The University Record, July 9, 1996

Goldenberg: U-M working hard on undergraduate education

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

Major research universities like the U-M are often criticized---wrongly or rightly---for neglecting the education of undergraduate students in favor of devoting more resources to research.

"While the U-M's academic eminence is unquestioned," LS&A Dean Edie Goldenberg believes that some of the criticism rings true, despite the University's consistently high ratings for undergraduate education.

Speaking at an Ann Arbor Rotary Club meeting on campus last month, Goldenberg told members that with the federal government making large investments in research over the past 50 years, major research institutions "lost their sense of focus on education as a primary mission." But throughout the 1990s, she said, the U-M has worked hard to "right that balance."

Goldenberg said that in this rapidly changing world, graduates of the U-M will need higher social and intellectual skills, including those in reasoning, communication and quantatitive thinking, as well as the ability to deal effectively with a demographically diverse population.

"We need to prepare students for a life of learning more than ever before," she said. "We need to give them some understanding about their culture and the ability to see our own national experiences through the eyes of others.

"Who better to teach students how to learn and to convey a sense of the joy of learning than faculty, who learn for a living? That is, our faculty, who chose careers of discovery and scholarship, who value a sense of wanting to learn."

The U-M's Undergraduate Initiative, Goldenberg said, is based on the premise that faculty research and scholarship should enhance---not detract from---each other and the undergraduate experience.

She said that since 1989 the University has focused greater attention on first-year and second-year undergraduate students. "We were doing a good job in our concentrations, but where we were really falling down was in helping (new) students connect with faculty and giving them a sense of what the undergraduate experience was all about."

Goldenberg said that a great deal is being done to "try to embed educational improvements in the culture at Michigan," many of them garnering national attention. For example, introductory courses, especially those in math and science, have become more student-centered, emphasizing critical thinking, group problem-solving and learning through discovery.

Another area, she said, that the University has improved and expanded the past few years is the First-Year Seminars program, which provides undergraduates with a small-class experience and is taught primarily by professors. Offered in a vast array of disciplines, the seminars emphasize communication and writing skills in course work.

In addition, the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), which enables undergraduate students to conduct research projects with faculty members, and the 21st Century Program, a residential living-learning experience for freshmen, have enhanced the education of undergraduates, Goldenberg said.

"Revitalizing undergraduate education is not something that happens in presidents' offices or deans' offices," Goldenberg said. "It happens in the classrooms, in the labs, in the residence halls, in the faculty offices all over this campus.

"I know that changing a culture and reforming undergraduate education is something that takes a lot of time, but I personally have been just delighted at how far and how quickly we have come and how great the `buy-in' has been from the faculty at Michigan."