Catalyst: A Constantly Evolving Model of and for Higher Education

By Katelyn Van Swol

At the annual Association of American Colleges and Universities conference in the beginning of February, Dean Wingenbach, Professor Mark Kainz and Professor Young spoke on a panel that introduced the Catalyst curriculum to the wider world of higher education and explained why the adaptive qualities of the Catalyst curriculum have allowed it to succeed and continue to grow. Examples of these adaptive qualities include introducing new classes and switching class meetings from 11:15 to 10:10.

“The 11:15 time slot that we used was quite popular for courses where extended class meetings are useful: having the Catalyst courses all in this time slot means about half of the students are in a course at this time, which eliminates conflict in their schedules but also results in a limited number of other courses for students outside the curriculum and this was an issue we were aiming to resolve,” Kainz said.

Wingenbach noted that all parts of the Catalyst program are still subject to change as they figure out what will work the best. He said“everything about Catalyst is open to revision if it isn’t working as expected or we think it can be improved. Catalyst is a set of ambitious ideas about what the liberal arts should look like in the 21st Century, and is meant to make Ripon College graduates better prepared for success than students graduating from other places. If we think a change will help us do that, we will. Obviously, we hope to get things mostly right, most of the time, but we can’t be afraid to change to get better.”

Another change to the curriculum is on the horizon as the final part of Catalyst is implemented next year in the form of the Applied Innovation Seminar during the first part of Junior year. Kainz describes these courses as “collaborative student efforts with faculty mentorships.” These will allow students to demonstrate the skills they have developed over the previous two years of Catalyst seminars.

At the recent conference, Wingenbach, Kainz and Young helped to explain how this curriculum is growing and adapting. The panel featured participants from three schools, including Ripon, that are focused on revamping the idea of general education. Wingenbach said the panel “was attended by well over 100 people with others standing out in the hall to listen” as they sought to learn more about these new models of core curricula. They also had a chance to lead a workshop for other faculty and administrators to advise them on how to change their own general education programs.

Wingenbach viewed this opportunity as extremely positive for the college on many levels, particularly because “people participating in the workshop came a day early and paid extra to learn about how Ripon College has been an effective model for other colleges.” He sees this as only the beginning for the program.