English alumna Jeanette Herman wins Cale McDowell Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Studies
Posted: June 5, 2013
The Department of English congratulates English alumna Jeanette Herman for winning the 2013 Cale McDowell Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Studies. A 2004 Ph.D. graduate of the department, Herman entered the administrative world of the University of Texas at Austin, working for both the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the School of Undergraduate Studies, where she currently serves as the Assistant Dean for Academic Initiatives.
Herman was selected for the Cale McDowell Award—an award established by the Board of Regents to “encourage research or innovation that improves the university’s core curriculum”—for her work implementing skills and experience flags as a part of the Task Force on Curriculum Reform. This project was initiated to extend common curricular elements across majors so that all undergraduate students would explore common skills and experiences through the work of their particular disciplines.
Read the Q&A below for more information about Herman’s work to integrate a multidisciplinary approach to the undergraduate curriculum.
How did you become attached to the project of implementing the skills and experience flags? How have you gone about this work?
My position in the School of Undergraduate Studies involves working with academic initiatives that cut across the various colleges and schools at UT, and the skills and experience flags are one of the major new academic initiatives that UGS was formed to implement. As part of the work I do on interdisciplinary and other undergraduate programs, I work extensively with faculty on ways of improving and enhancing the undergraduate academic experience at UT. Because the flags involve a great deal of work with faculty and departments on curriculum, and because of my academic and teaching background, I was the best person within UGS to take the lead on this project.
I have a wonderful team of staff in the Center for the Core Curriculum who have been working with me over the past several years to implement the flags, and we have collaborated with faculty and staff across the university. Our approach has been to encourage each department to think about how it makes sense for its own students to learn about each of the flag areas, in order to incorporate the flags into the curriculum in meaningful ways. The other piece of this work that has been very important is working collaboratively with faculty to interpret the criteria for each of the flags, and to find ways for the flags to help improve or enhance the curriculum as well as reflect the excellent teaching already happening across campus.
Why do you think skills and experience flags are important? What impact do you hope they will have?
The flags help us to articulate as a university a common set of educational goals that we have for every undergraduate, regardless of the student's major. Once fully implemented, flags will ensure that all students are learning to write effectively, to understand cultural perspectives outside of their own, to use quantitative reasoning skills, to think critically about ethical questions, and to engage in independent inquiry relevant to their discipline. For students, the flags give them one way of talking about what distinguishes the education they have received at UT.
Beyond naming what we're already doing well as a university, I hope the flags play a role in transforming the curriculum. The most interesting and rewarding conversations I've had around the flags have been with faculty who see them as a way of improving the educational experience they're offering students. For example, a meeting with faculty about the Independent Inquiry flag led to conversations about how the flag could fill a gap the faculty perceived within the major. Another example is some of the work we've done to help faculty convert courses to carry the Ethics and Leadership flag, where the faculty have found that adding the flag not only improved how they were teaching the flagged course, but also positively affected their teaching in other courses.
How did you move from a Ph.D. in English to the administrative side of the UT system? What attracted you to the Center for Core Curriculum and the Bridging Disciplines program?
I really enjoyed the teaching I did while I was a Ph.D. student in the English department, and I've been interested for a long time in interdisciplinary research and education, as well as in looking at curriculum beyond the individual classroom. When a position opened up to direct the Bridging Disciplines Programs--a set of interdisciplinary certificates for undergraduates--it seemed like a great fit for me because it combined all of these interests and at the same time drew on organizational skills I've developed both within and outside of the university. It's rewarding to see students grow and develop through their time in the BDP, and I've enjoyed the opportunity to work with faculty from departments across UT. My position has evolved over the years to include a variety of different academic programs for undergraduates, including the Office of Undergraduate Research, the Archer Program, and the Center for the Core Curriculum, but the common thread is enhancing the undergraduate academic experience in ways that cut across disciplines and colleges.
Has your work in the English department connected with your work as Assistant Dean for Academic Initiatives? How?
My work in UGS has absolutely connected with my work in the English department, in so many ways. Most of what I know about teaching, curriculum, and how the university operates started with the teaching and committee work I did as a graduate student. And I use my research and coursework background all the time in my work, whether I'm working with faculty to develop a Human Rights and Social Justice BDP, thinking about how we can offer undergraduate research opportunities for students in the humanities, or working on flags in Writing or Global Cultures. My academic background is critical to the work I do. I also get to continue working with many faculty from the English department who have been involved with BDP faculty committees, the Writing flag committee, the Archer Program, and other initiatives.
Do you have any upcoming projects or goals for the School of Undergraduate Studies?
Right now, I'm spending a lot of time working with faculty committees on developing some new interdisciplinary degree programs for undergraduates—one in Sustainability Studies and one in Leadership, Organizations, and Society.
Find out more about the Cale McDowell Award here.