Lawrence Receives $350,000 Mellon Foundation Grant to Start Senior Experience Program

Carolyn Schultz

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation recently awarded Lawrence University a $350,000 grant for the new Senior Experience program.
Faculty voted in the new program in the spring of 2007 and “designed it to be both a culmination of education at Lawrence and a transition from the university to whatever is next for the student,” said SE Director and Professor of Philosophy Thomas Ryckman.
The SE program is designed to work in tandem with the nationally recognized Freshman Studies program. However, while Freshman Studies is a common course and curriculum that all students are required to take, the SE program is individualized and is determined by specific departments.
“In a way, the senior experience program is disanalogous to Freshman Studies,” said Ryckman.
The SE requirement is very specific to higher levels of coursework and student interests and is importantly tied to life outside of Lawrence.
“Senior Experience is a program to engage every Lawrence senior in a culminating academic or artistic project that demonstrates proficiency in their major fields of study, the integration of knowledge and skills gained during their years at Lawrence, and development of scholarly or artistic independence,” said Lawrence President Jill Beck.
Lawrence will phase in the program over the next three years, with departments working separately to create specific SE guidelines and requirements for their majors. The freshman class of 2012 will be the first class required to complete a SE project before graduation.
Some departments will be requiring students to take a final course in their major with a project or paper that fills this requirement. Others give students many options and all departments promote projects designed by students themselves, in conjunction with their advisor and department chair.
Freshmen are encouraged to meet with their advisors and department chairs to discuss the requirements and alternatives they may want to pursue in fulfillment of the SE requirement.
SE projects can come in many forms: major research papers, advanced independent studies, field research projects and experiments, senior recitals, creative exhibitions and theater and film productions.
The requirements are specific to each major and are listed in this year’s course catalog under each department. Prior to the introduction of the SE program this year, the majority of departments already had course requirements that now fulfill the SE requirement, such as capstone courses and senior theses.
“The grant is a wonderful thing for Lawrence. It will help considerably” with the introduction of the SE program, said Ryckman.
The grant will allow faculty teaching SE-fulfilling courses and students seeking funds for individual projects to apply for “mini-grants.” Mini-grants can provide project support for travel to conduct field research or to conduct research in specialized libraries and can support any other costs related to project supplies and materials.
As SE director, Ryckman will make sure all departments have the support and funding they need as they solidify department requirements. He plans to have a Web site up soon to coordinate activities across departments.
He wants each SE to promote strength in students’ chosen disciplines, a new level of conversation and collaboration between students and faculty, and campus-wide support.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, founded in 1969, devotes itself to identifying the best ideas, serving as an “institution builder” and supporting initiatives with long-term horizons.
The grant awarded to Lawrence will help the university expand the idea behind the senior experience, allowing the institution to grow and focus on the long-term commitment to the Lawrence liberal arts experience.
With the grant, Lawrence can give students amazing opportunities to explore their majors to a new level of depth and can help students make a clean transition to life outside of the bubble.
“Fulfilling the promise of SE will require that Lawrence invest in both the individual work of students and faculty and in shared activities that will make the program more than just the sum of the individual projects,” said President Beck. “The grant from the Mellon Foundation provides these critical program development funds.