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Quality Enhancement Plan

Rice Community and the Planning Process

1. The Steering Committee

It took the work of many people in many stages to move the QEP from a general vision for a more holistic and civically-engaged undergraduate experience to the detailed plan offered here. In January 2005, President Leebron and Provost Eugene Levy created the QEP Steering Committee to oversee the QEP's development. Members of this Committee were chosen from all relevant constituencies of the university community, from the Board of Trustees to the undergraduate population. Designation of the Dean of Undergraduates as committee co-chair and inclusion of several other senior academic officers, as well as the university's Vice President for Finance, indicated Rice's intention to commit the necessary human and financial resources to develop and implement the QEP. See Appendix A for a list of the Steering Committee members. 

The Steering Committee began monthly meetings in February 2005. 29 Early meetings were devoted to review of SACS accreditation rules and procedures, consultation with accreditation experts, and discussion of the rationale for a QEP focused on civic engagement. As the Committee's focus sharpened-from civic engagement, generally, to community-based research, in particular-individual Committee members and sub-working groups were assigned various investigative tasks. These tasks included reviewing best practices, service learning, and community-based research programs at peer institutions; organization and facilitation of discussions of the QEP with faculty members; meeting with program assessment consultants; and, meeting with Rice alumni and community leaders. 

Between March and December 2005, the members of one committee subgroup reviewed service learning and community-based research programs at peer institutions (see Appendix B). The review included visits to Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford; conference calls with program directors at Duke, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Princeton, and Stanford; and, attendance of SACS and Campus Compact conferences in Tulsa, Orlando, Austin, and Atlanta. These activities proved instrumental to the Committee's thinking on the need for creation of a "Center" to house the evolving QEP program. 

Throughout the summer and fall of 2005, Steering Committee subgroups met with Rice faculty, developed an assessment protocol, and identified potential community partners. The Dean of Undergraduates and his assistant organized group and individual meetings with faculty. These meetings allowed the Steering Committee to enlist the faculty in defining how best to use Houston as a connector between what students learn in the classroom and what they can experience and learn outside of it. The meetings also proved a precursor to the formation of the Faculty Advisory Group.

 

2. The Faculty Advisory Group

During the summer of 2005, the Dean of Undergraduates assembled a group of Rice faculty to discuss community-based research. 30 This group, including representatives from all six of the university's Schools, identified a number of courses in the curriculum that included community-based research assignments or had the potential for such assignments. The group also identified existing faculty partnerships with community organizations. Members of the Steering Committee met individually with more than 20 faculty members whose teaching and research interests intersected promisingly with the QEP.

Based on these meetings, Dean Forman formed a Faculty Advisory Group (the Group) to assist in the development of the Civic Inquiry Program . Faculty Advisory Group members were selected based on their experience teaching courses that included community-based research projects. The members of the Faculty Advisory Group are:

Philip Bedient,
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Christopher Hight,
Assistant Professor of Architecture
Stephen Klineberg,
Professor of Sociology
Lisa Meffert,
Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Maria Oden,
Lecturer and Design Lab Coordinator in Bioengineering
Evan Siemann,
Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biolog

Dean Forman facilitated a series of meetings of the Faculty Advisory Group in the fall of 2005. During these meetings, the Group, assisted by higher education assessment consultants Will Weber and Jerry Osborne, identified QEP learning objectives and outcomes, and provided key feedback on the design and implementation of the assessment protocol. The Faculty Advisory Group was essential for building consensus and support for the QEP in Rice's six Schools. Dean Forman reinforced the work of the Group by meeting with department chairs and deans.

3. The Student and Staff Advisory Groups

Beginning in October 2005, the Director of the Community Involvement Center (CIC) and student officers of the Rice Student Volunteer Program (RSVP) held open forums to solicit student input on the QEP. The open forums were followed by the formation of a Student Advisory Group, which was charged with planning a strategy for informing undergraduates about the QEP. The Student Advisory Group presented the QEP to the Student Association (SA)-the Rice University student government-on January 30, 2006, and hosted a campus-wide forum on the QEP on February 8, 2006. The latter included break-out sessions, facilitated by Rice faculty, in which students discussed civic engagement, research at Rice, and the kinds of community experiences that might best attract students to QEP courses (see Appendix I). Additional efforts to educate students about the opportunities presented by the QEP were undertaken by the Student Advisory Group throughout the spring semester.

Also in October 2005, the Dean of Undergraduates Office and Director of the CIC convened a Staff Advisory Group. The Staff Advisory Group, comprised of individuals with extensive involvement in student experiential learning programs, was asked to review the QEP proposal and, in particular, work on identifying experiential and institutional goals. Feedback from both groups was integrated into the development of the co-curricular learning objectives. See Appendix A for a list of individuals participating in the Student and Staff Advisory Groups.

 

4. Community Partners

In developing the QEP, it has been one of the Steering Committee's priorities to ensure that Community Partners have a voice in not only the projects but also the process of project development. Lessons learned from peer institutions strongly indicate that this is a critical component of their success. Beginning early in the fall 2005 semester, the Steering Committee brainstormed the types of information to collect from community partners. At a minimum, organizations needed to: 1) be a nonprofit or governmental agency, 2) have an existing or previous contact with Rice University through either curricular experiences (class projects or internships) or co-curricular volunteer experiences, 3) have a clearly established presence in the Greater Houston community, and 4) be open to discussion of the new opportunities and limitations of opportunities provided by the Center for Civic Engagement.

Through a series of three meetings in November 2005, the Steering Committee provided information to over twenty community partners on the structure and reasoning behind the QEP and also received constructive feedback on the planned activities. 31 While being clear that the substantive part of the QEP courses would not be open for expansion until spring 2007, we asked for suggestions for improvement to the plan.

Each meeting opened with a brief synopsis of the work completed thus far on the QEP and the opportunities that could be available to community partners. A particular emphasis was placed on the nature of the QEP as a research opportunity for students and community partners. Great care was also made to differentiate the student as a volunteer, intern, and researcher, as each role has different responsibilities to the university, professor, and community partner. Participants then introduced themselves and commented on past experiences with Rice University students.

It became apparent very quickly that the community partners understood and were enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by the QEP. Over the course of the three meetings, ideas ranging from the development of electronic medical records for outreach case workers to investigating the possibility of extending the Americans with Disabilities Act internationally through treaties were brought forth. The focus of each meeting was redirected toward emphasis of student research as a means of capacity building for nonprofit and governmental organizations. The more community partners understand the community assets available, the needs of their client base, and the outcomes of their efforts, the greater their ability to serve the Houston community.

These meetings set the foundation from which the work of the Director of the Center for Civic Engagement will proceed. With thousands of nonprofit agencies in Houston, it is critical to provide a more discrete set of options from which the program can grow. Participants in the community partner meetings were left with the assurance that there would be follow up conversations to explore the opportunities they presented. In the interim, a number of agencies have already started some preliminary work to develop research questions appropriate for inclusion in QEP courses.

Footnotes:

 

  1. Appendix E chronicles Steering Committee meetings and activities.
  2. See Appendices A, C and E.
  3. Appendix D provides a list and brief description of the community partners involved in the community-based research discussions.