4 college programs helping students develop 21st-century skills

A recent report from the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences recognizes several colleges offering expanded opportunities for students in all fields to develop academic, practical, and civic knowledge and skills.

Building T-shaped professionals: San Jacinto College meets regularly with representatives of several local employers, including IBM and Cisco, to review academic program requirements and data on student outcomes. The goal is to identify ways to better align curricula to employer needs. Increasingly, that means the college is helping students become "T-shaped" professionals who specialize in one area (the T-stem) but have basic knowledge of—and can communicate with other specialists in—a wide range of other specialties (the T-top).

Read more: How to build T-shaped professionals

Helping students engage with diverse perspectives: To encourage students to interact with peers from different backgrounds, the University of Michigan created a Program on Intergroup Relations. Groups of 12-16 students from different backgrounds meet for structured conversations over the course of one semester. Research on the program has found that the experiences improve learning outcomes and civic engagement for participants.

Taking on the world's biggest challenges: Around 40 colleges and universities currently participate in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, which helps engineering students gain real-world experience by working on a list of the world's most urgent engineering challenges (according to a list developed in 2008 by the National Academy of Engineering). Among other opportunities, the program includes mentored research projects and training in the business and entrepreneurship skills that are often necessary to implement engineering solutions.

How Harvey Mudd College uses hands-on experiences to get more women into STEM

Supporting ongoing development for faculty: The report recognizes Boise State University for a number of initiatives related to updating teaching practices. For example, faculty members can participate in a five-day summer institute to update a course, win departmental teaching awards, or meet regularly in small support groups while implementing a course design update (Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education report, accessed 12/27).


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