Thoughts on Penn State Faculty Senate Reports

Penn State’s Progress

Hi everyone, it’s Ally! A couple weeks ago, Hailley suggested I review various Faculty Senate Reports  to learn more about Penn State’s progress with student engagement. These reports included the 2012 Task Force on Internships, the 2013 Task Force on Undergraduate Research, and timeline of Engaged Scholarship Initiatives from 2012 to 2017. I noticed three themes among these reports – a broadened student engagement definition, decentralization, and bench-marking.

Reoccurring Themes

My main takeaway from these reports is that Penn State has greatly broadened its student engagement definition over the past decade. Ten years ago, undergraduate research and internships seemed to be the focus of student engagement opportunities. Although these experiences are valuable, they do not capture other engagement experiences such as self-directed student engagement. Just four years ago, the 2015 Engaged Scholarship Update had developed only seven of the ten current student engagement categories. Overall, I think these reports demonstrate that Penn State has successfully improved upon their student engagement definition, expanding “what counts” as student engagement.  

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[Well Done Gif via GIPHY]

I also noticed decentralization as a common theme, especially with the task forces on internships and undergraduate research. This barrier was not surprising to me, given the large size of this university. These reports expressed a need for one, centralized location where students can look for internship and research opportunities.  From my student perspective, I think Penn State has followed through with this goal by creating the Student Engagement Network and will continue to grow in this area as the Student Engagement Portal is developed. However, I think Penn State still has room for improvement regarding the centralization of student engagement opportunities. Although the Student Engagement Network exists, I think new Penn Staters still feel overwhelmed and confused about where to look for opportunities. Additionally, individual departments offer opportunities through their own emails and websites. Although these department-specific announcements are useful for students, this independence also inhibits the centralization Penn State is striving to achieve. Some potential solutions to these setbacks could be introducing the Student Engagement Network at New Student Orientation and encouraging each college to get more involved with the network and upcoming portal.   

Bench-marking is also a theme throughout these reports. In almost every report, another university is mentioned for their successful student engagement practices. Big Ten universities were cited particularly often. I view this as a positive practice, as it helps Penn State to improve and model our programs after schools of similar sizes and cultures.  Bench-marking was especially evident with the Undergraduate Research Taskforce. This report suggests that centralization will only put Penn State “in the middle of the pack.” For Penn State to equal or exceed “Public Ivies,” undergraduate research must become part of the university culture through efforts such as increased grants and faculty recognition for undergraduate research.  I think this attitude should be applied to student engagement as a whole, as centralization alone is not enough for Penn State to make a name for itself in student engagement.  

Takeaways

These Faculty Senate reports assured me that our research project aligns with Penn State’s long-term goals for student engagement, such as centralization. Our project can also inform the university about whether current students know about and are using the student engagement resources in place. Overall, I think Hailley and I are on the right track!

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[High Five Gif via GIPHY]

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Head of Education & Outreach Services at Northern Kentucky University. When she's not in the library, Hailley is an avid oatmeal connoisseur, baseball scorekeeper, bike rider, embroidery queen, and reader of memoirs. Check her out on Twitter @hailthefargoats.

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