Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Curricular Transformation
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Connections
Intercultural Learning for Inclusive Excellence
Why Allen and Joan Bildner and the Bildner Family Foundation Funded a Statewide Diversity Initiative
Learning to Listen as We Lead
Institutional Models That Cultivate Comprehensive Change
Curricular Transformation
Where Worlds Converge
Curricular Transformation through Collaborative Teaching
Intercultural Learning in First-Year Seminars
Designing Intercultural and Cross-cultural Spaces
Enhancing Collaborative Leadership of Faculty and Staff
Faculty-Driven Curricular Change
Diversity as Shared Practice
Dialogue Groups at Princeton University Library
Faculty Involvement
Epistles, Posters, and Pizza
Forging Campus-Community Connections
"Beyond Food"
Cross-cultural by Design
Student Experience
Something to Declare
Putting Student Voices in Public Spaces
Café Bergen
Institutional Leadership and Committment
Assessing Diversity Attitudes in First-Year Students
Infusing Cultural Competency into Health Professions Education

Intercultural Learning in First-Year Seminars

By Maria Tahamont, professor of biological sciences and coordinator of Rowan seminars, Rowan University

Curriculum transformation is not easy. It requires a well-articulated plan with a specific set of goals. In addition, as Sandra Kanter has written, transformation must be an ongoing process, “not a one time event but . . . a continuing effort in which each iteration deepens or improves upon some aspect of the curriculum” (2000, 6). This type of transformation is what Rowan University has been trying to achieve through the Bildner New Jersey Campus Diversity Initiative.

First-Year Seminars

Rowan University’s project supported the development of team-taught interdisciplinary courses to address issues of diversity and democracy in our first-year Rowan seminars. The courses seek to open minds to the complexities of human interactions and the interrelationships among different disciplines. At the same time, these courses integrate the realities of personal identities and experiences as a component of learning.

Faculty development works well when it is done as both an individual and a collective exercise; when faculty are given the time and resources to inquire, reflect, and experiment with pedagogy; and when they can do this work within a community that shares common concerns and goals.

Designed to enrich offerings available to first-year students, the courses are challenging and rigorous, and can ultimately be life-changing. An early exposure to U.S. democracy and diversity gives students a strong foundation for understanding multiplicities of people and cultures in American society today. By engaging freshmen with challenging content and opportunities for discovery and dialogue, we aim to open their minds to new ideas that will influence the rest of their academic careers. After they graduate, we hope these students will be more informed, involved, and engaged citizens who are aware of multicultural, global, and democratic issues facing contemporary society.

The Rowan seminar (RS) program was the logical place to house the new interdisciplinary courses. Taken by first-year students only, Rowan seminars have small class sizes (usually fifteen to twenty students) and are taught by full-time faculty trained to help first-year students in the transition to university life. RS courses have four common goals: to foster critical thinking and writing skills, library research skills, effective team skills, and time- and classroom-management skills. Most RS courses are offered as part of general education or are specific introductory courses for a major. During the last three years, faculty developed over twenty new courses for the Bildner project.

Faculty Development Workshops

The faculty development workshops offered resources for designing these new interdisciplinary courses. Each workshop was a five-day intensive experience organized into two parts. Each morning participants discussed shared readings, and each afternoon paired faculty worked on their course proposals. Topically, we focused on diversity, higher education in a diverse democracy, migration, the intersection of identities, immigration and global identities, and “multiple belongings.” We borrowed freely from Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) resources developed for their summer institute in 2000, Boundaries and Borderlands: The Search for Recognition and Community in America. We supplemented readings with material on team-teaching strategies and the goals of RS. In addition, we provided a stipend when each course proposal was completed.

One of the greatest benefits of this curricular effort has been its effect on faculty and staff. Over forty people, from disciplines as different as civil engineering and philosophy and from departments as diverse as budget and career planning, participated in our Bildner project. This cadre of Bildner fellows has developed an identity on campus, and participants have been invigorated by the experience. Faculty development works well when it is done as both an individual and a collective exercise; when faculty are given the time and resources to inquire, reflect, and experiment with pedagogy; and when they can do this work within a community that shares common concerns and goals. If all of these elements are combined, faculty development fosters lasting change in teaching and academic programs (Chism, Lees, and Evenbeck 2002).

The Benefits of the Project

Participation in the Bildner project has enhanced job satisfaction, professional renewal, and collegial relations. Interdisciplinary work is transformative in itself and its impact far reaching. How faculty teach, even in their own disciplinary courses, is now informed by having developed a team-taught interdisciplinary course. Participants especially appreciated that the institution sponsored and supported the workshops. As one fellow said, “It is nice to have the university support professional development, both programmatically and financially. This was far more valuable than a conference.”

Having documented the value of the faculty participation, what do we know about the students? In our initial survey, students reported that the courses are interesting and unique. In general, they found the material to be, as one student put it, “eye and mind opening.” For many, these courses were their first opportunity to learn about different cultures. We plan to do a longitudinal study to follow students’ progress at the university and inquire later in their careers about the impact of their freshman seminar. From the positive responses we have seen so far, we anticipate the impact will be lasting.

Higher education is one of the few remaining arenas where dialogue, deliberation, and thoughtful engagement are pursued as primary components of the institution’s mission. Such experiences expand students’ minds and provide skills for intelligent discourse and decision-making. It is essential to be mindful of the multicultural and diverse society in which we live, and to provide an education that addresses the challenges students will face within a global community. We think our Bildner-funded diversity program helps students, faculty, and staff alike acquire knowledge, skills, and values they need to live in such a world.


Chism, N. V. N., N. D. Lees, and S. Evenbeck. 2002. Faculty development for teaching innovation. Liberal Education 88 (3): 34–41.

Kanter, S. 2000. Reflections on reform. Peer Review 2 (4): 4–8.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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