- Grinnell sociology professor Karla Erickson explains the value of the individually advised curriculum and how it works. Each student is paired with a faculty adviser, their First-Year Tutorial professor, who knows Grinnell’s curriculum well and who gets to know them well—their strengths, their passions, and where they need to stretch.
- One great benefit? Everyone—students and professors—is in each class because they want to be there, not because they have to be to meet a requirement.
- Because they are eager to learn, students get to do more ambitious things in the classroom, learning “on the very edge of new sources and new knowledge.”
Where We All Want to Be in the Room
I really believe in an individually advised curriculum and the idea that you don't have a checklist or a one size fits all for students. But I think that that has to be managed through a close, one on one relationship with someone who knows them well, and who knows the curriculum well. At Grinnell College, we have made the decision to keep advising primarily with the faculty. And so from the very moment that you arrive at Grinnell, you have an individual faculty member who is both your tutorial professor, and also your advisor for the first couple of years. And I'm really proud of our college that we've done that. What it affords the students I think, is somebody who knows them knows what their passions are, also knows what their limits are maybe where they need to stretch, and can help guide them to places in the curriculum and to experiences on campus that will help them kind of round out what they know, and will also ignite their passions. To be honest, it's a lot of work. It's a lot of work for students. And it's a lot of work for faculty. And it's a lot of work for staff to allow each student to navigate their own course through the curriculum, rather than just giving some kind of template. But the result of that is really pretty magnificent, both for the students and for the faculty. So from the student perspective, they get to think about what do I have? What do I want to deepen? What have I been avoiding, that I now have to kind of take on? And what are the courses to help me do all of that? But from the faculty perspective, it's kind of amazing because I taught at and attended other institutions where I mainly the classroom environment was a place where most of the people had to be there, only some of the people wanted to be there. And so it's become totally normal and baseline for me to only teach classes where we all want to be in the room. Learning where everyone is passionate, or at least willing to undertake the common work really allows me to do much more ambitious things in the classroom to assign more difficult tasks to make sure that students are on the very edge of of new sources and new knowledge production because I know that we all kind of agreed to come to this 15 week experience, and wanting to work at a place where advising was really central to what faculty did, because I think it really relates to the liberal arts philosophy of kind of developing the person through knowledge. And I like the way that it's paired with a first year course that's interdisciplinary. So you're not specializing at the beginning, you're really getting a sense of a field of knowledge with an expert guide. The sweet spot for me is if I happen to have had a student in class, and I'm their advisor, because then we're both getting to know each other in both of those contexts. And that's when I can really be more than just somebody who helps them think about courses but a little bit more of a guide through the liberal arts experience. That's something that I received when I was an undergraduate and that's part of what I was committed to in terms of joining a liberal arts school. It was like continuing that legacy because it was very life changing for me. And I think it can be life changing for students when it goes well.
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