For more than a decade, Wagner College has been ranked by U.S. News, overall, among the Top 30 Northern Universities — in itself, a strong endorsement.
But there is one sector of the U.S. News collegiate rankings where Wagner College has consistently excelled in a really extraordinary way — in a group of “eight programs that education experts, including staff members of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, agree are key ... to student success.”
U.S. News, in collaboration with the AAC&U, created a list of eight programs that particularly contribute to student success, then asked academic leaders across the country “to nominate ... institutions with stellar examples of each.”
The programs U.S. News targeted were First-Year Experience, Internships, Learning Communities, Senior Capstone, Service Learning, Study Abroad, Undergraduate Research & Creative Projects, and Writing in the Disciplines.
And for 5 of the last 10 years, Wagner has been one of the very few colleges and universities in the nation that has been tagged by academic leaders in four or more of these eight program areas.
In fact, for the last 2 years, Wagner College has been ranked among the Top 7 schools in America for programs that indicate “a focus on student success,” as U.S. News calls them. Both years, Wagner was cited for its First-Year Experience, Internships, Learning Communities and Service Learning programs.
That’s why the editors of this year’s Best Colleges guide chose Wagner College as one of the schools to highlight in its introductory story along with a photograph of one of our recent graduates, Kellie Griffith, on Trautmann Square.
“Building community service into the coursework is another method a whole range of schools ... are using to engage students,” reporter Christopher Gearon wrote. “A sociology class might operate a food pantry, for example; an architecture class might design a green community center. By supplementing material covered in class with a team effort to actually solve problems in the community, service-learning courses help make ‘what’s happening in the textbooks come alive,’ says Richard Guarasci, president of Wagner College in New York City, a liberal arts school considered a leader in the practice.”
Gearon was particularly intrigued by President Guarasci’s description of one of the very first freshman learning communities offered when our signature curriculum, the Wagner Plan for the Practical Liberal Arts, was inaugurated in 1998. In that LC, called “Living on Spaceship Earth” or “Sustainability & Human Health,” students visited Toms River, N.J., for three visits to hear first-hand accounts — from victims, activists and corporate officials — related to the dumping of toxic chemicals in the river and apparent cancer clusters that some believe are connected to the dumping. The students then developed policy papers based on their research and met with members of Congress or their staff and with public-interest lobbying groups like Public Citizen in Washington, D.C., to make their case. The course, which developed through the years, was taught by biology professor Donald Stearns, who worked first with economics professor Jonathan Peters, then with Writing Center director Kim Worthy.
Gearon used the Toms River LC (without naming it) as an example of how first-year LCs set the stage for civic learning on Grymes Hill: “Wagner College tees up service learning from the get-go, combining it with first-year learning communities. Students choose a community and take courses that combine two seemingly disparate topics, such as introductory environmental biology and introductory economics, and consider them in an integrated manner — focusing on environmental sustainability, for example. The service component for that class gets students interacting with families and local officials and chemical company representatives in an area impacted by high cancer rates, researching how to improve community health, developing policy papers and taking ideas to members of Congress.”
Recent Wagner alumna Kellie Griffith, who is about to embark on a year-long tour in Ecuador as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, related to Gearon how her freshman LC had set the stage for the rest of her Wagner College career: “ ‘I fell in love with the community and fell in love with teaching English and Spanish,’ says Kellie Griffith, a 2014 Wagner grad from Long Island who spent time working in the Port Richmond community near campus. As part of her first-year learning community combining courses in Spanish and philosophy, she studied contemporary moral ethics and wrestled with immigration issues in class, then saw firsthand how existing policies affect the lives of area immigrants by volunteering at an immigrant advocacy center.”