HIGHLAND HEIGHTS – Learning that crosses old disciplinary boundaries and caters to traditional and non-traditional students alike, are top priorities of Northern Kentucky University’s newly minted strategic plan.
President Geoffrey Mearns laid out the vision in some detail at the January convocation before a packed crowd Friday morning, including NKU’s determination to expand its engagement with preschool through 12th grade schools to prep students for college.
Mearns said NKU has a “responsibility to support and collaborate with our educational partners across the entire spectrum of human growth and development – from pre-kindergarten to post-secondary education and beyond.”
Creation of the new strategic plan offered Mearns is biggest opportunity to date to imprint his signature on NKU after succeeding James Votruba, whose tenure was nearly universally praised.
The plan’s five broad goals – student success, talent development, academic innovation, community engagement and institutional excellence – can be distilled further into a tightened focus on transdisciplinary studies and excelling at teaching both traditional and non-traditional students, Mearns said in an interview following his presentation.
“The plan is designed to build on our past success rather than veer 180 degrees,” Mearns said.
The plan calls for NKU to “Enhance outreach activities in P-12 schools to improve college readiness.”
To that end, Carol Ryan, interim dean of the College of Education and Human Services, said her college is taking a closer look at its P-12 engagement.
“It’s having us reexamine our experiential learning to ensure that we’re really working toward the outcomes in the strategic plan,” she said.
Undergraduates pursuing teaching degrees for all levels of school are required to spend at least 200 hours in pre-college classrooms, working with master teachers, before they begin student teaching. Ryan said that level of commitment helps ensure NKU is actively working to enhance Northern Kentucky preschools, elementary and high schools.
The school works closely with Northern Kentucky superintendents to continuously tweak student teachers’s curriculum. “They give us feedback, telling us what’s going well and what isn’t,” Ryan said.
NKU produces about 250 teachers with undergraduate degrees and 100 more with master’s degrees annually. Most of those 350 teachers remain in Greater Cincinnati, doing their best to prepare children for the rigors of college.
Training better teachers is one of the most effective ways NKU can help the cause of college readiness, Mearns said.
Ryan added that other offerings help teach the teachers and administrators overseeing education in Northern Kentucky, including the doctorate of education that superintendents can pursue. The Kentucky Center for Mathematics at NKU also trains math teachers in best practices to bolster their ability to teach that critical component of a well-rounded education.
“The whole idea is they go into schools and actively model for teachers and administrators the kind of lessons you want students involved in and how best to assess student performance,” Ryan said.
Mearns wants to build on the existing programs. “To increase the number of students who are ready for a rigorous, demanding college education, we must provide more support for our educational partners,” he said.
Mearns wants NKU to break down barriers between disciplines to ensure students get the most out of classes. “Transdisciplinary teaching builds and expands upon principles of interdisciplinary teaching by emphasizing an integrated, holistic approach to studying topics and issues that arise at the intersection of various fields,” he said.
The president cited the work of Dr. Tamara O’Callaghan, an English professor, who used augmented reality software that combined the classical “Canterbury Tales” text with videos, audio files and three dimensional models of medieval artifacts and architecture, all of which helped students appreciate the context of the stories while learning more about 14th Century architecture and culture.
Mearns addressed the perennial problem that NKU faces of receiving a disproportionately low share of state higher education funding. He reiterated the university’s plea to adjust Kentucky’s funding formula to tie funding to each institution’s current performance and productivity.
“The Council on Postsecondary Education… unanimously passed a resolution expressing the council’s recognition that the current approach is flawed. I am gratified that the council is now committed to developing a comprehensive, strategic funding model,” he said.
But that model won’t be ready for implementation until the 2016-18 state budget, which is too long to wait, Mearns said. “I don’t think we should wait two more years to discard a funding approach that was created for the 20th Century. The world is changing too rapidly,” he said.
The lengthy effort to assemble the new strategic plan was prelude to the harder task of implementing it
effectively, he said.
In that spirit, Mearns ended his speech with the words, “Let’s get to work.”