Individualized education highlighted for trustees

Cory Robertson

Thursday, Oct. 14, the Board of Trustees was introduced to President Beck’s perception of individualized instruction, the same idea that was introduced to the student body at the first convocation of the year. In a panel discussion with the board, Lawrence faculty and students spoke about their personal experiences with professor-to-student interaction. They told stories that were “exciting, but not exceptional,” according to Dean of Faculty Kathleen Murray, who emphasized that individualized instruction is “perhaps the defining feature of a Lawrence education.”Professors Eilene Hoft-March and John Brandenberger both identified the senior capstone project as a momentous instance of individualized instruction.

Brandenberger thinks the project should be a requirement for all Lawrence students. It would mark the completion of a Lawrence education just as freshman studies marks the commencement. “Such a program would be Lawrence University’s flagship,” said the professor. “It’s not going to be cheap, but it’s going to be very healthy for this college.”

Hoft-March described the workings of the senior capstone project in the French department. She said the project is “independently tailored” and is formulated in a highly interactive seminar that allows students to pursue any aspect of a common theme chosen by the group.

This kind of interaction with graduating seniors, Hoft-March said, is “our last and best chance to send out into the world people of whose thinking we are proud and confident in.”

Lawrence students also spoke about the benefits of individualized instruction. Junior Dana Raugi said that she became involved in research at Lawrence “earlier than I would have imagined possible.” As a result of the research she did with Professor David Hall and a small group of students when she was a freshman, Raugi developed specialized skills that helped her obtain an internship at the Mullins lab at the University of Washington, where she has worked during the past two summers. She has also been offered a full time job there after graduation.

Sophomore Paris Brown spoke on the importance of individualized instruction in the conservatory. She then talked about the Gates Millennium Scholars program, which – in addition to facilitating group activities for minority students – pairs students with faculty mentors. Brown said this “strong support system” has helped her feel comfortable being herself at Lawrence.

Another presentation featured a coaching session between Professor Tim Troy and acting student Brendan Marshall-Rashid. The session, in which Marshall-Rashid performed a comic monologue from “The Tempest” and then responded to Troy’s comments, served as a live example of individualized instruction. Troy explained that the session was a chance to demonstrate the “back and forth” dialogue between director and actor that takes place and forms a finished product through “layer upon layer” of student-teacher interaction.

The trustees, according to President Beck, reacted enthusiastically to the discussion. “There was great energy in the room after the faculty and student presentations,” said Beck.

The information presented to the trustees led to discussion of how individualized instruction could be further supported. Faculty members agree that an emphasis on individualized instruction could increase Lawrence’s recruitment, retention, and reputation.