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The St. Lawrence of the Future: Carrying Academic Innovation to New Heights

In his remarks at the opening of last May’s Faculty College, Vice President of the University and Dean of Academic Affairs Grant H. Cornwell ’79 spoke on “Student Purpose, Institutional Mission, and Graduation Outcomes.” His thoughts are excerpted and edited below.

The mission of St. Lawrence University is to provide an inspiring and demanding undergraduate education in the liberal arts to students selected for their seriousness of purpose and intellectual promise.

Coming from one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, our graduates leave here with the knowledge, skills, credentials to have what we might call “social access.”  They go on to graduate and professional schools, and careers that situate them to have significant influence on this and future generations.  So we have a profound social obligation to this and future generations to graduate students not just who can make a difference, but who can and will use their access and influence to work for social justice, environmental sustainability and world peace. Through our work, we are, to some measure, accountable to the near- and long-term future of humanity.

We articulate a set of learning aims and objectives for our students.  They are our statement of what we mean by a liberal education: 
1. A depth of understanding in at least one field of study
2. The ability to read, write, speak and listen well
3. The ability to conduct research and to think critically
4. An understanding of diverse cultures
5. An understanding of scientific principles and methods
6. An understanding of the natural environment
7. An expansion of aesthetic sensibilities and capacities
8. A personal ethic of considered values.

To what extent do our graduates fulfill these objectives?  How do we know? Faculty advisors become mentors and reviewers of students’ progress.  They substitute talking about how to check off the necessary requirements with conversations about how to pursue the University’s mission, and demonstrate engagement with our fundamental purpose. If you bookend this approach with the First-Year Program and a Senior-Year Experience, you have a powerfully transformative educational program.  

What do the students think?  Last spring Thelmo passed a resolution that I swear was 100% a student-driven initiative.  I quote from the Resolution on Academic Advising at St. Lawrence University:

  • “Whereas, students need to accept greater responsibility for academic development;
  • Whereas, periodic student reflections will help shape a more comprehensive advising process that will promote consideration and revision of future goals;
  • Whereas, students and faculty need to work together to foster better relationships conducive to advising;
  • Whereas, this approach will aid students in their consideration of current and future (specifically post-graduate) options;
  • Whereas, this process will promote greater campus involvement in co-curricular activities in areas of personal interest and practical application;
  • Whereas, advisors will be able to take a more active role in aiding students based on individual knowledge of them that can enhance areas of self-exploration and interest;

Therefore, we, the members of the Thelomathesian Society, support the goals, aims and objectives under academic advising as presented in the white paper document, ‘Academic Planning at St. Lawrence University.’”

            Think the students wouldn’t value an approach to mentored academic planning that asked them to make meaning of their course of studies?  Just ask them. Our students want to engage in this work, and crave the mentoring to do it well.
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