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Our goal is an education second to none
September 14, 1998

One of the University of Connecticut's strategic goals is to be the university of first choice for undergraduates by providing a comprehensive educational experience second to none. As President Austin wrote in the Advance of August 31, the University takes seriously the importance of undergraduate education in a public research university. He underlined this seriousness of purpose by stating that we must never lose sight of "our fundamental mission as an educator of young people."

In 1995, a blueprint for the undergraduate experience was offered to the University community by the Strategic Planning Implementation Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience. Based on the concept of mileposts, this blueprint suggested that we measure the effectivenes s of the undergraduate experience by the performance of our students at three points in their academic careers: (1) After three weeks, students should have begun to establish a personal support network of faculty, staff, and students. (2) Between the third and fourth semesters, students should have developed mastery of all foundational skills and an integrated understanding of their general education course work; they should also have clear goals for their education in their major and understand the relationship of the curriculum to the world of work. (3) At commencement, students should be well prepared for their next stage of life and learning and they should have the faculty connections to support this transition.

The past few years have, therefore, witnessed sustained attention to undergraduate education. Our early efforts concentrated on the transition from high school to university and on the First Year Experience. We have made real progress.

  • Throughout recruitment and orientation, the emphasis has shifted to assure a focus on academics. This year, for example, we instituted the freshman reading project in which incoming students read the novel Amistad by David Pesci and participated in discussion groups during their first days on campus.

  • We made changes in the Weeks of Welcome (WOW), redesigning them around the needs of first-year students and including a strong academic component. We inaugurated freshmen-only move-in. We held a Convocation for new students and their families, that was attended by more than 5,000. In sum, we made a serious effort to make students welcome and to give them a sense of academic purpose.

  • The establishment of an Academic Center for Exploratory Students (ACES) is helping students reach their full potential. ACES is the academic home for students who are undecided about their academic major and for students who are working to gain admission to one of the University's schools or colleges. ACES, in collaboration with all of the University's academic resources, provides academic advising and related services designed to guide students toward appropriate majors.

  • UConn 2000 is transforming the physical environment. A new South Campus complex, the creation of an academic core, and the continuing classroom renovation program are all exciting manifestations of the impact the UConn 2000 initiative is having on all our lives.

  • The number of faculty members incorporating technology and multimedia in their classes is steadily increasing through the efforts of the Institute for Teaching and Learning and such entities as the Faculty Resource Laboratory.

  • Many more faculty members are offering seminars to first-year students, and other faculty are involved in enhancing the research experience for more advanced students. Students, therefore, have better access to faculty and have more opportunity to benefit from more direct educational experiences than ever before.

  • One-third of our first-year students are being taught learning skills by individuals from across the campus under the First Year Experience program.

  • One of the new South Campus residence halls has been designated as an honors hall. The goal is to build an environment for honors students that blends together their academic and living experiences. This merging of living and learning is similarly true in residential grouping by academic interest.

We have come a long way; we have a way yet to go.

  • We can offer even more seminar-sized courses.

  • We must continue to increase research opportunities.

  • We must build on the enhancements and progress made in Babbidge Library in order to assure students access to information in all its forms, via all media.

  • We can create a highly articulated advising and counseling structure which ensures that students are appropriately placed upon entry to the University, that makes the transitions and junctures clear, and which catches students before they falter.

  • We can increase the excitement of the first-year experience by including blocks of integrated courses - for example, linked composition and Western civilization courses tied together with a one-unit faculty seminar - and well-developed links between academic and co-curricular experiences.

  • We must construct a general education structure that is sensitive to the fact that many students change majors and colleges in the course of their academic careers; an.

  • We must make sure that the final academic year involves focused preparation for the student's next life-step, including an intensive research, or other capstone, experience.

To restate, we have accomplished a great deal, especially given that change in a university is often best measured in geologic time, or at best by historical epoch. The changes that have been made accrue not only to the benefit of the University, but most importantly, to the benefit of its students. We shall continue to progress.