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Mizzou Advantage to Create New Integrated, ‘Real Life’ Learning Experiences

LuAnne Roth, education coordinator for Mizzou Advantage, will facilitate new activities, certificates for students

January 14th, 2010

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430, BasiC@missouri.edu

Roth, LuAnneCOLUMBIA, Mo. ­— Since 1839, the University of Missouri has encouraged high-quality teaching practices through faculty development initiatives, award programs and teaching mentors. Now, with the new Mizzou Advantage program, administrators are creating a specific educational component to benefit students through a series of learning experiences and academic certificate programs.

During a three-year process, MU faculty, students and alumni identified MU’s top competitive assets, or unique strengths, that set MU apart from other universities. These assets underlie five dynamic initiatives that collectively are called the Mizzou Advantage. As a key component to the mission of Mizzou Advantage, a series of integrated courses, new certificate programs and out-of-classroom learning experiences will be developed to give students a competitive edge in the global marketplace. LuAnne Roth, who will coordinate these various initiatives, said this is an opportunity to rethink how learning and teaching are traditionally done and to experiment with new programs and ideas.

“We are fortunate at Mizzou that our strongest research areas also boast some of our most robust teaching,” Roth said. “This isn’t just about giving students knowledge and skills; we’re also teaching them to think critically, to be innovative and to solve problems through real-life experiences. When our students graduate, we want to prepare them to engage in the kinds of changes and issues that happen in the real world.”

MU has budgeted $6 million per year for Mizzou Advantage programs. A portion of this money will fund various projects driven by networks of collaborators (faculty members, centers departments, corporate partners and other universities). Capitalizing on the growth of these networks, Roth is bringing faculty members together to determine how cross-disciplinary teaching and integrated learning experiences can be created to give students added skills to compete in the work force.

One possibility is to combine sophomores and juniors in small co-curricular groups, building upon the successful Freshman Interest Groups, or FIGS, currently at Mizzou. These interdisciplinary groups would be given real-life challenges — for example, the growth of obesity among Americans, the energy crisis or technological changes — that can be approached from different angles.

“These problems have no clear solutions, not even from the experts,” Roth said. “The research indicates that problem-based learning is very successful in actively engaging students in not only understanding content, but more importantly how to apply that knowledge. We have seen tremendous success with this model in the School of Medicine. I am interested in seeing how this might translate to our undergraduate students.”

Additional education experiences through Mizzou Advantage also might come from the creation of interdisciplinary certificates, which could be earned at the graduate or undergraduate level.

 “As we continue to work with the Mizzou Advantage facilitators and our advisory boards, we will create academic certificate programs to enhance the educational experience at Mizzou and give our students a unique learning environment,” Roth said. “We will be developing certificate programs in each area of Mizzou Advantage, all of which will be interdisciplinary.  For example, a certificate in sustainable energy would draw on different areas, including engineering, law, architecture and agriculture.”

The Mizzou Advantage was created to increase MU’s visibility, impact and stature in higher education, locally, statewide, nationally and around the world. An important first step in initiating the program is a round of grants, totaling more than $900,000, that will fund 26 networking and other projects. MU officials’ goal is that Mizzou Advantage will strengthen existing faculty networks, create new networks and propel Mizzou’s research, instruction and other activities to the next level.

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