KST Cover
The Academic Plan The Provost explains KSC's statement of academic principles and practice

Mel Netzhammer photo by Julio Del Sesto In the fall of 2009, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Mel Netzhammer sent a landmark document to every faculty and staff member on campus.

The Academic Plan, a result of an intense yearlong collaboration among faculty, staff, and students, lays out a comprehensive vision for achieving excellence in our academic programs and improvement in the academic achievements of our students. That vision is the main business of Keene State College. It is why we are here. In the expression of the plan are the key values and programs of a public liberal arts college like ours.

The plan itself – more than 22 pages encompassing 150 initiatives – builds on significant curricular changes in the past five years, including the move from a three-credit to a four-credit academic model, the introduction of the Integrative Studies Program, and renewed focus on high-impact practices known to improve student learning. The adoption of the plan by all campus stakeholders enhances its ability to shape policy and practice.

Knowing that not everyone will have the opportunity to digest the details of the Academic Plan, we sat down with Provost Netzhammer and asked him to explain its content and significance. .

"We want our students to know how to make ethical decisions, to have experience with diversity, and to have a sense of their place in the world. And they need to be able to integrate the knowledge from their disciplines with that of other disciplines. The Academic Plan is a roadmap for making sure Keene State College achieves this, and achieves it with distinction."
–Provost Mel Netzhammer

Keene State Today: Why have an academic plan?
Provost Mel Netzhammer: Both internal and external forces inspired us. The University System requires that the College have an academic plan on file against which we measure progress on an annual basis. Internally, we have so many transformational initiatives underway that we needed to find a way to catalog them and explore how these priorities complement each other. The Academic Plan is a great way to do this.

Keene State Today: Why now? Doesn't Keene State already have a strategic plan that includes academics?

Provost: Our last academic plan expired in 2005, but the strategic planning process was just getting underway then. We wanted to wait until the goals of that plan were solidified before we started working on an academic plan. The new Academic Plan sets goals that are more specific than the College's five strategic goals, although complementary. The plan will help the Planning Council prioritize the strategic initiatives that are proposed each October.

Photo by Ann Card Keene State Today: Who wrote the Academic Plan?

Provost: We talk about the plan as having a "community of authors." That's because so many on campus had a hand in writing it. The process began in summer 2008, when I began meeting with faculty and staff to hear what they thought our academic priorities needed to be. This was an informal and thrilling process that taught me so much about what our campus values. From those meetings I wrote a first draft of the plan that was circulated to campus constituencies. The chairs of the academic departments and the Academic Affairs Council made dozens of suggestions. The February 2009 version of the plan bore little resemblance to the first draft. That version was presented to the full faculty and a subsequent revision went to the campus for feedback. We accepted feedback through September, and on October 6, 2009, the Cabinet approved the final version.

Keene State Today: What do you consider the highlights of the plan?

Provost: With the move to a four-credit curriculum and the new Integrative Studies Program – two huge curricular initiatives – along with dozens of other changes, cataloging our academic transformation in one document was exciting and rewarding. But we're not content to rest on our laurels, so the plan sets new goals for integrating technology into the curriculum, engaging with the community, partnerships with Student Affairs and other campus areas, and advancement goals to support the work of the faculty and the success of our students.

Photo by Mark Corliss Keene State Today: Where will we see the biggest impact of the plan?

Provost: The biggest impact will be on our students and the educational experiences we provide them. We know those experiences happen in the classroom, all across campus, throughout the community, and online, so the plan requires that all constituencies on campus are addressing the goals. When we began work on the plan, President Giles-Gee had one directive: make sure every person on campus sees himself or herself in the plan. We've made every attempt to do that.

Keene State Today: Take your average first-year student. What impact does the plan have for him or her?

Provost: Research on higher education has made it clear that students today learn differently than we did. Students are immersed in technology. They have access to media and information exponentially greater than anything my generation dreamed of. They're engaged differently, and so our pedagogy has to change. We need to teach them to make sense of information and to think critically about it, to evaluate it. For students today, creating is part of how they learn. That's why assignments that engage them in their own learning are so essential to student success.

As the plan is implemented, students will find that they're being challenged in new ways, in their first year and throughout their experience here. Service learning, undergraduate research, and other experiential learning will increasingly become important components of their courses. We'll also see academic standards tighten as we provide a more rigorous and challenging curriculum.

Rwanda photo courtesy of Therese Seibert Keene State Today: What do you consider the most innovative part of our current pedagogy?

Provost: Two words: integrative learning. So much happens at the intersection of the disciplines, and our faculty members know this and have embraced it. The hallmark of this change is the Integrative Studies Program, which integrates general education into a coherent program in which students are challenged to think critically and creatively, pushed to develop writing and technology skills, and taught how to bring together knowledge from different disciplines to understand the world.

And I want to be clear that when I talk about the campus community, I'm including our alumni. Our alumni have an important role to play in reaching our goals.

Keene State Today: Please describe the qualities any KSC student should have when he or she graduates. How does the Academic Plan help guide this development?

Provost: We want our students to have general knowledge of what it means to be liberally educated and to have detailed knowledge of their disciplines. They need to further develop baccalaureate-level abilities that help them communicate and use that knowledge effectively. That means they need to be able to access information and read, write, and speak well. They need to be able to think critically and creatively. They need baccalaureate-level competency in numeracy and quantitative reasoning, and they need to be able to use new technologies. We want our students to know how to make ethical decisions, to have experience with diversity, and to have a sense of their place in the world. And they need to be able to integrate the knowledge from their discipline with that of other disciplines. The Academic Plan is a roadmap for making sure Keene State College achieves this, and achieves it with distinction.

Photo by Mark Corliss Keene State Today: How does the plan fit with other College-wide goals, such as diversity, technological innovation, sustainability, entrepreneurship, accreditation, professional development, community service, and others?

Provost: You'll find every one of these College goals in the Academic Plan. They are the priorities of the campus and the plan embraces them all enthusiastically. These are aspects of a Keene State College education that make us distinctive. A primary objective of the plan is to take these goals and integrate them across the campus through curricular initiatives, but also through co-curricular experiences and community partnerships.

Keene State Today: As Provost, what is your role as the plan evolves?

Provost: Many academic plans are just to-do lists: "We will add more books to the library; we will add more computers." Our community has worked diligently to make this a visionary document. Where do we want to be as an academic community in five years? My role is to keep us focused on addressing the big questions while we implement the plan. There's plenty to keep us busy.

Keene State College prepares promising students to think critically and creatively, to engage in active citizenship, and to pursue meaningful work. As the public liberal arts college of New Hampshire, we offer an enriching campus community and achieve academic excellence through the integration of teaching, learning, scholarship, and service.

Keene State Today: How will we know if the Academic Plan is effective?

Provost: The plan has nearly 150 initiatives. When you see them in one list, it's impressive and perhaps a little daunting. The biggest initiatives are well under way. We already have three years of experience with the Integrative Studies Program. Other initiatives are ongoing. Building community partnerships, for example, is not anything that will ever be complete, but we can certainly measure progress against where we are now.

Each summer we will set priorities for the year ahead and measure our progress. We're doing a significantly better job of measuring student learning and making changes based on what we're learning. More importantly, we're seeing the entire campus community buy into it. And I want to be clear that when I talk about the campus community, I'm including our alumni. Our alumni have an important role to play in reaching our goals.

Interview with Provost Netzhammer, approximately 24 minutes.