Provost Fellows Showcase Progress in Reimagining the Curriculum

Written by Andrew Binion and Tina Potterf

March 14, 2024

PF Summit presenter Wan Bae

Image credit: Aidan Sales

Provost Fellow Wan Bae, PhD, presenting at a session on Generative AI Across the Curriculum.

Members of working groups focused on curricular changes lead second summit to share achievements at the midway point.

As Seattle University faculty department chairs, program directors, coordinators and other campus leaders recently gathered for the second Reimagine and Revise Our Curriculum Summit, Provost Shane P. Martin posed the question at the heart of what he said was one of the most important efforts underway on campus: “What does it mean to have a Seattle University education?”

Asked Martin, “How do we prepare a curriculum that both meets their needs, that stretches them academically and intellectually in other ways to think beyond and grow beyond what they come to us with, but that also respects who they are and what they bring in the incredible beauty of all manifestations of their diversity? We’re looking for a curriculum that sings, that has academic integrity, that has cohesion and focus, that has pathways that are engaging, inviting and that animate our students. And yes, that challenges them to grow beyond perhaps what they ever thought was possible.”

The summit featured a gathering of 120 faculty, staff and campus partners attending various sessions presented by Provost Fellows showcasing their work in reimagining the curriculum that has been underway for the past two years, in line with Goal 1 of Reigniting Our Strategic Directions. The objective of this goal is to “comprehensively reimagine and revise the curriculum in order to deeply embed practices and qualities that make (an SU) education more distinctively Jesuit and empowering.”

This work will enable the university to educate in a more cohesive, powerful and mission-aligned way, with an emphasis on enhancing academic quality. The revised curriculum will prepare students for the most urgent challenges facing the world around issues of sustainability and climate change, racial injustice and widening economic inequity and rapid technological change and its attendant social and economic impacts.

“What our Seattle University faculty members are doing to distinguish the education we provide our current and future students is remarkable,” said Special Assistant to the Provost for Curriculum Charles Tung, who is also co-chair of Goal 1. “The two summits are the first times in our university’s history that all of our faculty leaders have gathered to talk about their curricula and to share ideas across our schools and colleges, across departments and disciplinary divisions. I do not know of any other university approaching the greatest challenges of our times in such a comprehensive and systematic way.” 

Here’s a look at some of the workshops and breakout sessions of the day:   

Internships, Professional Formation, and NACE Competencies in the Curriculum

Experiential learning finds its roots in Ignatian pedagogy as well as the pragmatic pedagogical philosophies of people like Thomas Dewey with the recognition that activity doing is an important part of the learning process. 

Learning to fail is a critical aspect of this educational experience, as it allows a soft landing to students who jump into experiential learning experiences. These can range from internships and mentoring to participating in student groups and organizing activities on campus, something that faculty can encourage. 

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” said Rebecca Carlson, manager for experiential programs at the Albers Career Center. 

Internships are competitive and employers place a premium on candidates who have been involved in extracurricular activities because they develop and form the skills to be successful in the workplace.

Beyond campus, the innovative and vibrant Seattle area offers rich opportunities for students, especially from business and industry.

“Companies are here because the talent is here,” said Director of Career Engagement Carol Lwali, who encouraged faculty to assess student needs and goals and help steer them toward opportunities. “This is just the beginning, just a taste of what could happen.”

The discussion was designed by American Politics Associate Teaching Professor Patrick L. Schoettmer, PhD, Lwali, College of Arts and Sciences Professional Formation Coordinator Amy Lonn-O'Brien, MEd, and Associate Professor of Biology Stephen Luckey, PhD. Director of the Project Center Rachael Brown also participated in the discussion.

Brown noted that science and engineering students are required to participate in a capstone project, which places students in groups and matches them with government and private organizations. 

Generative AI and Its Impact on Society
Artificial intelligence, or AI, is nearly inescapable these days and that includes at colleges and universities. With the positives of AI comes the necessity to be watchful for the peril that can come with this technology. In this session, hosted by the Provost Fellows Working Group on Technology and its Impact on Society, the focus was largely on generative AI and how it can influence different aspects of society and how academic departments can engage this topic in discipline-specific and interdisciplinary ways. Leading the discussion were fellows Wan Bae, PhD, Julie Crowe, PhD, Yen-Lin Han, PhD, and Matthew Rellihan, PhD.

The Provost Fellows shared examples that demonstrated how generative AI can be used to figure out the infinite number of moves that can be made in a game of chess or how what words or prompts you put into an AI generator, like ChatGPT, can produce vastly different results—stressing the importance of what you are asking for and to be as specific as possible with word choice.

Part of the discussion centered on demystifying AI and how it can be used across academic disciplines, from English to mechanical engineering. Transparency and governance when using AI was also stressed, as was knowing what you are consuming in terms of news or data is in fact truth vs. misinformation.

Artificial intelligence is so prevalent across the globe, as it was noted, that the theme of this year’s World Day of Peace, led by Pope Francis, was “Artificial Intelligence and Peace.”

As noted by Pope Francis, “Education (using) forms of AI should aim, above all, to promote critical thinking.”

Partnering with Community-Based Organizations on Sustainability
A panel of leaders from local community-based organizers were led in discussion by Senior Director of Campus and Community Partnerships Cecilia Morales, PhD. The panel included KaeLi Deng, garden manager at the Danny Woo Community Garden, Annaliese Stelzer, co-founder of For All, and Laura Young, executive director of Saint Francis House. 

The first step to create a proposal to lead students into the surrounding community is to contact the Sundborg Center for Community Engagement, which has dozens of contacts with area organizations. 

“The process typically goes: faculty reach out, they are interested in a partnership, they have ideas, they are wondering where they might be fit in the community,” said Morales. “We work with them to create what we call an ‘opportunity guide,’ which is really just an attempt to be as transparent as possible based on what we’ve learned working with the community.” 

Seattle University students have been particularly active with For All, a nonprofit carrying on multiple projects, including recovering surplus food from area grocery stores and distributing that food to people in need. Seattle University students have helped with social media, graphic design and in producing a short documentary.

Deng, who manages a community garden in Chinatown, said the hands-on experience was vital for students to understand how they can assist.

“Only by immersing yourself in the community can your students know what the community needs,” Deng said.

Teaching Interdisciplinary Case Studies: Technology, Media and Racial Justice 
Led by Provost Fellows in the working groups on racial and economic justice and technology and its impact on society, this session looked at case studies that might be taught in courses from a range of disciplines around issues of tech, media and racial justice, such as the prevalence of facial recognition software.

Underlying this session was how such software can be used to racially profile or to target, for example, activists or demonstrators, raising questions around the potential abuse of civil liberties. Another example, presented by Assistant Professor of Film Production Alexander Johnston, PhD, was a short video called Blur Hoodie that used a blurring software tool to essentially enable a person to “disappear” into society, rendering them undetectable as they move through the world.

University Core Open Forum
Foundational to a Seattle University education is the Core Curriculum and much work has been happening over the past two years on proposing revisions that best reflect the needs of students and align with the future growth and direction of the university.

Open to all faculty and staff, this session introduced the second phase of the process that began in earnest last year with examining the existing Core courses and looking at ways they relate to other classes but also how they might be adjusted.

This work on the structure of the Core aims to retain the strengths of the current curriculum, while making significant changes in key areas to create a distinctive Seattle University education that empowers “students to become leaders who envision positive, hopeful alternatives that contribute to a more just and humane world,” to cite the Core’s newly approved learning goals. Another important element of a reimagined Core is to offer students “foundational and transformational learning opportunities that help them develop critical thinking skills while also nurturing their sense of gratitude, wonder, curiosity and joy.” 

The working group leading this effort consists of Hilary Hawley, PhD, Kate Koppelman, PhD, Stacey Jones, PhD, David Neel, PhD, Nova Robinson, PhD, Eric Severson, PhD, and Donna Teevan, PhD. They have consulted widely with campus stakeholders, with more than 10 open sessions for faculty and staff over the last year and a half, along with consultation with offices across campus.