First-Year Program wins 2005 Hesburgh Award

First-Year Program wins 2005 Hesburgh Award

Hesburgh award            Wagner College of Staten Island, New York has been chosen as the recipient of the 2005 TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award in recognition of “The Wagner College First-Year Program,” an innovative, learning-community approach to education that integrates traditional learning with experiential, field-based learning and reflective learning inside and outside the classroom.

Established in 1993 by TIAA-CREF to recognize faculty development programs that enhance undergraduate teaching and learning, the Hesburgh Award is named in honor of Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame. The Hesburgh Award recognizes outstanding “faculty development programs that enhance undergraduate teaching and learning.” The award acknowledges “an energized faculty is the key to educational excellence.”

“We are honored to be recognized for the uniqueness and success of our First-Year Program,” said Wagner President Richard Guarasci. “By giving students a personal reason to learn through involvement in community-based experiences we hope to facilitate critical thinking and communication skills that are necessary for responsible citizenry and civic engagement in the local and global community.”

“I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to our faculty members, who have been so integrally involved in the First-Year Program than this award,” said Wagner Board of Trustees Chairman Jay P. Hartig. “It is a confirmation of the leadership of the college and the program's effectiveness in make higher education relevant to students. It gives them a personal reason to learn.”

The college was presented with the award at the American Council on Education Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

“We are honored to receive the coveted Hesburgh Award, which recognizes the Wagner College faculty for creating and implementing a student-centered, community-linked, interdisciplinary First-Year Program,” Wagner Provost Devorah Lieberman said, “and we look forward to deepening this program at Wagner College and furthering our students’ connections to communities locally, nationally and globally.”

Wagner, with an undergraduate population of 1,970 students, has seen freshman enrollment increase by 25 percent, and freshman-sophomore retention grow from 68 percent to 90 percent. In 2005, the college’s endowment has increased to $23 million.

“This award shines a national light on the collective professionalism of the Wagner College faculty, who have focused on student learning as participants in the First-Year Program since its debut in the fall of 1998,” added Associate Provost Donald Stearns.

The Wagner College First-Year Program is an innovative, learning-community approach to education that integrates traditional learning with experiential, field-based learning and reflective learning inside and outside the classroom. The program is coordinated and taught by full-time faculty, who plan their courses and shape the experiences with overlapping assignments, common readings and joint problems linked to the learning community theme.

The program is sustained by First-Year Program faculty through exchange of best practices during monthly meetings and an annual faculty retreat; the Center for Experiential Learning, which helps coordinate field experiences; the Writing Center, which trains tutors to provide writing assistance; the library, which trains tutors to assist students in information searches for research papers; and the Academic and Cultural Enrichment Speaker Forum, which coordinates presentations with assignments and topics.

The purpose of the First-Year Program is to make higher education relevant to students to give them a personal reason to learn by involving them in community-based experiences linked to the lecture topics, as well as providing venues for discussion, reflection, connection-making, and critical thinking.

The major educational goal stemming from this relevance-based approach is to begin college-level development of critical thinking and civic thinking skills, together with communication skills and exposure to diversity issues that are necessary for responsible citizenry and civic engagement in the local and global community. Five years of assessment measures of student survey responses to the program have been positive and show improvement since the program was implemented in 1998.

The First-Year Program allows Wagner College to achieve a more fully integrated interdisciplinary curriculum without adding significantly more new classes, while achieving common student learning goals through using a clustered model of learning. Second, it links the institution to its location, allowing students to learn and increase their civic engagement, resulting in garnering millions of dollars which have been used to increase the number of full-time and tenure-track faculty, update the library, and fund a fully operating program of co-curricular activities including a major speaker series, a writing center, a tutoring center and a center for experiential learning.