Connecting experience, academics

Wheaton wins $500,000 grant to support faculty, students

Ian Opaluch ’17
Ian Opaluch ’17, who interned at Wheaton Innovates at MassChallenge in summer 2016, is one of many students who engage in experiential learning opportunities.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Wheaton College a $500,000 grant for faculty development and off-campus programs that will facilitate the integration of classroom learning with applied experiences.

The initiative, titled “Taking Integrative Learning on the Road: Promoting Curiosity, Knowledge Acquisition, and Integrated Problem-Solving Skills,” will help faculty connect students’ experiential learning experiences with their academic work and scholarship.

“This approach is a timely and thoughtful way to address the faculty’s desire to quantify, qualify and integrate knowledge from coursework with the skills and contexts gained from experiential learning environments,” said President Dennis M. Hanno.

Wheaton recently completed a strategic plan that articulates how it will build a cohesive academic and co-curricular 21st century student experience. The college also has launched a curriculum review and is well underway in providing a guarantee of experiential learning opportunities for students through the Wheaton Edge. Each year, Wheaton spends $1.2 million on internship stipends.

The Wheaton in Bhutan program
The Wheaton in Bhutan program provides co-curricular experiences abroad.

“I feel strongly about empowering students to engage in their formative processes intelligently, creatively and deliberately—something they can only achieve with the help of faculty who are conversant in integrative learning practices,” Hanno said. “The multi-faceted program will ensure that both faculty and students gain valuable and useful insights, an increased comfort level and greater curiosity in contemplating and aligning life’s lessons with their academic endeavors.”

The grant will support training that includes faculty development workshops, learning communities, special interest teams and theme-based programs.

“The faculty-led, off-campus learning experiences can be particularly relevant and impactful for students as they consider the connections and contexts for what and how they learn in an increasingly complex, diverse and interconnected global community,” said Provost Renée T. White, who is responsible for administering the grant and overseeing the program.

White also noted that this new initiative fits well with innovative programming already in place around integrated learning environments, including the most recent program, the Summer Institute for Social Entrepreneurship, which provides an opportunity for Wheaton students to spend the month of June on campus working on their entrepreneurial ideas.

In the past five years, several new integrated learning environments have been created to provide students with co-curricular experiences:

  • The Wheaton Autonomous Learning Lab, the college’s first makerspace
  • IMAGINE (the InterMedia Arts Group Innovation Network), which encourages interdisciplinary and technological approaches in the arts, creating partnerships and faculty-student working groups across campus
  • Wheaton Institute for Interdisciplinary Humanities, a theme-based, team-directed academic institute that explores connections between the humanities and their applied professional pathways for students, faculty and alumnae/i
  • Wheaton in Bhutan, a semester-abroad program in partnership with the Royal Thimphu College, where a Wheaton faculty resident director teaches a course and supports students as they complete a service learning practicum

During the four years of the Mellon grant, there will be a particular focus on faculty in the arts and humanities. They will lead the way in connecting faculty across all disciplines, according to the grant proposal.