Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

Leadership in Ensuring the Success of All Students

July 21, 2006

Continuing our summer series of PKAL Volume IV postings on leaders and leadership, we present remarks from Karan Watson, Dean of Faculties & Associate Provost at Texas A & M University. At the PKAL Leadership Seminar focusing on "leadership in ensuring the success of all students," Dr. Watson presented stories from her Cherokee tradition, translating the morals of these ancient stories into mantras for 21st century leaders. This seminar was hosted by Trinity University (TX) in March 2006.

Three PKAL visions of what works, distilled during the 2003 PKAL 10x10 Assemblies, were a primary resource for this 2006 leadership seminar: what works in serving all students; what works in shaping general education programs; and what works in ensuring the success of groups currently under-represented in STEM. Each vision reinforces the need for leaders to take a kaleidoscopic perspective– focusing on people, program and spaces, as well as on institutional policies and practices— if they are to have a lasting impact on their community.

Addressing the "why change" question is a persisting challenge for leaders. Robert Megginson, Associate Dean for Undergraduate & Graduate Education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor suggests "because of diversity" as one answer to that question. Megginson is a PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century and a co-pi of PKAL’s current Leadership Initiative.

Megginson’s call for leaders to grapple with various dimensions of diversity is developed further by Craig E. Nelson, Professor of Biology at Indiana University, in his essay on Student Diversity Requires Different Approaches To College Teaching, Even in Math and Science. Beginning with,

"When I first encountered them, the arguments challenging professors to address diversity in our classrooms seemed to be largely specious and not likely to have any positive effect in most science courses, certainly not in those I aught in biology. Subsequently, I have come to understand that much of what I took as neutral teaching practice actually functions to keep our courses less accessible to students from non-traditional backgrounds..."

Nelson describes his experiences (and that of others) in exploring faculty presumptions about which students can learn, and in developing approaches that "...foster dramatic changes in student performance."

George Campbell, Jr., President of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, spoke at an earlier PKAL event, addressing the issue of Changing assumptions about who can learn. Examining history and looking toward the future, Campbell poses the following question:

"What are the root causes of our failure as a nation to develop a more diverse cadre of students and to bring them into the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering professions?"

The essential ingredients for producing diverse talent for science and engineering that have been identified by BEST (Building Engineering & Science Talent) are described in the PKAL 2006 Report on Reports (page 10), accompanied by data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census about population projections through 2020 that indicate the urgency of efforts of leaders to ensure the success of all students.