Monday, November 10, 2014

[195] MTSU pushes active learning, critical reflection with ‘MT Engage’

Called MT Engage, the curriculum improvement effort encourages students to “engage academically, learn exponentially (and) showcase yourself.” The initiative was unveiled at a campuswide event on a sunny but very blustery day under a big tent on the Student Union Commons that attracted dozens of students, faculty and staff.

MT Engage is part of the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP, an accreditation review requirement every 10 years by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the regional accreditation body for higher education institutions in the South.

The QEP “describes a carefully designed course of action that addresses a well-defined and focused topic or issue related to enhancing student learning and/or the environment supporting student learning and accomplishing the mission of the institution,” according to the accrediting association, more popularly known as SACS.

MT Engage will focus on general education engagement as well as students using an e-portfolio to demonstrate knowledge, skills and abilities gained over the college experience. The initiative, which is still being developed by a committee and subcommittees representing a cross-section of faculty, staff and students, will need to be implemented in time for the SACS on-campus review in spring 2016.

In his remarks at the kickoff, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee noted the success of MTSU’s previous reaffirmation initiative, the Experiential Learning (EXL) program, a highly successful effort in which the university emphasized hands-on activities and public service as an integral part of a student’s learning experience.

“That program became a model for universities and colleges around the Southern states that are a part of SACS,” he told the crowd.

McPhee applauded the latest efforts by the newest QEP Committee, chaired by Dr. Dianna Rust, in obtaining the necessary feedback from the campus through focus groups and surveys to select the MT Engage theme. Such a theme rightly complements the goals expressed in the Quest for Student Success initiative launched last year.

“Student involvement, student interaction, student life on the campus — those variables are among the most important when it comes to student success, which is a major focus of what we’re all about at MTSU,” he said. “… This process will only make our university a better place.”

While EXL courses are normally available during junior and senior years, Rust said MT Engage expands on the EXL concept by engaging students earlier in their college career during their freshman and sophomore years with experiences inside and outside the classroom that require critical thinking, service learning opportunities and participation in campus events.

“… Ways to engage our students, mind and body,” said Rust, an associate professor in University Studies. “We envision these types of courses beginning in the freshman year and going on until graduation.”

Students were heavily involved in Thursday’s kickoff. QEP organizers worked with professor Tricia Farwell’s fall advertising campaigns class to help plan a logo contest and kick-off. The team of College of Mass Communication students included Chad Jones, Sonia Torres, Laura Moore, Taylor Sloan, Courtney Webb, Grace Mueller and Morgan Mosley.

For Farwell, teaching such a “high engagement class” is as rewarding for her as it is for the students she teaches.

“It’s an all-around experience beyond the classroom for me as a faculty member,” she said. “The best thing for me isn’t the outcomes I expect from this class, but the unexpected outcomes …The best part for me is that my students not only live up to my expectations, but that they usually exceed my expectations. This event is an example of this.”

Student Chad Jones told the crowd Thursday that Farwell, whom he referred to as “Dr. T,” helped the team of students become critical thinkers and problem solvers as they planned Thursday’s kickoff.

“This has been a journey this whole semester,” he said of planning the event, with MTSU serving as the “client” for the class. “We really wanted to leave our mark here at MTSU and help lay the foundation for the MT Engage program and QEP initiative.”

The logo contest featured the top three designs submitted by students Justin Johnson, Grace Mueller and Brian Scocchio. The logo finalists were displayed and voted on at the kickoff and the concepts of each were discussed. The winning design, to be unveiled at a later date, will be used as the official logo for MT Engage.

Voting booths were set up for students, faculty and staff to vote on their logo of choice, with President McPhee casting the first vote following his remarks. Contest voters could also sign up for a chance to win prizes such as gift cards, candy, pens and koozies when they cast their vote.

For more information about MTSU’s QEP, visit or contact associate professor Dianna Rust at 615-898-5325.

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