Students Leading Students: Undergraduate Fellows at Ursinus

President's Perspective

October 2012

This October column was delayed while we at Ursinus made sure our students were safe during Hurricane Sandy. While the campus was spared extensive damage, I know that many of you struggled or are still struggling with power outages, flood damage and other hardships. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Recently at the Jack Miller Summit on Higher Education in Chicago, Andrew Delbanco, Director of American Studies at Columbia University (and our 2010 commencement speaker), spoke about the principles of liberal education in his book, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be. He specifically noted Ursinus as an excellent example of what such a college should be.

One Ursinus practice is to offer its students the opportunity to be mentors to their peers. While large universities have long used graduate students to teach courses, liberal arts colleges are beginning to employ undergraduate fellows to assist in specific activities such as staffing a writing center or doing research with faculty. Ursinus offers these opportunities. But at Ursinus, we also have introduced a new dimension to peer mentorship that excited the attendees at the Jack Miller conference.

Two recent grants have enabled the College to create a cadre of thirteen Fellows for the Center for Science and the Common Good and a group of seven CIE Fellows. (The CIE, Common Intellectual Experience, is the required first-year course built around classic writings and questions of human existence). Our Fellows act as advocates and discussion organizers for their subjects — peer models who can get other students excited about the personal and societal implications of what they learn.

The Center for Science and Common Good (CSCG) was created this academic year through a generous grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Beyond establishing the Fellows program, the CSCG mounts a speaker’s series (and has already hosted Dr. Richard Heinzl, founder of the Canadian Doctors Without Borders). The Center also will sponsor a science writer in residence to teach strategies of communicating science to the public and will recruit science majors from underrepresented minority groups. The Fellows take two special courses in addition to their peer mentoring roles as they prepare for leadership positions in science and the public sphere.

Our CSCG Fellows are expected to engage the campus community in a continuing dialogue on science and public policy. They are charged with melding science and the liberal arts at Ursinus and, by publicizing and overseeing activities of the Center, drawing in students who previously would not have taken an interest in scientific issues. “We want to make other students think about what their role is as science meets the 21st Century,” said one.

CSCG Fellows
Center for Science and Common Good Fellows

The Science Fellows include a quarterback on the football team who has taken an interest in youth leadership, the student clinical coordinator of the Ursinus College Medical Services and a student from Vietnam who wants to open a free medical clinic there. Read about them here.

The CIE Fellows are supported by a grant from The Mellon Foundation to create a partnership between Ursinus College’s Common Intellectual Experience amd Columbia University’s well-known core curriculum required of all undergraduates. The CIE course encourages all first-year students to grapple with three perennial questions: What does it mean to be human? How should we live our lives? What is the universe and our place in it?

The Fellows work as course guides with our first-year students in their respective sections of CIE. They meet together twice a week to organize ways of connecting the class to the residential experience. They enlist the assistance of Resident Assistants in promoting discussions, and they accompany their CIE students to events. Our Student Life staff reports animated discussions in the residence halls and an accompanying excitement about the CIE.

One CIE Fellow said she realized the value of the CIE when she was studying abroad and could make sense of her experience of the past by reference to what she learned in CIE. Another noted that while he was in high school, interaction in class merely confirmed his long-held beliefs. But he was excited to find that in his CIE class, he found texts and discussions that challenged and sharpened his thinking.

We often speak of what makes Ursinus special. The leadership roles played by our undergraduate Fellows are a strength of the College. Most important, the entire student body benefits.

Go, Bears!
Bobby Fong
President

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