Welcome to this first issue of the Bringing Theory to Practice Newsletter. The primary purpose of this newsletter is to communicate with a wide audience of institutions and interested individuals about the current activities, programs, research initiatives, and new opportunities supported by the Project. Announcements of funding opportunities and requests for proposals, news of relevant scholarly work, contact information for those persons and agencies that are doing or supporting new and positive work in areas of material interest, profiles of specific campus efforts, and timely announcements and previews of conferences, workshops, and seminar opportunities will all be features of the BTtoP newsletter.
An equally important purpose of the BTtoP Newsletter will be to encourage communication between and among multiple audiences. This will mean that “reports, advice, or questions” from readers of the newsletter will be included in future issues and will serve to stimulate greater interaction not only within the Project but also among institutions and interested individuals.
Five years ago the letterhead for the Project stated: “BTtoP is a Project addressing depression and substance abuse among youth (ages 15 to 25) through engaged learning and service.” It is through these “windows” into a set of issues that the Project has evolved. While the Project continues to support attention to them specifically, the more basic issues and needs of which they are symptomatic have become the focus. Success in translating an early hunch into a confirmed hypothesis emerged from research, scores of campus-based initiatives, and controlled and evaluated demonstration site projects.
The preponderance of evidence continues to grow and supports the reasonableness and urgency for making campus changes and re-ordering campus priorities to make a culture for student learning and development more achievable and sustainable.
To this extent the Project is committed to transformation—institutional transformation where possible and sustainable— helping institutions create contexts for student transformation through liberal education by helping campuses plan, implement, and assess their cultures for learning, with emphases on opportunities for advancing academic, emotional (wellbeing), and civic outcomes.
The Project is aided by a twenty-five member advisory board comprised of educators, policy makers, philanthropists, counselors, researchers, faculty and students. Each of them has joined co-founder Sally E. Pingree and myself in helping to guide the Project.
More than $6 million from foundations and individual donors makes possible the work of the Project; this support, in turn, has inspired an additional approximately $5.5 million in matched support. Grants are provided to campuses with the common objective of initiating and sustaining transformative change. To date, more than one hundred grants to over seventy colleges and universities have been awarded by the Project; hundreds of campus faculty, administrators, and students have attended subsidized BTtoP conferences, workshops and seminars; and support makes possible research publications and evaluative studies which are available at no cost on the BTtoP Web site. Copies of the BTtoP brochure, descriptive literature and guidelines for proposals are available on the Web or directly from Jennifer O’Brien, Project Coordinator (202-884-0815 or Obrien@aacu.org).
As I direct the Project, I am inspired by two observations about education made by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays (Bates ’21) who served as president of Morehouse College and was a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Paraphrasing, the first reminds us that colleges don’t “emancipate” students; they must do that for themselves. What the college must do is provide a context that encourages students to choose to be free—free from ignorance, prejudice, superficiality, and the narrowness of a single perspective and the boundaries of limited expectations. The second reminds us that aspiration is the most underrated of virtues— that “it’s not failure but low aim that’s a sin.”
To the extent that ideas guide actions, these observations guide the Project. We work in practical and supportive ways to help colleges and universities provide contexts for student liberation; and we champion models that lift the aspiration of students as they realize the full promise of a liberal education.