Mellon Foundation Grant to Support Faculty, Freshmen Students

Created: September 19, 2016
Last Updated: August 6, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Sept. 19, 2016) - A grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will support Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) faculty as they continue to build a robust first-year experience for freshmen students.

The College pursued the grant to redesign First Year Seminar courses, which all freshmen must take. The Mellon Fellows will use the grant over the next two years to research aspects of teaching, advising, and student engagement. They will redesign the courses to keep up with the next generation of students and they way they learn.

“A major goal is to gain a better understanding of what our incoming students expect from W&J, identify their strengths, and also consider areas where they may need more assistance,” said Robert Dunn, Ph.D., an associate professor of business and economics and an FYS instructor. “We want to work towards making the W&J experience as full and as enriching as it can be for every one of our students and a big part of this happens in the first year.”

The grant will fund activities that support instruction throughout the institution. It also will back the work of 15 faculty members from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2018 as they consider a variety of issues related to the first year experience and beyond. Research topics include effective pedagogy, high impact practices, inclusivity, advising, and retention.

Associate professor of English Dana Shiller, Ph.D., who served as an FYS instructor in previous years, said the group is focusing its early work on understanding “Generation Z” and how those students learn. “Generation Z” makes up the next several incoming freshmen classes.

“The Mellon Fellows’ work is designed to have an immediate impact on the First Year Seminar,” she said. “The idea is that FYS instructors will be implementing innovations

in teaching and advising they’ve researched and discussed over the summer. That might mean first year students can look forward to more effective advising and new kinds of activities in the classroom, but it will also mean that their instructors will have a clearer sense of who they [the students] are.”

W&J President Tori Haring-Smith, with input from former Dean of Faculty John Zimmerman, identified potential Mellon Fellows from among W&J’s faculty using a variety of criteria. They placed an emphasis on those with experience teaching and/or directing FYS as well as those who have held leadership roles in curriculum and program design. The members represent a range of disciplines and include both tenured and non-tenured faculty.

“This is an opportunity for us to focus on our teaching methods and our connections with students,” Dunn said. “It’s an opportunity for faculty members to better understand our incoming students as they change and evolve from year to year.”

The Mellon Fellows are:

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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