Q & A with Janette Muir, Associate Dean for New Century College

Posted: July 24, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: Over the summer, the Daily Gazette will publish interviews with 11 deans, 2 institute directors, and the vice president for University Life focusing on what was successful in their departments last year and what the George Mason community can expect this year. This is the fourth article in the series.

By Tara Laskowski

New Century College (NCC) is a special college under the umbrella of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS).

What were some of the highlights and successes in New Century College (NCC) this past year?

This past year, we have been busy developing the First Year Experience, an integrative program in which any George Mason student can spend their freshman year in a cohort setting. Working hard with the College of Arts and Sciences to increase the number of students in this learning community program, our numbers look good for the fall semester. A special highlight has been developing a Living Learning Program floor in the residence halls, which will open this fall for students in the First Year Experience and upper-class NCC students. We look forward to developing programs that will bring a number of our faculty into the residence hall for study groups and special events.

Janette Muir
Janette Muir

We’ve also been asked to participate this year in the Boyer Center Partner Assessment Project, a national study funded by a Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) grant of eight university programs that emphasize strong relationships between academic and student affairs. The positive response George Mason received during a site visit last year and the specific focus on how NCC increases student engagement in the university led to NCC’s selection for this project. NCC’s partnership with the Center for Service and Leadership and the Center for Field Studies, and our relationship with a number of programs on campus such as the Center for Global Education, the Freshman Center, the Career Center, and the Instructional Resource Center make us a good choice for this specific study.

Our Conservation Studies Program, developed by Professor Tom Wood through another FIPSE grant, is receiving national attention as a program that integrates several disciplines to form a cohesive program in conservation studies. This program in particular has partnerships with the Smithsonian Institution’s Conservation Research Center in Front Royal, Va., and the American Zoological and Aquarium Association, enabling students to participate in research projects with reputable Smithsonian scientists and learn more about zoo management and leadership.

Have the budget cuts over the past few years affected NCC?

A. As with many programs on campus, we have had to do more with fewer resources. The greatest impact has been in the decline in the number of full-time faculty members working within NCC. We have lost some faculty because of retirements and other reasons, which has placed increased burdens on other full-time faculty members to handle curriculum requirements, internship mentoring, and portfolio review–an important assessment measure for the college. With the decline in resources, we also have experienced a loss of other faculty around the campus willing to teach in NCC, in large part because we cannot appropriately pay back the units or departments to handle the faculty member’s absence. Thus, good, talented faculty members who would like to try teaching in NCC for a while are unable to do so because their respective departments cannot afford to let them go.

What are some of your goals for the upcoming year?

Our biggest goal is to prepare for the Boyer Center review, which includes a site visit, focus group interviews, and two quantitative assessments. We also have a team of faculty and administrators working together on a community studies concentration that will bring together our focus on nonprofit studies, leadership, and community work. With help from a Ford Foundation Grant, the goal is to develop a dynamic program that will engage students in thinking about and preparing for jobs that can impact community and urban development.

Another goal is to work more with the Century Club as we prepare our students to be work-world ready. We plan to pilot a mentoring program with Century Club members, pairing students with business leaders to learn about networking, understand business processes, and see how the competencies they are developing will help them in the workplace. Our hope is that these students will also, in turn, become mentors for our freshman class.

We also hope to increase partnerships with other units and departments on campus. We are working closely with the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution on a conflict analysis undergraduate degree and working with the Center for Visual and Performing Arts to better support students who want to study the arts in an integrative format. We also continue to develop strong ties with the Graduate School of Education as we prepare students–particularly those interested in elementary and special education–to consider teaching as a viable career.

What are some of the challenges?

The greatest challenge I see for NCC is letting people know that we are still in existence and that we are thriving. Our dynamic faculty and student body are engaged in all sorts of different activities and strong partnerships around campus, and our alumni have good jobs and attend graduate school. NCC is a national model for learning communities and experiential education. Unfortunately, many faculty and staff on campus don’t realize we exist or believe our programs have closed. Faculty members need to know that there is a place on campus to try different teaching methods, and we have a number of helpful resources available to them.

Our continual challenge is keeping abreast of important trends in higher education and finding ways to integrate those trends into our program. For example, we are working a great deal now with electronic portfolios, experiential education, and community-based research programs, which are all highlights of national conversations in higher education.

What is exceptional about the students with whom you interact?

I continue to be impressed with the number of student leaders we attract and develop in NCC. The opportunities available for students, along with the support from the Center for Service and Leadership, help cultivate a student body that is engaged in many leadership activities around the campus. These students also get involved in their community by doing service learning and other volunteer work.

The interesting thing about NCC is the diversity of age we have. Some people may not realize that the Bachelor of Individualized Studies Program is housed in NCC. This almost 30-year-old program enables adult learners to complete their college degrees with more flexibility by considering life and work experience as part of the process. Thus, many of our learning communities include students who are diverse in terms of age and interdisciplinary focus, making for a rich learning environment that incorporates a diversity of ideas and perspectives.

A final point I would add about our students is that by virtue of the programs they are in, many have excellent writing and technology skills. Our learning communities are writing intensive and technology infused, which means that students have many opportunities to improve these competencies. Because our program is highly collaborative, we also find that our students excel in working in group settings.

Where do you see NCC in five years?

Academic year 2004-05 marks NCC’s 10th year, so we are preparing for a series of events during the year to celebrate this milestone. We also have plans to host a national conference on integrative learning and develop publications that highlight the great success of some of our alumni. In five years, my hope is that we have a strong full-time faculty that reflect the major areas we have and that other faculty on campus realize that NCC is a place where one can explore new topics or different ways of teaching.

Have you added any new outstanding faculty or staff members that the university community should be aware of?

This fall, Jun Hu will join our Internet and Multimedia Studies Program. Hu is a multimedia specialist who has been working in the corporate setting for the past few years, so she understands specific workforce needs when it comes to multimedia project development.

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