Posted on October 27, 2011 by Christopher Thrall

Augustana Campus hosted external peer reviewers for its first U of A academic unit review this year – see the results!

By Christopher Thrall

The University of Alberta is committed to quality teaching, research and administration. Academic units undergo peer review every five to seven years, and Augustana Campus hosted external reviewers for its first U of A unit review in mid-February of this year. Their report and responses from the Augustana Dean’s Office were recently shared with senior administration and members of the University of Alberta’s Board of Governors.

The unit review considers strengths, challenges, opportunities and best practices for each Faculty and its contribution to the institution as a whole. It is intended to assess employees, facilities, and program implementation.

“The review identifies Augustana’s strengths,” says former Dean Roger Epp of the reviewers’ report, “and affirms the investment our campus has made in experiential learning such as professor-led international programs and community service-learning.”

The review mentions a specific point of pride at Augustana: nearly one in five students has participated in an international study program in places such as Cuba, Costa Rica, India and Germany. “If that is not the highest rate in Canada,” the review expresses, “there would not be many schools ahead of Augustana.” The reviewers encouraged trumpeting our success and expanding the international activities.

The report also applauds Augustana’s focus on four specific academic skills: speaking, writing, critical thinking and information literacy. These skills are developed not only through majors, but through Augustana’s unique core curriculum, which encourages study in the following five areas: creative and imaginative process, diversity and global studies, environmental sustainability, experiential learning and integrating knowledge.

This academic vision has helped Augustana create a special niche not only within the University of Alberta but within higher education in Canada. “As a small, residential, undergraduate-focused, publicly-funded institution offering a liberal arts and sciences education,” states the report’s executive summary, “Augustana fulfills a unique mission while at the same time modeling the dynamic, discovery-based learning environment and community building that are key to the University of Alberta’s Dare to Discover vision and its current Academic Plan.”

The review presents three primary recommendations:
1.    Augustana must preserve and enhance its unique identity as a liberal arts college.
2.    Augustana requires more and improved space for science instruction, as well as new or renovated student housing.
3.    Augustana should consider strategies to diversify its enrolment base.

Augustana’s response to these recommendations has been swift. Marketing and promotional material, including the website and publications, boast Augustana’s position as western Canada’s premier public liberal arts and sciences campus. Meanwhile the faculty continue to consider ways to strengthen both the liberal arts core and learning outcomes assessment. In general, the campus has embraced its responsibility to promote the value of a liberal education with students, staff, faculty and the community.

“Our need for a new science building has been identified by the University of Alberta to the provincial government as the entire institution’s top infrastructure priority,” says Dean Allen Berger. This new building would not only house the growing number of students majoring in the sciences, but also enhance Nursing and Rehabilitation Medicine programs offered at Augustana. The facility will support growing commitments to both faculty and undergraduate research. Plans to update and renovate existing student housing are ongoing, and new student residences – including family residences for students with children – are a possibility as Augustana begins to develop an updated Enrolment Management Plan.

Finally, Augustana’s efforts to diversify its enrolment base have received much attention and investment over the past several years. The campus supports a Specialized Support and Disability Services Office along with specially trained advisors for international and aboriginal students. This fall, Augustana enrolled a record number of aboriginal students and welcomed international students from four countries never previously represented on campus. An English as a Second Language “bridging” program is being planned for 2012-13. Furthermore, new partnerships, including agreements with both Grande Prairie Regional College and Red Deer College, and new degree programs will attract more students to Augustana from a variety of backgrounds.

The unit review report also recommends that the university should be cautious about having Augustana develop graduate programs of its own. The reviewers felt this might detract from the institution’s core strengths as a baccalaureate campus. The review concludes by celebrating the integration of Augustana with its community, identifying the Ronning Centre, the Alberta Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities, fine arts and athletics events, as well as guest lectures, among its many connections with Camrose and the surrounding area.

“The academic unit review is a report card and a road map,” says Dean Berger. “We can use it to assess where we are, to refine our academic vision, and to plan for ongoing improvements. While Augustana received very positive feedback, I am confident that our next review will be even better.”


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