I find that the best way to learn about an educational institution is to listen to the experiences of its students and alumni. Over the last few months, I’ve had dozens of conversations with Champlain students and alumni. Here are five learnings and a few words of wisdom that I am carrying with me into my presidency at Champlain College:
1. Students want us to turn their education upside-down. Many students pointed to Champlain’s Upside-Down Curriculum as a major draw. The curriculum is upside-down because, instead of waiting until their junior year, students take courses in their career-focused majors from the moment they set foot on campus, which lets them jumpstart their careers.
- “I like being able to take business classes immediately and go get internships. That was a huge draw.”
Champlain’s Core, a redesigned curriculum that is usually the first two years of general education classes at other colleges, is stretched out over four years and is focused on the human skills students need to make their mark on the world, such as developing a sense of curiosity, asking big questions, making connections between disciplines, and leading with ethics and values. The third leg of the stool is the InSight program, which builds the practical life skills — like financial literacy, career management, and health and wellness — students need to succeed in life.
- “The [career skills] are only the half of it. Champlain gives you the passion and mindset to ask the right questions, find the answers and go deeper.”
2. Champlain graduates are ready. A 2019 alum said, “Champlain has a remarkable rate of giving students what they need to succeed.” The college’s Upside-Down Curriculum means students can secure quality internships right away and/or gain meaningful work experiences in places like the Emergent Media Center or the Leahy Center for Digital Forensics & Cybersecurity.
- “I was more prepared than I thought I would be. [My first job] was a little bit challenging in the beginning and I had some imposter syndrome. Champlain gave me a solid tech background even though I came in with [no programming experience.] If you really put a lot of effort in, you get a lot out of it…I’m getting promoted [at my company] in a couple of weeks.”
One student shared how she visited employers and attended career fairs beginning her freshman year through the Career Collaborative. By the time students graduate, they can have a one-of-a-kind education, multiple internships, a global experience, a meaningful engagement or social impact in their community, and an opportunity to thrive in a high-growth career. Put simply, they are ready.
- “The knowledge and experience I gained at Champlain really coalesced during my senior year.”
3. We serve students from all backgrounds and walks of life.
A military veteran. A first-generation American from Bosnia and Herzegovina. A single mother. An international student from Lebanon. A community college student in Vermont’s Early College program. A human resources professional from Atlanta.
These were just a few of the students I spoke with and I quickly learned there is no “average” Champlain College student. But they are all looking for opportunity through full-time or part-time programs that fit their lives and help them meet their goals.
- “I need a master’s degree to get a promotion…My professors are very patient with me about my English [as a second language]. They work with me on the side and help me with what’s expected at a graduate level. They are really, really helpful.”
- “My MBA classes were very relevant to my job. As a working adult, I didn’t feel like I was wasting my time in school. The career focus sets the program apart.”
4. Relationships and community make everything else possible. In nearly every conversation, students would volunteer — unprompted — some version of the following, “Let me tell you about [a faculty or staff member] who made a big impact on me during my time at Champlain.” They pointed to small class sizes, the opportunity to really get to know their professors, and the knowledge that someone cared enough to check in on them.
- “It’s nice having people remember my name and know my story.”
All the things we associate with the college — innovation, the upside-down curriculum, experiential learning — they all start with a community that cares deeply for one another.
- “I feel welcome. I feel part of the community. It makes me proud to be a student here.”
5. Our students and alumni want Champlain College to be the best version of itself.
If given a magic wand, our students and alumni would use it to build more connectivity between the different divisions (or schools) at the college, provide more support to students of color, help more female students pursue STEM majors, encourage their peers to engage earlier with the Career Collaborative, and have closer relationships with college leadership.
- “We should help more students take advantage of the Career Collaborative and other professional resources. Sometimes students wait too long to get involved.”
What was most inspiring, every student and alum cared enough to hold our college to a higher standard.
- “We can do more engagement and outreach with students of color.”
I am grateful to all the students and alumni for the kindness you showed this new first year. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, there is a “muchness” to Champlain College and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to become part of this special community and do everything I can to help students be… Ready for Work. Ready For Life. Ready to Make a Difference.