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BOV’s Educational Policy Committee Focuses on Providing the Ultimate Undergraduate Experience

September 29, 2005

By Anne Bromley

With a focus on student life and how to improve it, U.Va.’s Board of Visitors Educational Policy Committee met on Friday to discuss ways for faculty to incorporate diversity into their teaching and how to increase student-faculty interaction in the classroom and in research. Board member Glynn Key, who chairs the committee, said she and the other members are gathering information for a spring 2006 proposal they will make on protecting and enhancing the undergraduate experience.

The results of an optional national survey about student satisfaction with academic experiences were presented by J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs, and Patricia M. Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer.

The data from the 2004-2005 National Study of Student Engagement indicated that students’ satisfaction rate puts U.Va. above the mean in the categories of faculty-student interaction, enriching educational experiences and supportive campus environment, as well as class size.

When Key noted the perception persists that U.Va. students have more larger classes than desired, Adams responded that the data contravenes that perception; 51 percent of U.Va. classes comprise 20 or fewer students, excluding discussion sections and labs. Only 16 percent of classes enroll more than 50 students, with the remaining percentage of classes falling between those two sizes.

Getting students into the classes they need, and into the appropriate kinds of classrooms, including those equipped with the latest technology, will continue to be important objectives, Adams said, especially as construction of new buildings and renovations proceed in the near future.

According to the NSSE survey, U.Va. falls below the mean in active and collaborative learning experiences. Edward L. Ayers, dean of Arts & Sciences, noted that this measure may be low because some disciplines don’t traditionally use such teaching methods. In philosophy, for example, most of the course experience focuses on individual work.

Lampkin used data from the study to present several snapshots of student experience.

U.Va. students spend more time than students at other research universities volunteering for community service, pursuing internships and other practical experiences.

Lampkin mentioned that about 3,000 students a week volunteered through Madison House, donating approximately 110,000 hours of their time last year.

Shifting to student health issues, Lampking reported that there seems to be a nationwide trend in the increase of students’ use of mental health services. At U.Va., almost twice as many students, 64, were hospitalized for psychological disorders last year, compared to 34 two years ago. Counseling and Psychological Services records show 1,700 students made 8,700 visits last year.

A slight increase in emergency-room visits related to alcohol use by students may actually be due to encouraging them to seek medical help, Lampkin said. In-house surveys by CAPS and the Center for Alcohol and Substance Education show a downward trend in other alcohol-related incidents, such as students missing class, having unprotected sex, getting hurt or being involved in fights.

“We continue to address these issues through multiple avenues, such as orientation, social norms marketing campaigns and student health education efforts,” she said.

Looking at students’ research experience, several deans said there is a strong need to teach students methods and standards of research in humanities, as well as sciences. Adams said he would look into the possibility of offering a methodology course in the January term. Dr. R. Ariel Gomez, vice president for research and graduate studies, said the methodology seminar for graduate students could be adapted for undergraduates.

As the University seeks to recruit and enroll more students interested in math and the sciences, opportunities for them to get involved in research should make U.Va. more attractive, said dean of admission John Blackburn.

To augment the stronger emphasis on diversity in recent years, Adams suggested that faculty would benefit from a workshop on teaching diverse groups of students and how to make diversity an effective part of their teaching. The Teaching Resource Center addresses this topic, but he would like to see more faculty get involved, he said.

Karen Van Lengen, dean of the Architecture School, said she supported the idea. At a former institution, she said a similar type of training turned out to be positive, although faculty resisted at first.

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