The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet followed a clarion call — a gospel call to love God and neighbor without distinction and a wholehearted response to do all of which women are capable.
In 1905, they established the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University) to educate and empower women as a part of that calling. And to this day, St. Kate’s responds to this clarion call — now resounding globally — to educate women to lead and influence by powering lives of meaning.
The importance of postsecondary education has never been clearer: to produce global citizens engaged in meaningful careers. The COVID-19 pandemic, accompanying economic crisis, and racial unrest have highlighted the importance of leadership: leaders who are flexible and can work through a crisis, leaders who can understand and work within systems, and leaders who have global awareness and cultural fluency.
Students today need to develop critical inquiry and thinking skills in order to address these complex problems from multiple perspectives with creative solutions — as well as work on and lead collaborative interdisciplinary teams, translate science and research for lay audiences, and engage others in change. Oftentimes, employers are looking for graduates who have 21st-century or soft skills, including good communication (oral and written), collaboration and teamwork, the ability to show initiative, and others.
At St. Catherine University, it is our responsibility and commitment to provide curricular and cocurricular activities that prepare students to meet these needs, be responsive to the times, and be the leaders our society is seeking. The University’s strategic plan, Setting Our Sails, outlines initiatives and objectives to meet this charge while strengthening academic excellence and outcomes for students across all degree levels.
To this end, when I arrived as provost, I established a steering committee to develop the Academic Master Plan and related initiatives to provide a path for students to develop the skills and outcomes that guide them to be informed global citizens, influential leaders, and in-demand with employers. The plan sets intentional curricular and co-curricular programs and activities for all students that promote cultural fluency through the expansion of interdisciplinary programs, develops the Katie Compass pathways, and establishes the Office of Scholarly Engagement. Lastly, the plan embraces the Sisters’ call with the needs of today’s world and sets forth a renewed clarion call to the next generation of Katie leaders and influencers.
The first initiative of the Academic Master Plan creates interdisciplinary opportunities that offer students a distinctive approach to develop critical thinking, purposeful knowledge, and intellectual breadth. This includes several components to enhance and expand interdisciplinary offerings, such as the option for students to pair liberal arts and professional training and create pathways between degree levels. The plan also expands opportunities for dual degrees at the graduate level (i.e. public health and social work), and post-graduate interdisciplinary certificates.
The second initiative is the development of the Katie Compass, pairing students’ academic offerings with a path to guide their involvement in co-curricular and high-impact practices. The compass is composed of two parts: the path and the guides.
To identify their paths, students will pair their academic major or program with at least one high-impact practice, such as collaborative research, honors studies, global experiences, service learning, internships, or leadership programs.
As a complement, their guides ensure they have the necessary support for academic success and career readiness. This includes enhanced academic- and faculty-advising support structures and resources, augmented mentorship programs, and a robust preprofessional advising program for students pursuing advanced degrees in fields such as healthcare (pre-med) or law.
The Katie Compass
Office of Scholarly Engagement
The third major initiative is the development of the Office of Scholarly Engagement, which will coordinate, improve access to, and increase participation in high-impact practices by infusing them throughout the student learning experience. High-impact practices are teaching and learning methods that have proven to be beneficial for college students from various backgrounds. These methods also help promote academic excellence and career readiness. St. Catherine University already offers many high-impact practices including service learning, internships, and mentoring.
The Office of Scholarly Engagement will promote student success and increase accessibility for all students by focusing on experiences that provide access to diverse ideas and people. Additionally, the Office will help identify barriers to participation in these experiences and implement strategies to make them inclusive for all students.
Cultural Fluency and the Future
In addition to these three initiatives, the Academic Master Plan relies on the intentional development of cultural fluency to help graduates lead, influence, and develop global awareness. St. Kate’s will further facilitate cultural fluency by developing and maintaining a high-quality learning experience necessary for the careers of the future and citizenship in a diverse world.
Our work with students, guided by principles of Catholic Social Teaching, helps them understand and value principles of social justice and social responsibility. This experience includes strategy development to embed the core curriculum with course content that emphasizes knowledge of diverse groups and cultures as well as the development of cognitive complexity (especially as it relates to the discipline).
We also will work to close the opportunity gap between students of color and white students, and increase opportunities for intergroup dialogues in curricular and co-curricular student engagement.
The Academic Master Plan strategically improves our students’ educational experiences and strengthens the academic excellence for which St. Kate’s is known.
By Anita Thomas, PhD, Executive Vice President and Provost, from St. Catherine University Magazine fall 2020 issue