Bringing It

Bringing It #121: James Madison University, College Unbound, and Changemaker Competencies

May 16, 2024

Dear friends,

Welcome back to Bringing It, our platform to highlight equitable, holistic and engaged higher education. Today we have the pleasure of discussing the work of two “emerging model” partners in our Paradigm Project. Dr. Patrice Ludwig of James Madison University (JMU) and Dr. Sylvia Spears of College Unbound sat down with us to discuss their work in creating change oriented student learning outcomes. College Unbound’s established “Big 10 Leadership and Change Capacities” and JMU’s emerging Changemaker Learning Goals both point to a larger understanding of the goals of a higher education degree. As Ludwig says, both are doing innovative and important work that “re-conceptualizes  the baccalaureate.”

Changemaker Competencies across Institutions

Dr. Spears is the Provost and Vice President for Life-long Learning at College Unbound, a radical institution designed to address the needs of adult learners, especially concerning access, transformative learning, and completion. Dr. Ludwig serves as the Interim Assistant Vice President for Research and Innovation at JMU and she has served as a key leader for JMU’s transdisciplinary X-Labs. The X-Labs function as sandboxes for cross-disciplinarity innovation and collaboration, connecting students and faculty across campus. Ludwig’s current work is “bubbling out of X-labs…an unbound enclave of JMU.” Though these leaders work in very different institutions, both are informed by their spaces that operate outside of traditional classrooms and departmental offices. These contexts, untethered from departmental and institutional silos, created the space for Ludwig and Spears not only to innovate, but also to reconsider the value of their institutions’ degrees. 

So what should a new vision of education offer, or as Ludwig said, “what does this piece of paper [a degree] mean?”  Spears said that at College Unbound, “there’s one major: Organizational Leadership and Change,” rooted in values of equity and social justice. To achieve it, students must prove proficiency in 10 competencies of Leadership including not only traditional learning outcomes like Critical Thinking and Communications, but also social and personal-growth capacities like Intercultural Engagement and Resilience. Spears clarified that as faculty and administrators, “So much of the work we do is providing mirrors and windows–mirrors for people to see who they really are and the expertise and knowledge they bring, and windows for them to see what’s possible for them that they never before thought was possible.” Therefore, the competencies students achieve at College Unbound are oriented not around subject matter or discipline, but instead around personal growth and capacity for change. This represents CU’s approach to integrative learning.

This speaks directly to the work that Ludwig and her JMU colleagues are pursuing. A part of their work is establishing new learning goals that reflect student mindset shifts and change-capacity building. As Ludwig described their process, the central question was, “What are the social responsibilities and values, how do we describe this degree as a social contract?” Their answer? The degree should “Embody transdisciplinarity–beyond teaching, learning, and research, but all of those things interwoven.” 

In order for these degrees to be transdisciplinary, JMU is working on developing new learning outcomes that focus on a “Changemaker Mindset.” This mindset is centered on four pillars: 1) “students will practice identifying areas for positive changemaking; 2) students will generate and implement solutions as they adapt to emerging challenges, needs and demands; 3) students will be able to strategically assemble diverse teams and resources to implement solutions; and 4) students  will be able to integrate ethical reasoning throughout changemaking efforts.” Ludwig hopes that JMU can implement these goals as it redesigns its general education curriculum, reorienting the basis of every student’s degree towards creating and sustaining change, no matter their degree. JMU is still early in their general education curriculum redesign process, and Ludwig knows full-scale adoption of these goals would require broad faculty buy-in across campus. This is ambitious, but worth the work to broaden faculty awareness and collaboration.

Ludwig and Spears’ work points to a model of the degree focused not on siloed skills and course requirements, but on a holistic vision of students cognitive, social, emotional, and ethical growth, one that prepares all students to make positive change in the world.  Their work also underscores the importance of de-siloing and collaboration in building such models—but collaboration within their institutions and in multi-institutional initiatives like the Paradigm Project. Keep up with Bringing It for updates on these learning goals, and for more meeting of the minds of our partners! Thanks so much to Dr. Spears and Dr. Ludwig for sharing the vital stories of their work.

News and Events:

  • Our beloved communications intern, Gianna Smurro, is graduating next week and is off to her next adventure as a law student at the University of Maryland. She has provided vital support in communications and editorial work over her three year term, and we will miss her so much. Congratulations to Gianna for all her wonderful work!
  • Imagining America invites applications for their 2024-2025 Publicly Active Graduate Education Fellowship (PAGE). Intended for graduate students at Imagining America member campuses, this fellowship is for students interested in public scholarship, arts, humanities, and activism. Fellows participate in a yearlong working group in support of collaborative artmaking, teaching, writing, storytelling, and co-creating knowledge with and within community. Applications are due May 31st. Questions can be directed to current co-directors at [email protected].
  • Project Pericles invites faculty and staff applicants for their Civic and Voter Engagement Fellowship. Fellows are awarded a $1,000 grant to use Periclean Civic Engagement Resources in the humanities in Fall 2024 or Spring 2025. Building on existing modules, fellows will also participate in virtual learning communities and contribute new materials to the Civic Engagement Resource Database. Applications are open now, and accepted on a rolling basis.

With thanks for you and all you do,

David, Gianna, Gillian, Kate, Paul, and Todd

Bringing Theory to Practice
Elon University