March 14, 2019 | Bringing It #11: MIGs, Town Halls, and Reflections

Dear friends,

We spent much of last week reading the proposals that were submitted for our Multi-Institutional Innovation Grants—or MIGs, as we’ve come to call them.  We will be reaching out in the coming days to the teams that were awarded grants, as well as to all the applicants.  And we will follow up with an announcement to you about the projects that received support.

But first we wanted to celebrate the impressive volume, diversity, and creativity of the proposals.  All in all, there were 95 applications for grants, involving more than three hundred colleges and universities, as well as dozens of other organizational partners.  Given the relatively modest funding we were able to offer (a maximum of $7000 per grant) and the requirement of forging multi-institutional partnerships, we had originally expected perhaps thirty or forty applications. The sheer amount of interest was exciting.

So was the creativity and range of the proposals.  Many more deserved support than we had support to give.  Their plans were wonderfully varied: civic engagement networks, community-based arts initiatives, faculty development institutes on new pedagogies and new student needs, policy networks, curricular partnerships between community colleges and four-year institutions.  And interestingly there were patterns of shared interest among different applications: multiple proposals for interdisciplinary STEM teaching, for instance, multiple efforts to incorporate design-thinking and “fab labs” (fabrication laboratories) into liberal learning.

All of which has us thinking hard about how to build on these potential connections.  We’ve had to make decisions that will inevitably leave excellent proposals disappointed.  But beyond that, the MIG process points toward the gelling of a larger community of practice.  It confirms our hunch—our hope—that there is a hunger for collaboration across the BTtoP network.  And it puts the lie to critics who complain about the lack of innovation in higher education.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a proposal (and to the Selection Committee members, who had the difficult task of choosing among them).  You’ve inspired us with your creative energy.

What We’re Learning From Our Partners: CSU Chico’s Town Hall

We’ve been talking all year about our desire to showcase the innovative work spread throughout the BTtoP network.  With some 360 grantees, our community is a treasure trove of practice-wisdom, research, and educational creativity.  Bringing It gives us an opportunity to lift up their work.  Here’s a great start: Cal State Chico’s Town Hall.

As the culmination of the First Year Experience course on American government, the Town Hall is a public forum devoted to student voice on public affairs.  Students engage faculty, administrators, community members, and their peers on the policy issues they’ve researched.  Each year the Town Hall attracts a campus-wide audience of more than 700 participants, including dozens of community-based participants.  The results have been impressive, boosting retention and catalyzing students’ curiosity and growth. We found the below Town Hall video fascinating (click on picture to watch)!

We’re proud to have supported two grants for the Chico Town Hall.  It’s a wonderful example of the kind of integrative, engaged learning BTtoP works for.  The Town Hall has become a known model for integrating civic learning, research, and student development in the First Year Experience.  Bravo!

We welcome the opportunity to spotlight your stories from across the BTtoP network. Please feel free to drop us a line at info@bttop.org if you have videos or other products we can share. We look forward to hearing from you!

Annual Meeting Reflections

Many thanks to Carol Day, Director of Health Education Services at Georgetown University, for taking up our invitation to reflect on the AAC&U Annual Meeting:  

During the entire conference but especially in the Fishbowls, our hearts beat in synchronicity when we considered injustices, the power of high impact practices, what could be done and why, and the jarring reality of how to ignite social change to benefit the marginalized. We need to prioritize the whole student and teach what we know—content and process. We need to identify the impact of diminished bandwidth and increase the capacity for resilience. We need to think through how to quantify or qualify what we are doing in relationship to students.

We rarely have these kinds of conversations with colleagues. We remain caught up in the workload, the mundane, the petty politics, the limited resources, the power plays, the hierarchy. But how can we meet the needs of our current students without actually having substantive conversations about these things?

We are well aware that our students are engaged in profound struggles—to manage themselves, their very real and nuanced identities, their mental health, the complexity of relationships, the #MeToo in academia movement, their finances, their freedom, and much more. Their reality is fraught with so much difficulty that avoidance is easy and inevitable, but neither we nor they can afford to do that.

Well-being needs to be central to everything that we do in Higher Ed. It is vital for all. Why isn’t this the highest priority of every college and university? Who can learn when they are beleaguered and their bandwidth is so low?

We need more education about just how students’ identities and intersectionalities impact their presence as learners. How can we communicate better across our intergenerational intersections to provide an education for each individual and all of our students? We don’t need degrees in neuroscience or psychology to read the reports and understand the survey data about mental health in college students. Look around us.

I found the Fishbowls so mesmerizing that I didn’t want to replace anyone, I just wanted to hear more! It was intellectually stimulating collective brainstorming to problem solve the thorny issues in Higher Ed.

BTtoP is our change agent. It needs to be at the forefront and central to our collective mission in higher education and in AAC&U. BTtoP is the heartbeat, the vision, the mind meld, the mixing bowl, the water we live and swim in! Let’s stay in the conversation and connected. There is so much meaningful work to be done!

Carol’s generous words set a high standard for BTtoP—we will work hard to approach it.  But her final sentences seem to us exactly right—for you, our readers, and for us.  Let’s stay in the conversation and connected.  There is so much meaningful work to be done.

With thanks for all you do,

Caitlin, Mercedes, and David