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Focus Author Kathy Guthrie Talks About Her JCC Article

August 26, 2014 Kathy Guthrie Florida State University

Focus Author: Kathy L. Guthrie, Associate Professor, Florida State University
Article in Journal of College and Character:  “Undergraduate Certificate in Leadership Studies: An Opportunity for Seamless Learning” 15(1), February 2014 (With Becka Bovio, Trinity University)
More About: K. Guthrie

In my Journal of College and Character article, my co-author and I shared the complexities of creating opportunities for students to engage in seamless learning. We shared how an Undergraduate Certificate in Leadership Studies provides such an opportunity, but not without challenges. I hope you will join me in further exploring seamless learning and leadership education. I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Complexities of Creating True Seamless Learning Environments

In higher education, the collaboration between academic affairs and student affairs is a constant topic of conversation. If we are always talking about it, what is it and why is it such a difficult concept to master? Why is it that people working at the same institution with the same students have such different perspectives on what and how things should be done?  How can the culture of working with students both inside and outside of the classroom be so different? The student affairs field has been discussing how to work with academic affairs since the beginning. In the 1937 Student Personnel Point of View coordination of within an institution, for example academic affairs and business affairs, dominates the conversation. However, I propose that we should be past mere coordination, and even collaboration. Instead the conversation should be around integrated learning and how to create a seamless learning environment for students. This environment should embrace a continuous transitions between in-the-classroom and out-of-the-classroom in all forms.  

Seamless learning exists when students are able to engage both within and outside of the classroom experiences that contribute to overall engagement, growth, and learning. The Undergraduate Certificate in Leadership Studies at Florida State University is just one example of how a partnership between academic affairs and student affairs may work to create this type of learning environment. As discussed in the article, the cer­tificate incorporates various experiences from which students can glean and retain leadership theory and practice both within and outside of the classroom. The seamless learning exhibited in the certificate contributes to the success of the program in a way that simply academic or cocurricular programs cannot achieve independently.

While I have searched for other examples of seamless learning environments, I have found very few that truly exemplify this concept. Living-learning communities often say they provide this type of environment, but it does not show up in its entirety operationally. Are there seamless learning environments that truly exemplify this concept that you know of?  I would love to hear more about them!

Another beneficial aspect of the certificate is the unique funding model of the program. In 2008, after a handful of students had been awarded academic certificates, the university administration determined the necessity of a full-time coordinator for the program. The Center for Leadership and Social Change provided funding to create this faculty position; however, the position was best situated within the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Therefore, a full-time, tenure-track faculty position was created in the College of Education, but funded through the Division of Student Affairs. While this funding struc­ture may appear somewhat unconventional, this unique administrative position has contributed, in part, to the seamless model for leadership education at Florida State University. The certificate’s full-time faculty member works in the College of Education within academic affairs, yet also has an office in The Center for Leadership and Social Change within student affairs. Additionally, the Graduate Teaching Assistants are funded by the College of Education, but have offices in the Center.

As mentioned in the article, one of the major barriers for the Undergraduate Certificate in Leadership Studies was funding. Funding is still a challenging and complex issue that plagues this program. In tough budget times, this is bound to continue as a challenge. We have slightly altered our funding model to help self-fund the program by teaching an introduction to leadership theory course online, which charges a minimal fee, which then comes back to the certificate program. Even though the faculty coordinator is fully funded through the Division of Student Affairs, she is situated full-time in the Col­lege of Education, which is her “tenure home.” Current funding is a combination of volunteer instructors, doctoral students teaching for credit, and a small number of instructors who obtain a small stipend for teaching one semester.

Now that we have been developing the certificate for six years and have over 115 graduates, we are about to embark on a research project to better understand sustained learning outcomes. While we measure learning outcomes of current courses right after their completion, we are looking to explore if the Leadership Certificate has sustained influence and if knowledge, skills, and values learned in LDR classes show up in their workplace years after they have graduated. Beyond measuring learning outcomes of graduates, what other things are readers curious about in regards to the Leadership Certificate and leadership education in regards to creating seamless learning environments?