Hewlett Foundation Funds Boost General Education at UMass Amherst with $150,000 Grant

AMHERST, Mass - The University of Massachusetts has received a $150,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to help make General Education courses more student-centered, especially in a student''s first two years on campus.

The grant will involve a unique collaboration among faculty and academic administrators, according to Mary Deane Sorcinelli, associate provost and director of the Center for Teaching on campus. Sorcinelli is principle investigator for the grant.

Funds from the grant will be used to establish a student-centered faculty development program, according to Sorcinelli. She said the goal is to transform the General Education program in order to engage students more actively in their learning. This, in turn, she said, helps students to master the inquiry skills necessary to become critical thinkers.

Sorcinelli said: "Developing these skills early in students'' college years will allow them to succeed as they move on to discipline-specific studies in their majors."

The program will be centered around intensive, year-long Hewlett Teaching Fellowships for faculty that focus on the needs of lower division students. Fellows will work together to redesign a General Education course that they currently teach. They will explore strategies for engaging students in active learning, develop methods of assessment, and participate in dissemination of their findings on campus and at a national level.

Sorcinelli said she hopes that through the work of this project, a campus culture will be developed "that accepts General Education as a means to teach inquiry and that acknowledges the teaching of General Education as not only a challenge, but an honor."

Susan Cocalis, professor of Germanic languages and literatures, is project coordinator. Other participants include John Jenkins, professor of music and dance who chairs the University Task Force on General Education, and Martha Stassen, director of assessment.