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UW-Eau Claire Receives Nearly $1.75 Million
for Project to Enhance Student Learning

RELEASED: Aug. 4, 2009

UW-Eau Claire excellence sealEAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has received a nationally competitive grant of nearly $1.75 million to support its strategic goal of transforming student learning, officials have announced.

UW-Eau Claire is one of just 57 colleges and universities nationwide to receive a grant this year through the Strengthening Institutions program of the Office of Postsecondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education. The program distributed a total of $21.3 million this year.

The grant comes as UW-Eau Claire faces state budget reductions of more than $14 million over the next two years.

"Those reductions will be broad and deep, and they will affect everything we do and how we do it," said UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich. "So it is especially significant that we've received this grant and are able to move forward with our goal to provide an enhanced educational experience for our students."

The grant will enable the university to take students' educational experience "to the next level, if you will, through the creation of high-impact programs that will better prepare graduates to succeed in the global economy," Levin-Stankevich said.

The grant will support a five-year project at UW-Eau Claire, beginning this October, to:

  • create and implement a more integrated general education program that more deeply engages first- and second-year students;
  • develop general education courses and living-learning communities in the residence halls that enrich students' global and multicultural experiences; and
  • implement an advising system that engages students in more intentionally planning their college careers.

The federal grant will fund 92 percent, or $1,730,255, of the project's total cost of $1,875,190, said Karen Havholm, UW-Eau Claire's assistant vice chancellor for research. UW-Eau Claire will fund the remaining 8 percent, or $145,534.

More than 60 percent of the grant will be used to pay experts already among UW-Eau Claire's faculty and staff to accomplish these tasks, said Dr. Susan Turell, interim associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and dean of undergraduate studies. Faculty and staff support will largely consist of summer stipends for those who typically are on nine-month academic year contracts.

Other grant funds will be used to pay a project coordinator, students who will serve as mentors for living-learning communities and trainers for the new advising system, and outside experts who will consult with the project team on best national practices.

"This project will involve curricular redesign based on research for best educational practices in higher education," Turell said. "We will streamline our general education requirements while organizing the experience to become more purposeful and integrated for students."

Under one type of general education program being considered, rather than selecting from a list of discrete general education courses, students would choose from multidisciplinary "bundles" of courses that would be thematically connected, Turell said. Such an approach would help students connect what they have learned to various disciplines, she said. The course bundles also would incorporate experiential learning programs that would show students how course content is relevant outside the classroom.

"We will connect our general education program more intentionally to high-impact practices — experiences that have a strong positive impact on student learning, retention and graduation," Turell said.

Among those high-impact practices will be immersion experiences, including living-learning communities in the residence halls, intercultural immersion in the United States and abroad, service in the community, participation in research and internships, she said.

"This is cutting-edge curricular development — it's really the future of higher education," Turell said.

The grant proposal, written by Professor of English Jennifer Shaddock, was developed by UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff to seek support for a foundational goal in the university's strategic plan, to transform student learning, Levin-Stankevich said.

"We will develop programs that are both purposeful and interconnected in nature — inside and outside the classroom. The programs will also promote learning that enables students to connect what they have learned to other disciplines, so they become more adept at analyzing problems from multiple perspectives and formulating more comprehensive solutions."

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JP/DW

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