September 19, 2011

Participatory Learning

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Why did you come to Cornell? Regardless of whether you are a student, faculty member or staff, I hope your answer in some way involves participating in the production of world-class educational opportunities. Why were you accepted into the Cornell community (i.e., admitted as a student or hired by the University)? Because you have the skills needed to succeed in and contribute to this engaging learning environment. These answers seem simple enough until we strive to explicitly define “education” and “learning environment.”

As a member of Cornell’s Board of Trustees, I am reminded daily of the panoply of ways in which education occurs at Cornell. While we might think first of didactic instruction in the classroom, most of us could easily cite numerous forms of experiential learning that not only supplement, but truly effectuate the learning environment we cherish.

Experiential learning opportunities at Cornell not only help us better understand concepts explained in lectures, but also provide us with important personal and professional development opportunities. These experiences include internships, field trips, research, study abroad, alternative breaks, service learning, adventure education and project-based learning. Those who acknowledge and support Cornell’s land grant mission find wonderfully meaningful educational experiences through collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension and communities throughout New York State. I would add at least one additional educational experience to this burgeoning list — participating in the shared governance system at Cornell.

I am currently starting my fifth year of involvement in our system of shared governance. I can say without reservation that the lessons and skills I have learned through serving on University committees, leading the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (as treasurer and president) and governing Cornell as a trustee have done just as much to prepare me for my future career as my formal classroom instruction has. Far more important than getting me a future job (although I cannot complain about resume building), the leadership and organizational skills I have gained will make me a much more effective faculty member and administrator in years to come.

Participation in shared governance is a great opportunity for students, faculty and staff not only for personal and professional development reasons. It allows you to be part of the process by which this institution continually redefines itself and evolves to meet our students’, and the world’s, ever-changing needs. The Faculty Senate, Employee Assembly, GPSA, Student Assembly and University Assembly all have numerous committees that address countless aspects of academic, work environment, non-academic programming and quality of life issues at Cornell. I feel that passing through one’s time at Cornell without volunteering on at least one such committee causes one to leave this institution with an impoverished experience.  Committee involvement benefits Cornell by harnessing our skills and insights, and it benefits us by illuminating the ways in which decisions are made on the Hill.

In previous years, I have read countless diatribes in The Sun and elsewhere bemoaning decisions made by our administration. Some concerns have been legitimate, but I question the right of individuals not involved in the shared governance system to cry foul when the system seems to have failed in some way. I wish that the fervor that emanated from a few key issues last year could be sustained in the form of continued interest in shared governance. Unless people commit to regular involvement in governing this University, discussion with the administration about reasonable courses of action will always be reactionary and never the proactive dialogue that I value highly.

As a final comment on your involvement in shared governance, I invite you to save the date for a “listening session” that several other trustees and I will be hosting on Oct. 18 from 4-5 p.m. in Mann Library 102. This will be an opportunity for faculty, staff and students to learn more about the role of trustees in our shared governance system and to converse with us about ideas or concerns you have relevant to trustee matters.

Almost 2,500 years ago, Sophocles said, “One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.”  I encourage all students, staff and faculty to continue their learning at Cornell by engaging in governance.  Please contact your relevant constituent assembly or send me an e-mail if you seek to become involved.

Darrick Nighthawk Evensen is a graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources and the graduate student-elected trustee. He may be reached at dte6@cornell.edu. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Darrick Nighthawk Evensen