A great challenge facing the University is refining and strengthening academic programs to prepare students to make meaningful contributions as citizens of the twenty-first century. In an increasingly multidisciplinary world that expects graduates to have mastered complex and advanced skills, the University must also take the opportunity to broaden and enrich their education by making public service, research, international study, and the practice of leadership part of their experience.
Public Spirit. Public Service.
For decades, the center of student public service has been Madison House, a student-run, nonprofit organization that coordinates University of Virginia student volunteers, develops student leaders, and builds community partnerships. Each week, students tutor local children, deliver meals to seniors, coach sports teams, renovate houses, and perform other services.
Thanks to the commitment of U.Va. faculty members, public service for students is not just an extracurricular activity but an integral part of the curriculum. When Charlottesville city officials asked Nisha Botchwey, an assistant professor of urban and environmental planning in the School of Architecture, to help Charlottesville reach its goal of becoming America's healthiest city by 2015, she turned the project over to her students. At the end of the semester, two of her classes made a series of recommendations to city planners that included creating easier access to grocery stores, gyms, and parks and improving the local trail system.
The University's January term has also helped make public service a part of the curriculum. A January-term Spanish culture and conversation class taught by instructor Patricia E. Reagan is representative. Students undertook various projects in the local Hispanic community, including explaining government-financed services available to Spanish speakers, promoting the Girl Scouts, and reading to children to encourage literacy.
Intellectual Scholarship at All Levels
In conducting research, students learn at every stage of the process, from writing a proposal and securing funding to analyzing and presenting their results. While limited funding for research projects is available, the Commission on the Future has included increasing student research funding in its proposals. In February 2008, forty-two undergraduate students received Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards, created with a gift from the late David A. Harrison III (College '39, Law '41) and his family. These annual awards defray the costs of conducting an independent research project that is guided by a faculty advisor. Winning proposals this year included studies of the immune system, genocide in Rwanda, and voting patterns in Australia.
Currently, more than 50 percent of students at U.Va. engage in some sort of research during their undergraduate years — and that number is growing annually with the help of faculty members. This year, the Department of Biomedical Engineering received a three-year National Science Foundation Partnerships for Innovation grant designed to promote experiential education for bioengineering students globally. Organized around a newly launched Web site, www.bmeplanet.org, this new network gives students at U.Va. and around the world the opportunity to take part in hands-on research.
The Academical Village is now a global village. During the last academic year alone, almost 1,900 students studied abroad in seventy-nine countries, and international students made up more than 10 percent of the graduating class.
Members of the University community have been instrumental in opening the Grounds to the world. The Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese has for the last three years offered a creative writing seminar featuring discussions with visiting writers from Latin America and Spain. The International Student Center hosts many programs, including the International Speakers Bureau, to introduce international subjects and people from many nations to the University community. Its English language and mentoring programs help international students adjust to University life. Alderman Library now features four television sets that pull in satellite feeds from more than eighty foreign channels, allowing students to keep up with world news. And in response to shifts in global economic and political power, the University this year created a department of East Asian Languages. It is the first department of its kind in the southeastern United States.
Hoos for Open Access
A new student organization, Hoos for Open Access, is doing its part to make higher education accessible to college-bound students. The group was established to educate potential students about the University's financial program, AccessUVa, and to provide financial-education support to students who receive assistance. Hoos for Open Access has also started a blog and hosts weekly chat sessions for students with financial aid questions. Group members met with President John T. Casteen III and Yvonne Hubbard, director of Student Financial Services, to discuss financial aid and suggest changes they think would benefit AccessUVa students. One recommendation they proposed is expanded aid for international study, J-term classes, and summer tuition.
Faculty members have also developed meaningful opportunities for overseas study. Among many courses combining international travel with study this year was a January-term class that took place in the Ghanaian city of Cape Coast, where students worked with local residents on economic development projects. An environmental thought and practice class was held in Panama, the result of a newly formed collaboration between U.Va. and the Panamanian City of Knowledge, an educational organization in Panama.
At the same time, individual schools within the University are forging ties with overseas institutions that will lead to exchanges of students and joint research opportunities. This year, the McIntire School of Commerce signed an exchange agreement with two of the top business schools in Asia: the School of Business and Management at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University. The Darden School of Business signed a partnership with the Hochschule für Wirtschaft Zürich that will bring Swiss students to Charlottesville to study general management and marketing. This program is the fourteenth partnership that Darden has established with international business schools.
In other cases, international alliances involve a consortium of schools. The University is a member of the Universitas 21 international education network. This year, President John T. Casteen III traveled to India as chairman of Universitas 21 to welcome Delhi University, its newest member. The School of Engineering and Applied Science is part of a newly formed alliance of South African and U.S. universities that has joined forces with Canadian transportation giant Bombardier. The goal is to help provide a better-educated workforce for industries moving into South Africa while promoting interaction between U.S. and South African students.
Strengthening Their Capacity to Lead
One of the founding ideals of the University was to create the citizen-leaders that democracy would need to flourish. Accordingly, the University has always placed a premium on student self-government.
One way that students learn to lead is through emulation — and this year saw a steady stream of national leaders pass through Grounds. Among other distinguished visitors, Senator Hillary Clinton interrupted her presidential campaign to address politics professor Larry Sabato's class, former governors John H. Sununu; Lowell P. Weicker, Jr.; and L. Douglas Wilder debated presidential election reform, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave a lecture when he accepted the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law.
Founded in 1993 to educate Virginia's future political and community leaders, the Sorensen Institute at U.Va. sent sixteen graduates to serve in the Virginia General Assembly this year — two in the Virginia Senate and fourteen in the House of Delegates. Three graduates are serving in Governor Tim Kaine's cabinet, and dozens more were appointed to boards and commissions or are serving in positions of leadership in local governments or in the private sector. A record number of Sorensen alumni ran and won office in the November 2007 elections. Forty-eight graduates were successful at the polls, including sixteen Republicans, sixteen Democrats, and twelve independents.
The University grounds students in the practical side of leadership. An example is the week-long intensive training program for leaders of student organizations offered by the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs. The program is designed to familiarize students with resources at the University and to set the pattern for mutual cooperation that will be essential in accomplishing their goals.
U.Va. also hosted the tenth annual ACC Student Leadership Conference this year. Organized by the ACC Inter-Institutional Academic Collaborative, the conference promotes student leadership and encourages interaction among the ACC member schools outside of athletics. This year's conference theme, "Aspiring for Impact: Evolving Perspectives of Student Leadership," was based on the idea that although student leadership can mean different things for different people, it should always aim to have a positive impact on the community.