The Undergraduate Experience: Exploration in Human Ecology

Article excerpt

The College of Human Ecology is distinguished by its community contacts, extension programs, and land-grant mission to the state, all of which enrich its academic programs immeasurably. New Human Ecology students are introduced to these and other aspects of the college through an expanded orientation program. But the real undergraduate experience is best portrayed by the stories of the five outstanding New York State students profiled on these pages.

There was a point in time, according to Charles McClintock, associate dean of research and academic administration, when a student could graduate from the College of Human Ecology without fully realizing what fields were studied there. No more, he says. The college now ensures that incoming freshmen and transfer students know the breadth of what Human Ecology offers.

The answer is a one-credit course, Human Ecology 110, Exploration in Human Ecology.

"We've always done an extended orientation for new students," McClintock says. "Five or six years ago we decided to focus on the multicultural teaching environment. We offered a faculty presentation and then an hour-long discussion in which students broke into small groups and met with faculty members to discuss the issues."

Although that program was successful, McClintock says it couldn't accomplish all the administration's goals.

"We wanted to introduce students to the full range of subject matter in the college at an early stage so that they could make intelligent choices about courses and majors. We also wanted to continue the close contact the students had at the beginning of the year with the faculty. We couldn't do all of that in two hours, so working with the faculty educational policies committee, we decided to establish a five-week course."

Human Ecology 110, in its second year, has a structure that's similar to that of the original one-day program. There is a faculty presentation before students break into small discussion groups with faculty members. The difference is that four of the lectures are team taught and focus on the college's four areas of content: nutrition and health, economic and social well-being, human development, and environmental design and technology.

McClintock believes the team teaching approach is particularly beneficial to new students. "Two faculty members from different departments teach each lecture, so students can see how different departments contribute to the four program areas."

This year seventeen faculty members - representing each of the departments - participated as discussion leaders, says Jennifer Gerner, assistant dean for undergraduate and graduate studies. "Nearly all the freshmen and transfer students participated in the course. We are still experimenting with format and content. In the future, we might try having a single theme across the five lectures. We also are hoping to provide incoming students with readings in the summer so they can prepare for the lectures."

The first lecture of the course, which McClintock taught last fall, is an introduction. He discusses the need for respectful discourse about a full range of values and ideas that pertain to college subject matter.

"The basic point of that first session is that this is an intellectual community; ideas are a core part of the business we're in." Neither students nor faculty members can fully benefit from this environment, however, if they aren't willing to engage in civil discourse about controversial subjects, McClintock says.

"We need to do a better job of exploring ideas, especially conflicting ones. In every course we should be broadening the ideological spectrum where that's relevant. The faculty need to bring out conflicting points of view on subjects involving value conflicts. Let them present a model of how you use logic and data to think through these difficult questions."

McClintock notes that though some professors "shy away" from controversial topics, there are those like Stephen Ceci, professor of human development and family studies, and Elizabeth Peters, associate professor of consumer and economics housing, who are willing to embrace a volatile issue. …