How are we improving an undergrad’s experience?

Undergraduate Experience Symposium discusses incorporating High Impact Practices into curriculum

October 12, 2015

More than 180 faculty, staff and students gathered for the 11th annual Undergraduate Experience Symposium (UES), an event that invites the university community to identify ways to improve the undergraduate educational experience at CU Denver. This year’s symposium focused on how High Impact Practices (HIPs) can enrich the student experience, resulting in greater engaged learning and retention while equipping students with essential skills to thrive after college. The day featured panel discussions, breakout sessions and speakers identifying the significance of HIPs to the undergraduate experience.

Undergraduate Experience Symposium breakout sessions
Faculty, staff and students gathered to examine how HIPs can enhance the undergraduate experience at CU Denver.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Experiences Jeff Franklin selected HIPs as the main topic of this year’s gathering after attendees at last year’s symposium recommended implementing more experiential learning and High Impact Practices. Franklin formed a task force that profiled HIPs already in existence at CU Denver, as well as a baseline through which their effectiveness can be measured.

Understanding HIPs

HIPs can take a variety of forms and include such activities as writing intensive courses, undergraduate research, diversity/global learning, internships, capstone projects and community based learning.

CU Denver already offers many of these practices for students, which are reported to increase retention, promote diversity and engage students in learning. However, Franklin sees ample opportunity for the university to further include HIPs in the undergraduate experience.

“We can be much more intentional and explicit about the high impact practices we offer,” Franklin said. “We can pay a lot more attention to the quality of those HIPs because there is a national body of literature about how to do these things well.”

Franklin noted that accessibility to HIPs is a barrier for some students, and that the university could examine the array of HIPs currently available and increase offerings so that every student can take advantage of several prior to graduation.

“We know that students from lower income brackets can’t study abroad very easily because it’s expensive,” Franklin said. “We need to look at what we can do as a university to make that kind of deep learning experience available to those students. How can we be more equitable in offering it up?”

In addition, quality needs to be a focus when designing HIPs for programs.

“Simply requiring students to write an essay is not teaching writing,” Franklin said. “It’s not necessarily a writing intensive course. Having an assignment requiring teamwork is not teaching students how to work collaboratively in that course. There’s a lot of work we can do as an institution to make our HIPs higher quality.”

Importance of HIPs

Undergraduate Experience Symposium-2015
George Kuh outlined the importance of HIPs and how they are becoming essential to student success.

Keynote speaker George Kuh, adjunct professor at the University of Illinois and Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Higher Education at Indiana University Bloomington, stressed that HIPs are increasingly crucial for students as the career landscape continues to evolve.

“Completing a degree is a hollow achievement if students don’t leave with dispositions, proficiencies and knowledge bases that they are going to need to build on for the rest of their personal and professional lives,” Kuh said. “We need graduates who are ready to go right now. Twenty-five years ago, companies were willing to put grads through a 6-month training to give them what they needed to perform. That is no longer the case.”

The importance of being nimble enough to adapt to new environments and situations is even more vital given that today’s undergraduates will hold 10–14 jobs by the time they are 38, according to statistics presented by Kuh from the Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

HIPs change lives

Seven CU Denver students or recent graduates spoke at the symposium about their HIP experiences. Emma Sletteland, who graduated in May, presented on her undergraduate experience and said that HIPs helped her to grow academically, personally and professionally. Sletteland studied abroad twice, once in France and once in Morocco—both trips were instrumental in helping her find her passion for international education.

“These were both incredible, transformative and mind-opening experiences that I will never forget,” Sletteland said. Studying abroad led me to find direction in my career path and brought me to the job I have today.”

In addition to Global Education, she also participated in a capstone class for the University Honors and Leadership Program, which required Sletteland and peers to design and execute a yearlong group service project that would meet a need in the community. This assignment resulted in the creation of the International Engagement Certificate program. Sletteland noted that while the project could be challenging and frustrating at times, it was also extremely rewarding.

“When I look back on my undergraduate years, the HIPs are the parts I will remember,” Sletteland said. “These are the experiences I will be telling people about for years to come. These were the parts that really mattered, that took time, energy and effort; that pushed me to grow and learn; and led me to where I am today.”

Moving forward

The symposium ended with a panel discussion including George Kuh, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Roderick Nairn, College of Architecture and Planning Dean Mark Gelernter, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Pamela Jansma, School of Education and Human Development Dean Rebecca Kantor, School of Public Affairs Dean Paul Teske, and SGA President David Heisler.

Panelists discussed takeaways from the day’s symposium and suggested ways to move forward.

General enthusiasm prevailed for HIPs currently offered by CU Denver and at the prospect of expanding offerings to enrich the student experience. However several panelists noted that structure and resources would need to be offered to be able to offer HIPs broadly and with high quality experiences.

Nairn pledged to review survey data taken from symposium attendees and see how HIPs might be supported across campus.

“Assuming that we get the kind of positive response that we anticipate, I think we should continue to try to support HIPS, and I’ll do what I can to find resources for pilot projects related to professional learning communities and pilot projects for incorporating HIPs into degree programs,” Nairn said. “I think this is something that is very important. It could make a huge difference to the campus. It is what we are referring to when we say we help students to ‘Learn with Purpose.’”