December 5, 2018 | Bringing It #5

Dear Friends, 

MISSION TALK AND ELEVATOR PITCHES

This summer we sent you a brief survey, seeking feedback about BTtoP’s mission, history, achievements, and next steps. We got back some sixty responses, which were enormously thoughtful and helpful. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

Here’s one of the big take-aways: members of the BTtoP community have an understanding of our mission that is positive and accurate—but  in our view, incomplete. For some, we’re a civic engagement project; for others, an initiative on student well-being. For some, we sponsor research; for others, we offer faculty development; for still others, we focus on student life.  All of these are true, and we love the support they express for the range of our work.

But they also point to the need for us to develop crisp, eloquent language that enables people to see our mission whole. As many folks told us, BTtoP needs a pithier elevator pitch—a description that can elicit a quick nod and a desire to learn more about us not just from insiders to our work, but from newcomers as well.

Here’s one version, perhaps for more academic audiences:

Bringing Theory to Practice is grounded in three convictions. We believe that higher education should be holistic and transformative, nurturing students’ intellectual growth, personal well-being, preparation for meaningful work, and democratic citizenship. We believe that “educating the whole student” has to include all students, no matter their background or interests. And we believe that the first two commitments require the reshaping of higher education. BTtoP works to advance these ideals through innovative practice, research, advocacy, and institutional change.

And here’s another, perhaps for more public forums:

All students deserve an education that lets them learn with joy, chart their own future, support their family and their community, and change the world. Bringing Theory to Practice works to improve and innovate higher education to deliver on that promise.

What do you think? We welcome your thoughts on how we can convey our mission and values in a compact, powerful way.

WHAT WE’RE LEARNING FROM OUR PARTNERS

Collaboration and Health Outcomes

BTtoP has put a growing emphasis on the role of inter-institutional collaboration in fostering innovation and systemic change. But what makes collaborative projects effective?

We’ve learned a lot from the field of health outcomes improvement—especially our friends at the Network for Improvement and Innovation in College Health (NIICH) based at NYU. NIICH has led a series of multi-institutional collaborations to improve health outcomes for college students—including the National College Depression Partnership, to which many BTtoP participants contributed. We look forward to partnering with NIICH in our ongoing work on student well-being.

NIICH projects draw on the “breakthrough series” model of collaborative improvement pioneered by the Institute for Health Improvement, described in the attached paper.  It argues that the improvement of health outcomes depends on institutional partners setting common goals together from the start, and then iteratively testing them in cycles of local projects and shared reflection.

We’ve found this helpful in planning our own collaborative work (even as we are mindful of the differences between educational and health outcomes), and we hope you’ll find this suggestive as well. Let us know what you think.

Two Documentaries on the Student Experience

Two recent documentaries offer a fresh window into the student journey to higher education, particularly for those typically underserved by the educational system. Personal Statement, directed by Juliane Dressner and Edwin Martinez, profiles three Brooklyn high school seniors, Karoline, Christine, and Enoch. All three work as peer mentors helping their fellow students apply for college -- all while not only applying for college themselves, but navigating complex personal, family life, and academic challenges. Personal Statement debuted on the opening night of the AFI Docs film festival in Washington, DC, and culminated with an audience Q&A with the students themselves.

The second film, Unlikely, is the result of Jaye Fenderson’s time as a former admissions officer at Columbia University. Directed by Fenderson and her husband, Adam, the film charts five nontraditional students as they attempt higher education for a second time, often confronting barriers such as full-time jobs, childcare costs, and debt. Both films are exemplary in that they highlight student voice and lift up the experiences of those usually not heard in the narrative surrounding higher education. We invite you not only to listen to their stories but to amplify their voices by sharing these films within your community.   

To see a trailer for Personal Statement, click here; to see a trailer for Unlikely, click here. Both films were also reviewed by Liz Willen in the Hechinger Report: click here for more information.

WHAT WE’RE READING

Tessa Hicks Peterson, a member of our advisory board and panelist on our upcoming session at AAC&U’s Annual Meeting, recently released a new book, Student Development and Social Justice: Critical Learning, Radical Healing, and Community Engagement. Hicks Peterson’s work underscores the role of student engagement in community-campus partnerships as a means of student development and community building for social justice.  Here’s what BTtoP’s founding Director, Don Harward, had to say about the book:

Professor Hicks Peterson succeeds in exploring the realities and the theoretical underpinnings of the linkages among action (social change) research and community engagement…and whether or not they suggest prescriptive patterns of actions, policies, and choices that align with core democratic values of social justice. She builds upon the work of Paulo Freire and John Dewey—connecting those theoretical foundations to community based actions and strategies—making a significant new contribution.

Bravo to Tessa Hicks Peterson for this important scholarship!

Thank you again for your collegiality and your work—we look forward to hearing from you.

Warmly,

David, Caitlin, & Mercedes