Jason D. Cox
For more than 120 years, University of La Verne students have taken part in an inexplicable shared culture.
It has always been here. It has evolved just as the people involved in it have, but until now, it had not been named.
The “La Verne Experience,” such as it is now, is an initiative to define the experience common to all who have studied at any of the University’s four colleges or 10 campuses across all programs.
It incorporates all of La Verne’s traditions and values. It integrates curricular, co-curricular and community engagement activities and promotes best practices in higher education.
The La Verne Experience will first be enacted this fall with the incoming class of 2016 with the First Semester La Verne Experience, for which freshmen will be placed in linked classes taking two courses with the same group of freshmen students.
Next year the plan is for the class of 2016 to have a sophomore capstone project, similar to the senior seminar program already in place.
This and further plans are still being developed by the assigned committee.
This experience is designed to make La Verne even more distinctive and compelling to current and prospective students, and to make it more competitive locally and nationally.
The La Verne Experience has been made a reality by the La Verne administrators and the efforts of numerous faculty.
Its origins lie in the mind of President Devorah Lieberman, and the history of the La Verne Experience goes back to before she was president.
When Lieberman was still in the interview process to become president of the University, she studied the campus.
“What I found was an institution that was absolutely, in every way, committed to student learning and graduating students who would be very successful, whether they went on to graduate school or into a profession,” Lieberman said.
“I knew when I came here, it was all about the students.”
This was increasingly apparent when Lieberman saw that professors were highly interested in how best to deliver the information in their courses.
“Honestly, I have been on many, many campuses,” Lieberman said, “And I’ve never seen a commitment like this from faculty.
“I’ve been very active in national conversations, and also on other campuses, where I was part of educational change,” Lieberman said.
Whether helping to lead the change directly or assisting with curricular change, Lieberman’s experience taught her that students perform better when they feel connected. She observed that students benefit from having a sense of community – a connection to other students, teachers, courses and subjects.
Creating a community is not a new concept.
Colleges and universities, and any other level of education, all attempt to create a sense of community. However, most of these communities are small and have little staying power. Whether the administration changes its mind or students move on and graduate, these communities rarely hold for very long.
When Lieberman was being interviewed for her position, she was asked in what ways she could see the University connecting all of her campuses and becoming one unified institution.
“The first thing I did was create a phrase: We are four colleges at 11 campuses, but we are one university with one mission,” Lieberman said.
To formulate her answer to the question of how to unify all the colleges, campuses, classes, students, faculty and staff, Lieberman simply had to look around at the programs and people already here.
Another thing Lieberman knew was that to name something helps it to be useful. The parts that would unite the University were already around, they simply needed a name. “ Rather than letting this all just exist, why not call it the ‘La Verne Experience’ and make it strategic,” Lieberman said.
“I think the La Verne Experience has existed since the school began while it was still Lordsburg College but I’m not sure University students could articulate it,” Professor of Education and Director of Teacher Education Peggy Redman said.
“My parents graduated La Verne in the 1930s, I graduated in the 1960s, my kids graduated from here in the 1980s, and knew we all shared an experience, but no one had put a name to it,” Redman said.
With this development of the La Verne brand, the University will strengthen its values-based identity with hopes to establish itself as an exceptional choice for higher education.
The University also hopes to gain wider recognition as a private university that serves an ethnically and economically diverse student population.
Though Lieberman has had this plan in the works since before she became president, the efforts to make the La Verne Experience a reality started in January at the La Verne faculty retreat.
After the initiative was discussed, there were meetings held through February and March.
These meetings started again in May and will shape what will be enacted in the coming school year.
The first application of the La Verne Experience is called the First Semester La Verne Experience.
The all-new and all-different contribution the FSLE (or “fossil”) makes to La Verne is the freshman learning communities that will be formed by the incoming freshman class in the fall 2012 semester.
FSLE will consist of two courses from different disciplines, linked together to generate consistency in students’ learning.
These courses will be logically linked together, for instance, a journalism course with a photography course. These pairs of courses will have a third component, a reflective writing course.
This will give freshmen the chance to form a learning community between these three courses as they interact with each other and their professors in and out of the classroom. Three courses composed of 30 students form one miniature community.
“We want – and I think people will want it too, once they do it – to not just be classroom students,” associate professor of writing Sean Bernard said.
Another attribute of the learning communities is that the linked classes will be taught by full-time faculty.
This means freshmen will not only have a community of peers to assist and be assisted by, but also that they will have professors dedicated to their success in their classes, who will be accessible on a consistent basis.
“The La Verne Experience allows us to quickly and easily explain to prospective students what makes La Verne distinct,” Reed said. “ It helps us to focus our energy.”
A strength of La Verne has been its commitment to the La Verne values. Creating intersections between different disciplines taught and the values system.
“We all learn better when it’s not just learning,” Bernard said, “It’s learning through living.”
Jason D. Cox can be reached at email@example.com.