AAC&U selects Clark U for leadership consortium to advance quality capstone experiences for students

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Clark University joined with academic leaders from eight colleges and universities who convened in Arlington, Virginia, to begin work on advancing the goals of the LEAP Challenge recently launched by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U).

Announced June 30 as part of its Centennial Annual Meeting and marking the tenth year of AAC&U's Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) initiative, The LEAP Challenge will entail multiple strands of work designed to reposition inquiry-based, interest-driven learning at the center of any quality undergraduate education. In releasing The LEAP Challenge, AAC&U urged all higher education institutions to prepare every college student to pursue their own "signature work"—a project related to a problem important to the student and to society.

Clark Provost Davis Baird and Nancy Budwig, Associate Provost and Dean of Research, participated in the inaugural convening of the new consortium in May. Budwig and others from Clark, including Dean of the College Matt Malsky and Associate Dean and Director of the LEEP Center Michelle Bata, will attend a second convening this summer with Clark faculty joining the project when they return to campus in the fall. They will focus on aligning the work Clark is doing for AAC&U on the signature project with Clark's own ongoing LEEP (Liberal Education & Effective Practice) curricular framework efforts.

Key partners in AAC&Us efforts to make excellence inclusive, LEAP Challenge Institutions will become leaders in developing new connections between the content of liberal and general education, the needs of today's students, and the needs of the wider society "AAC&U is especially pleased to work with Clark University on our new LEAP Challenge project supported by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation," said AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider. "Clark has been a national leader in developing meaningful applied learning opportunities for students and working hard to integrate those experiences into coherent educational pathways for all students. We look forward to learning more as Clark and the other schools participate together in this initiative. We know that the efforts Clark has made and continues to make will be crucial in developing graduates with precisely the kind of complex problem solving employers and our society need."

A grant from The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations will support this initial project in an emerging family of initiatives designed to advance the goals of The LEAP Challenge.

"We know that about half of today's college students report doing some sort of culminating work," Geary Schneider said.  "When done well, this opportunity can help students engaged in precisely the kind of complex problem solving employers and our society need.  We are very grateful to The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations for their support of these leading institutions as they work to build on their existing capstone curricular designs and ensure that all their students are being prepared for and succeeding in completing integrative, inquiry-based signature work."

Along with Clark University, the initial cohort of LEAP Challenge Institutions includes:

  • Augustana College (IL)
  • Bates College (ME)
  • College of William and Mary (VA)
  • Connecticut College (CT)
  • Elizabethtown College (PA)
  • Nebraska Wesleyan University (NE)
  • Oberlin College (OH)

"Clark is honored to be invited into the consortium. The timing is perfect because faculty have just begun considering a ‘LEEP intensive requirement' that relates closely to the AAC&U's signature work project," Budwig said. "The opportunity to learn from other schools in the consortium, as well as the ability to draw on expertise from AAC&U leadership will be a tremendous help to Clark as we continue our reform efforts. We are particularly excited to learn about best practices related to student access since this has been a question raised by members of our faculty."

These LEAP Challenge Institutions will be working on culminating or signature work projects and how to prepare students for them. They will examine which of their students currently complete capstones and signature work, identify gaps in students' access to capstones and signature work, and work to redesign curricula and programs so that all students are well prepared to engage in significant capstone and signature work before they graduate.

AAC&U is the leading national association concerned with the quality, vitality, and public standing of undergraduate liberal education. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,300 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.

Founded in 1887 in Worcester, Massachusetts, Clark University is a liberal arts-based research university addressing social and human imperatives on a global scale. Nationally renowned as a college that changes lives, Clark is emerging as a transformative force in higher education today. LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) is Clark's pioneering model of education that combines a robust liberal arts curriculum with life-changing world and workplace experiences. Clark's faculty and students work across boundaries to develop solutions to complex challenges in the natural sciences, psychology, geography, management, urban education, Holocaust and genocide studies, environmental studies, and international development and social change. The Clark educational experience embodies the University's motto: Challenge convention. Change our world.