As Millennials move through American college campuses, many colleges and universities are taking advantage of “the organization kid,” as David Brooks labeled the average Millennial, increasingly creating opportunities for students to “engage” themselves in their education.

An InsideHigherEd.com article this week reported yet another milestone in this process, as Robert Morris University created the position “Dean of Engaged Learning,” and started a mandatory program for incoming first year students that will require them to demonstrate fulfillment of two categories of engagement in order to graduate (in addition to the traditional requirements).

Activities must fall in one of seven areas: arts, culture and creativity; “transcultural/global” experiences, which include studying abroad; research; community service; leadership; professional experience; and independent study projects. Starting in the fall, the university will require incoming freshmen to demonstrate participation in at least two of the seven categories to graduate, on top of completing traditional requirements based on majors.

Surveys conducted by the university found that the majority of students would easily meet the requirement, based on their ongoing or previous participation in activities, said David Jamison, senior vice president for academic affairs. The program is intended to be flexible. For example, adult learners majoring in information systems can fulfill the professional experience requirement by doing internships, Jamison said.

As dean of engaged learning, Payne said her main duty is to make the now-mandatory program as efficient as possible by coordinating between all the de-centralized offices involved and approving new activities that fulfill the requirements. Whereas the dean of student life focuses primarily on student clubs, she will take a broader focus, including academic departments. The document is partly geared toward future employers, serving as proof of a student’s involvement in campus life and complementing his or her academic transcript.

“The other thing it also does is, by definition, encourage students to participate in some of these activities,” Payne said. “Students like to have well-rounded backgrounds and be involved. The engagement transcript encourages them to look at the broad spectrum of categories.”

As the article points out, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) has picked up an increase in “engagement techniques” being used in classrooms. Students are learning how to apply information learned in the classroom outside of the classroom, either on the campus itself, or in surrounding communities.

There are those non-believers who will protest the addition of another staff member to the payroll, for what appears to be nonsense. But the creation of such a position is an opportunity to strengthen students’ skills at a time when they’re going to need them. In our current economic climate, the ability to translate knowledge into practical skills is more important than ever.

Furthermore, the creation of this position sends a powerful message to those in the Robert Morris community, the Pittsburgh community, and beyond, exemplifying the school’s ability to put its money where its mouth is.

Kudos to Robert Morris University.

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