The proposal will be submitted to a SACS review team at the end of this semester, and the marketing and advertisement of the program will begin in the spring.