New Curriculum Nurtures Students’ Creative Side
The Story of the Blues. Beekeeping 101. Zen and the Art of Chocolate. Plan Your Dream Trip to Italy. The Mane Talk: A Walkthrough on Black/African American Hair.
Through an eclectic mix of workshops like these, all Jefferson freshmen had their first taste of Jefferson’s Creativity Core Curriculum this past semester.
The new curriculum aims to cultivate a confident and flexible student mindset, says Maribeth Kradel-Weitzel, assistant provost for academic affairs. Working with a transdisciplinary University team, she spent two years planning and developing the curriculum, which will guide students through the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the rapidly evolving future of work.
“Jefferson is an incredibly forward-thinking institution that’s considering what a student’s career will be like, not in 2022, but in 2040 or 2050,” says Kradel-Weitzel, also director of the new MS in health communication design program. “We’re thinking about the longevity of a student’s career and how we can best prepare them to be adaptable leaders.”
Featuring three main components, the curriculum is part of the University’s long-standing commitment to its award-winning Nexus Learning approach and its Hallmarks Core that have resulted in students gaining the skills needed for the future of work, she says.
First, students enrolled in First-Year Seminar 100 will take one of the Creative Making Workshops like those noted above. This year featured 65 diverse programs, averaging 10 attendees per session, taught virtually by faculty from Jefferson and elsewhere. Students could participate in workshops such as Bringing Your Perspective to Protest, Creative Writing in Nature and Introduction to Mosaics.
Second, starting in fall 2021, all students will take a “creativity-intensive course,” which is embedded in their majors. The class must meet three objectives for inclusion in the curriculum:
- create value by producing novel output relevant to professional and real-world endeavors;
- devise effective strategies for creative production;
- and engage empathetic and critical-thinking skills when framing opportunities and solving problems.
The full list of classes under this umbrella is still being developed but will include Design I in the College of Architecture and the Built Environment and Finding and Shaping Opportunity in the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce, among others, says Alysha Friesen Meloche, creativity-intensive course coordinator. “Some classes can do this easily with small changes to existing objectives, while others may need to add new objectives.”
Jefferson is an incredibly forward-thinking institution that’s considering what a student’s career will be like, not in 2022, but in 2040 or 2050. –Maribeth Kradel-Weitzel
The curriculum’s third piece is a change to the Hallmarks Capstone, a required course for all undergrads during their final year. The proposed revision would recenter the course around the book “Designing Your Life” and feature exercises that use design thinking, reflective writing and prototyping strategies to help students plan for life after graduation, Kradel-Weitzel says.
By developing this curriculum, the University is demonstrating the importance that creativity, and thereby innovation, will have in all students’ lives, says Dr. Michael Brody, Jefferson’s senior advisor for creativity and art.
“Creativity relates to everything you might do,” he says. “Moving forward, creativity will be the absolute most important skill you can have in your toolbox for any job.”
People often equate creativity with exclusively “making something artistic,” Dr. Brody explains. While this can be true, exploring creativity also helps to rewire students’ thinking—regardless of their major.
Take the beekeeping workshop, for example. In the popular three-hour session, students learned about the lives of honeybees, and notably, how these insects impact the world in various ways.
“It shows the big picture and how disciplines are interrelated,” Dr. Brody says.
He spearheaded the workshops and their logistics—no small feat in 2020. Initially planned to be in-person, all the workshops quickly pivoted to virtual sessions. For some, students picked up supply kits at the Gutman Library on East Falls Campus so they could fully participate at home.
“We had to completely flip it all around,” says Kradel-Weitzel, applauding the instructors and students for their adaptability during the pandemic.
Pre-nursing student Xueyi Li took the DIY Fidget workshop led by occupational therapy professor Dr. Monique Chabot. The session showed the process of making and doing, without concern for the end product, to support overall well-being.
“I enjoyed this workshop because I don’t have much of an opportunity to create handcrafts,” Li says. “Doing such an activity really saved me from my academic anxiety.”
Creativity relates to everything you might do. Moving forward, creativity will be the absolute most important skill you can have in your toolbox for any job. –Dr. Michael Brody
Biopsychology student Paulina Trzesniowska also had a positive experience in the Beyond Male and Female session instructed by Nathan Long, a creative writing professor at Stockton University.
“It brought to light how quick we are to gender things, even inanimate objects, to help make them easier to categorize,” Trzesniowska says. “It led me to be more cognizant of what I say, how to effectively use people’s preferred pronouns and to be respectful of everyone’s genders.”
In surveying students after taking the workshops, the Creativity Core Curriculum Committee found many shared a similar increase in “growth mindset” regarding viewpoints about creativity as a skill that can be developed rather than an innate personal quality, Kradel-Weitzel notes. The committee will conduct a more detailed analysis of the curriculum to show its widespread impact. Other potential benefits include the development of faculty research projects, new student organizations and enhanced connection with the greater community.
“The success of the curriculum is in large part due to the dedication and diversity of perspectives of the Creativity Core Curriculum Committee members and the willingness of the greater university community to embark upon a new endeavor during an already-challenging time,” she says. “It has been inspiring to see how the curriculum has impacted students’ perceptions about themselves and their abilities. I’m hopeful that this curriculum can help our students to differentiate themselves and reach a higher potential.”