Categorized | News

Strategic Planning Group outlines College’s future

SPG presented posters at events attended by faculty, staff and students, garnering comments from campus community 

Samuel Casey

News Editor

On Thursday, Jan. 24, members of the Strategic Planning Group (SPG) and the Campus Sustainability Committee (CSC) presented posters to students in the Wilson Governance Room regarding six different themes: Relationships, Connection & Community, Student Engagement & Involvement, Comprehensive Advising & Mentoring, Student Support & Well-Being, Applied & Experiential Learning and Sustainability.

According to the Strategic Planning & Priorities Advisory Committee’s (SPAAC) College wiki page, “[the] SPG is the President-appointed group tasked with advising the President on the College’s strategic plan” and is made up of faculty, students and administration.

The members of SPG are divided into five different working groups and each focus on a different theme. In collaboration with CSC, which was responsible for its respective theme, the poster session allowed students to see the progress of the Group in the six different areas of study and listen to members discuss their findings.

Nathan Fein, co-chair of Relationships, Connections & Community, and director of Residence Life, explained that the goal of this working group was to find out what a great residential experience would look like and how Lowry Center could be renovated to support a more inclusive space. Some of their ideas include upgrading physical residential spaces “to match expectations of excellence in service and support” and diversifying dining options to possibly include a “fast food option, locally-sourced healthy option and allergy-free station.”

Fein also discussed the potential for a “Woo Welcome Week,” an off-campus team-building experience for first-year students, and a sophomore experience that would focus on leadership, advising and career planning.

Emily Stoehr ’20 is a member of the Student Engagement & Inclusion group which focused on how the College could be a more fun and engaged social environment. She noted that there are many things getting in the way of this goal. “Some of the challenges that [prevent] this from happening on campus are students being over-programmed with multiple events, meetings or classes happening on the same day,” Stoehr stated.

She explained that students will often choose a meeting that they are heavily involved in rather than going to an event of a new group. This creates a paradox because up-and-coming groups are in need of involvement, but students that would have attended cannot due to being over-programmed. The proposed solution would involve making it easier to do things spontaneously, introducing a “social mentor” to first-year students and focusing on the quality of events versus the quantity.

“We hope all of [our ideas] will culminate in a really involved and excited campus to do a wide variety of things instead of a select few students being super involved,” Stoehr said.

The Comprehensive Advising & Mentoring group asked what successes the College has had in advising and how can the isolated nature between advising and mentorship be improved without increasing time commitment. They had the idea to make advising central to the faculty workload — discussing it during the hiring process, considering it in faculty reviews and giving 1.5 teaching credits for first-year seminar (FYS).

According to a 2009 Advising Task Force report, “The College does not need to create a new set of developmental advising resources but rather to increase student understanding and use of those we have.”

The working group is looking to the arrival of the new Provost and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office (CDEIO) as an opportunity to “launch further comprehensive professional development for advisors and mentors.”

The goals for the Student Support and Well-Being group include defining support and well-being as a campus-wide philosophy, providing a holistic approach to student support and involving all members of the campus community in the creation of resources that everyone can access.

Stachal Harris ’21, a member of the group and the Campus Council (CC) representative on SPG, spoke about what areas have captured her attention. “I have really been trying to focus on are the resources that we already have here on campus and finding a way to put them in one spot where students know where they are [instead of saying] that the school doesn’t have them. The school just isn’t promoting them really well,” she said. 

Harris also spoke about the importance of mental health awareness. “I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get mental health first-aid training on campus,” she explained. “I want someone to be certified and be able to train staff and faculty, so it can be another way of being on the lookout for students … especially since there are not always enough counselors for them to set up an appointment.” 

The Applied & Experiential Learning (EL) working group has explored the best ways to market the current EL opportunities and how the campus culture can better revolve around EL. According to their research, EL is already a strong focus at the College because of Independent Study (I.S.) and APEX Fellowships. Other universities use various key phrases, EL centers for faculty development and intentional advising to better market their own EL programs.

To help move forward, the group proposed that the College could “reimagine marketing to align with the expectations of the public.” Focusing on the language of internships, for example, could make Wooster more attractive to students and is more specific than “experiential learning.” Additionally, promoting EL in coursework and allowing each department to establish one EL initiative or course would help students become more well-rounded without the same rigor as I.S. Laying out the steps for student development over their four years through intentional advising or “campus communities” made up of faculty, staff and peers could help place less of a stressful burden on the students alone.

While it is not one of the five SPG working groups, CSC also presented a poster at the event. CSC is comprised of students, faculty and staff and functions to coordinate information and practices relating to sustainability on campus. The committee was commissioned by President Sarah Bolton to create a five-year sustainability plan that will be presented at the next Board of Trustees meeting in March. According to Abbi Tarburton ’22, a student member of CSC, “[The] number one goal for our plan is to get a sustainability coordinator or director on campus as soon as possible because it is not fair to put all of this pressure on the students.”

Currently, CSC is drafting a job description, but this will take a lot of research since the group is working with a “blank slate.” Tarburton added that other schools that are similar to Wooster have a sustainability coordinator.

“We kind of had one before … they were a student who had recently graduated and hung on for a little while,” Tarburton said. “It was really great [because] we got the Sustainability Training and Rating System (S.T.A.R.S.) report done and we did an energy audit … but then they went to pursue other things.”

In addition to the proposed new position, the five-year plan will also outline the need to reduce the College’s carbon dioxide emissions and overall waste.

“We also have a handful of sub-committees that are made up of people outside of [CSC] that any student can join and are focused specifically on energy, education, food, waste and recycling,” Tarburton mentioned.

Henry Mai ’20, the Student Government Association (SGA) representative who is a member of both SPG and SPAAC, summed up the overall goals of the groups. “SPAAC was created to find the best way forward for Wooster over the course of the next five or 10 or 15 years,” Mai explained. “It is working on what direction or campus is headed. Many of our goals are long-term, but we are trying to figure out where we stand now.”

All of the SPG groups encouraged students to provide feedback on their ideas to see if they are headed in the right direction. Students can reach out to any members of the SPG groups, Professor Tom Tierney, chair of SPAAC, or Chief Information and Planning Officer Ellen Falduto, vice chair of SPAAC.

 

wnature of international student orientation could be an area for improvement, as well. While it aims to equip new international students with the knowledge and resources they need as quickly as possible upon arriving on campus, it may not be sustained enough to be fostering their well-being and social connection after that initial few weeks.

“It’s six days of back-to-back events where information is being thrown at you. That’s difficult to change, but it doesn’t really ease of guide you into this new environment. You don’t really have any time to process it, and then on the seventh day classes start.”

Chingonzo agreed, suggesting that the differing arrival times for domestic and international students may play a role in the social disconnect between the two student populations as well.

 “By the time that the domestic students arrive, people don’t really put in the effort, because you’ve already settled into friend groups – I think something should be done about that. If domestic and international students started school at the same time, it would make it much more intuitive. People wouldn’t have to put in so much effort to leave their comfort zones.

 “For one, I feel that the disconnect between international and domestic students exists when international students don’t get involved on campus,” said Saeed Husain ’21, speaking to the need for more sustained orientation and outreach. “It gets tough after your first few months here – there needs to be constant outreach to have everyone included.”

Chingonzo and Khan agreed that programs such as IPP or the Global Engagement Seminar had been very positive elements of their experiences and that such initiatives should be more widely promoted to international and domestic students alike. 

Chingonzo feels that the College community will know that it is doing a better job in supporting its international population when more international students are filling leadership positions across campus, especially as residential assistants and in student governing bodies. Chingonzo noted that he will be the only international student among the 24 members of the Student Government Association next year. [Is this true??] “That, to me, is indicative of something.”

However, the work that lies ahead shouldn’t undercut or devalue the work that is currently being done. “I would say that International Student Services at the CDI has probably the best people I know on campus,” Husain emphasized. “Both Jill Munro and Kendra Morehead are just amazing and so incredibly receptive towards international kids. Their doors are always open, and we can talk to them about anything from classes to the issues we face with our visa.”

“I think the College does a lot, above and beyond what most colleges do,” Chingonzo agreed.

Addressing the new changes and the challenges ahead, Munro feels that every member of the community must stand collectively on a path forward. “The College strives to support students as best they can, but there is always additional work that can be done. As our international population continues to grow, everyone in the Wooster community has a responsibility to help welcome them, learn from them and appreciate the new perspectives and values they bring.”

As Munro highlights, it is the role of every member of the College community to be actively working to improve the climate for Wooster’s internationals. What is it that the student body needs to be doing better?

Several students emphasized that domestic students must work harder to educate themselves on global perspectives instead of simply expecting international students to assimilate into American culture.

There’s a lot of pressure on international students to just assimilate within the college evvironment and American society without actually recognizing the cultural differences in place. It shouldn’t just be on the international students to assimilate, it should also be that the host environment is a place that understands those.

“The cultural events are good,” Husain added, “but I feel that the student body generally sees them just as a form of entertainment and not as a chance to genuinely connect with another culture.”

Cultural competency and awareness of microaggressions play a major in the work that lies ahead for Wooster’s domestic students as well. 

“While I haven’t faced direct racism from anyone on campus, I’ve received what I feel is casual racism,” said Husain, describing instances of peers telling him that he was only hired as a tour guide because he was international. “I checked the numbers, and it turns out that I was the only international student hired amongst around 20 new hires.” 

“I think it comes down to not being ignorant,” said Khan. “I’ve witnessed people talking to an international student in the most condescending way possible. And it’s like, why? … There’s that kind of ideology where just because English isn’t someone’s first language, you have some sort of superiority over them.” 

 “If you wanted, I would be 100% willing to tell you everything about Pakistan,” Khan continued. “I want to educate you. I want to spread awareness about where I’ve grown up, this place that has been such a big part of my life. But I also don’t appreciate being asked questions that are demeaning to my people. It’s all in the rhetoric that’s used.”

 

(Photo by Samuel Casey)

This post was written by:

- who has written 64 posts on The Wooster Voice.


Contact the author

Leave a Reply