afford universities a unique opportunity to engage students in active
learning through a variety of experiences both inside and outside
of the classroom. The session leaders opened their presentation
by distinguishing briefly between two types of learning communities
- those that have a living component and those that do not and by
describing the two communities with which they work: College Park
Scholars and the Gemstone Program. Questions and discussion were
interspersed with the presentation since many of the attendees sought
details that might inform their work with newly developed programs
or already existing programs.
This is a multi-disciplinary
two-year living-learning program for academically talented freshmen
and sophomores. It was founded ten years ago as a special program
for students who were not being served by the University’s
Honors program. When Scholars began, it had four interdisciplinary
thematic programs: Arts, International Studies, Life Sciences, and
Science, Technology and Society. The Scholars community now has
twelve diverse programs that focus on a specific theme and offer
specially designed courses and experiences that relate to its theme.
The programs are funded by the Provost and the home College of a
Students must complete 15-20 credit hours over their freshmen and
sophomore years in order to receive a Scholars Citation. The curriculum
consists of program specific courses and supporting classes, most
of which may also count for university CORE (general education requirements)
or major requirements. Four to six of these credits do not satisfy
core requirements. The Scholars curriculum allows students to develop
an interdisciplinary concentration that can complement their major,
help them explore potential majors, or serve as an additional area
of academic focus outside of their major. Upon successful completion
of the program, students will receive a Scholars citation on their
The program has three key components:
enroll in a Colloquium course during each of their first three
semesters. Each program offers a unique course exclusively for
the freshmen and sophomores associated with a particular program.
This one-credit course counts as a lower level elective. Each
course has its own academic focus which explores a variety of
topics related to its programmatic theme.
- The Discovery
course enables students to learn research techniques by engaging
in a research project. Students refine a research question that
can be systematically examined. The experience is learner-centered
and is not driven by a particular faculty member’s research.
In the past, the instructional team has included a library faculty
member. Some students may choose to engage in community-based
research (CBR). One such project involved Lakeland Stars, a program
between Scholars and a local elementary school in which the students
tutor and mentor children on-campus and at the elementary school.
A team of students met with stakeholders involved with Lakeland
Stars in order to identify issues that could be explored in an
effort to facilitate future program development. See http://scholars.umd.edu/discovery/
for additional information.
- The Capstone
experience takes place in the last semester and may involve participation
in an internship, a service-learning experience, a research project
through the Discovery course, independent study under the supervision
of a faculty member, or a student teaching opportunity. Students
receive academic credit ranging from one to three credit hours
at the conclusion of the experience.
While not all
scholars participate in the Discovery project, the Colloquia and
Capstone experiences are required for everyone. Beyond these requirements,
the scholars’ experiences vary, depending on the program with
which they belong, since each has its own expectations and areas
Ceremony (similar to a mini-graduation) is held for students and
their parents during the fall semester following their sophomore
year. Students have an opportunity to reflect on what their two-year
experience with Scholars meant to them by completing a commencement
survey during their senior year. This evaluation process is conducted
in conjunction with the dissemination of a Scholars medallion which
is worn at graduation.
The faculty program directors tend to be individuals who take an
innovative approach to teaching and want to work with undergraduates.
Currently, four of the programs are led by full professors, one
by a retired faculty member; another program is co-directed by two
lecturers, and another by an individual who splits her time between
Scholars and running a center within the College of Journalism.
The level of faculty involvement varies depending on the resources
that a college has available as well as on the needs of a program.
was conceived in the mid-1990s by the then Dean of the School
of Engineering (now the Provost). Engineering students had
great technical skills, but there was a desire to bring
these individuals together with students across majors in
order to help them improve their communication skills as
well as to demonstrate the value that various disciplines
add when solving problems. The program began in 1996. Gemstone
is a part of University Honors and is directed at students
interested in gaining research and team skills. All Gemstone
students are considered Honors students.
is a four-year, invitation only program. Typically 800-900
students are invited to participate in Gemstone, with approximately
170-190 new students accepting the invitation each year.
The program currently contains 550 students. Students and
faculty members from a variety of colleges and majors are
involved with the program.
The first year of the program is designed to help students learn
about the University and the Gemstone program. Students spend time
brainstorming and narrowing areas of interest, as well as studying
the intermarriage of science, technology, and society. The students
receive an in-depth research experience through Gems 104, a semester
long project during their first year in which they work as a team.
By the end of their first year the students will form 8-14 person
research teams, all focused on a problem involving science, technology
team works with a faculty mentor and librarian. The director of
Gemstone recruits the faculty mentors who are involved with the
program. Since their work with Gemstone is considered to be an overload,
faculty mentors are provided with $5000 annually for their assistance.
The faculty mentor and librarian work with a particular team for
three years and are familiar with the core subject area that is
second year, students take a research methodology course as well
as conduct a literature review and summary of resources. In the
fall of the second year, students take GEMS 202; “Introduction
to Research Methodology and Teamwork,” designed to provide
an introduction to research methodology and give them experience
conducting a literature review and summary of resources. The student
teams also meet weekly with their faculty mentor (or two times a
month for two hours) to explore and narrow topics of interest.
academic year and summer, they determine their topic, form a thesis
committee and go through the steps of a formal thesis proposal process.
The thesis committee is made up of their faculty mentor, the Director
of Gemstone, and one or two students. Where necessary, students
apply and gain IRB approval by the end of the summer in order to
begin collecting and analyzing data their junior year.
The teams then
proceed to carry out their projects, which culminate in the senior
year in a thesis of approximately 150 pages, written by the team
through a collaborative process. The year culminates with a team
thesis conference which involves a formal presentation to their
team’s thesis committee and a larger audience, revision of
the thesis based on feedback from a panel of discussants, and submission
of the final paper at the beginning of May. Students receive a Gemstone
citation on their transcript and are recognized for their work.
The citation requires 18 credit hours.
have not engaged in conducting original research prior to entering
Gemstone; thus faculty mentors serve as a coach to the students
throughout the process. The faculty mentors develop a close relationship
with the students and ultimately grade their work. Each team is
given $300 annually for administrative costs; teams can also submit
a proposal requesting more funding. Faculty members have also assisted
students interested in applying for grants. Grants that have been
received range from $10,000-$34,000. Funding is available for students
that present at conferences.
ownership of living-learning communities by colleges, departments,
and the provost will encourage faculty involvement. It can be
difficult to attract faculty members to take on the responsibility
of directing a program. Faculty ownership may be enhanced by marketing
these positions as a good training opportunity for future administrative
positions (i.e. dean). Relinquishing faculty from other committee
work should be considered as well as other measures that would
enable faculty to take on additional responsibilities. Thought
should also be given to how holding a program director position
could influence interactions with colleagues, tenure decisions,
and reviews. A faculty base from which future directors may come
could be built through an advisory committee. The intellectual
ownership of these programs should also be considered. An example
was given of a program that thrived when it was moved from one
school to another. What impact can these and similar shifts have
on the program, particularly on the curriculum and co-curriculum?
- An assessment
of the impact of these programs, not just on students’ college
experience, but on short-and long-term learning outcomes, should
be conducted in order to achieve measurable results. These outcomes
should also address the strategic plan of the institution.
should be made to not disadvantage students who are not participating
in learning communities, particularly transfer students.
- The development
of research learning communities that are responsive to different
approaches to research across disciplines should be considered.
- The impact
of learning communities across the span of a student’s life
in college should be examined.
with New Technologies (ENT) is a networked community designed
to help educators develop powerful learning experiences for students
through the effective integration of new technologies. http://learnweb.harvard.edu/ent/home/index.cfm
- The Electronic
Learning Communities of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech
includes links to several computer-based learning environments
including AquaMoose 3D, a math learning environment designed to
build connections between mathematical and artistic thinking and
IRC Francais, a project designed to help students learn French
through active conversations with other students. http://www.cc.gatech.edu/elc/
- The University
of Maryland’s College Park Scholars is a community of twelve
special living-learning programs designed for academically talented
first and second year students.
a. For more information about the College Parks Scholars Discovery
Projects visit http://scholars.umd.edu/discovery/
b. For more information about the College Parks Scholars Citation
Ceremony visit: http://www.scholars.umd.edu/current/citation.html
- The University
of Maryland’s Gemstone Program is designed for Honors students
and integrates technological and social issues into team research
projects guided by a faculty mentor and spanning all four undergraduate