We've heard about and have been troubled by the hurdles college students face when continuing their education at a new institution, especially when it comes to making sure previously-earned credits transfer over. In addition to sorting out those administrative details and adjusting to a new program of study, students also face a challenge in adapting to an unfamiliar school culture.
In partnership with Baruch College, Public Agenda is experimenting with how dialogue on divisive and politicized social issues can engage transfer students and help them build community with classmates at their new academic home, while also conveying to them the mission of the institution they are joining.
On Tuesday, a group of transfer students gathered in room 3-190 at Baruch to read and discuss approaches to creating, consuming and conserving energy sources. First, students read through a short discussion guide, which outlined the debates about energy production and consumption. They then immediately dove into a lively conversation about their visions to address energy issues in the future.
These group discussions are part of a semester-long seminar to help transfer students acclimate to student life at Baruch. Over the course of ten weeks, students learn about and discuss the culture of Baruch and topics including writing skills, academic integrity and leadership. They also spend six sessions sharing their perspectives with fellow students about three social issues that may hit close to home: jobs and the economy, immigration and energy.
Baruch students who received training from the Public Agenda team moderate the discussions, fostering open, inclusive dialogue with no predetermined conclusions. The discussion guides, which include three different approaches to the issue at hand, help students break out of a for or against debate and keep the conversation moving.
"I think people really wanted to find a solution. They really wanted to know how this thing can be solved," said Viral Shah, a 22-year-old student moderator majoring in finance.
"I liked that we were able to pivot in the discussion and focus on how seemingly terrible one idea is, and then add in things that could get people to think. It was nice to have the room for provocation of some thought," said Ian Wildman, 42, a student moderator and political science and philosophy double major.
"There were a couple of dominant voices, but everyone talked to one another, not just the assistant fellows," said another moderator.
These deliberative sessions can get students interested and engaged in a fresh way on social issues that relate to their lives. We also hope they help students build rapport, ease and ultimately community with each other.
If you're interested in developing a similar curriculum with your own students, contact Allison Rizzolo.