Bob Jones University students may soon find themselves participating in a new kind of education labeled experiential learning, thanks to a new program being developed at BJU as part of the Quality Enhancement Plan required for reaffirmation of the University’s regional accreditation.
The program, known as Bruins Engage!, started as the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) required by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to reaffirm BJU’s regional accreditation. However, BJU has plans for the QEP far beyond the minimum accreditation requirements.
Bruins Engage! will focus on three primary elements of what President Steve Pettit calls the BJU Premium: biblical worldview, engaged learning and life mentoring.
Dr. Renae Wentworth, the dean of the College of Arts and Science, explained that the name Bruins Engage! is meant to unite the BJU community. “All the students, all the faculty and staff [are a] family here; we are all the Bruins,” she said.
By the end of the five-year Bruins Engage! plan, every student working toward a bachelor’s degree will graduate with a minimum of two experiences (labeled EXPs) on their transcript.
The EXPs can include a range of experiences, such as internships; global experiences like study abroad classes or mission trips; service-learning opportunities through the CGO or local ministries; society leadership and at least one course-related experience.
The five-year plan is currently in year zero, consisting of development and research, and will officially begin next year. A handful of classes have begun experimenting with project-based classes, and next fall will see official EXP classes.
The EXP opportunities would follow the groundwork laid by current BJU endeavors, including the interdisciplinary team that won a grant from the XPRIZE Foundation and last summer’s cancer research program on campus.
Dr. Rhonda Galloway, a faculty member in the Division of English Language and Literature, participated on the task force that created the plan. “We have been almost a year in choosing the specifics of the Quality Enhancement Plan and developing the plan,” she said.
“It’s quite the involved process, but the end result is a focus on experiential learning, and the idea is that this is based on tremendous amounts of research,” Galloway said. In addition to reviewing academic research studies, the team used focus groups and surveys of current BJU students to find the best ways to improve BJU’s programs.
Linda Abrams, a faculty member in the Division of History, Government and Social Science who is also helping with the QEP, said experiential learning better fits the way we naturally learn. “You didn’t learn how to throw a football by watching videos all the time, you learned how to throw a football by doing it and failing and doing it again,” Abrams said.
Additionally, the projects are open to students from a variety of majors. For example, a student majoring in English could potentially complete an EXP related to political science. “We want to be able to label that and have the student involved in actually choosing how he actualizes the BJU experience,” Galloway said.
Mentorship from faculty, the length of the experience and a reflection will form a critical part of the EXPs offered through Bruins Engage!. “[The EXP] would need to be sustained,” Galloway said. “It wouldn’t be just going out one time to work in somebody’s yard.”
Wentworth said reflection is a critical part of a quality learning experience. “Research has shown the true transformational learning comes through reflection—not just the doing of something, but the reflecting back on what you have done,” Wentworth said.
Additionally, the development team hopes that the hands-on learning approach will better help students who struggle with traditional learning methods. “Research shows that the hands-on, project-based learning really benefits all levels of students, especially students who sometimes tend to struggle a little bit,” Wentworth said.
Dr. Gary Weier, the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said BJU faculty members will complete a multi-week training class this summer to prepare for the official launch of Bruins Engage! next fall.