Carthage seeks to improve, expand experiences for students


BY JOE WARD
jward@kenoshanews.com


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Gregory Woodward is the 22nd president of Carthage College, serving in that position since August 2012. Earlier this month the school broke ground on a new $43 million science center. When the Kenosha News met with him, he had just spoken with students on the state of the college.

Q: You just gave a state of the college speech, is that right?

A: I did. Every semester the student government invites me to give a state of the college speech. Sometimes it’s more of a formal speech; sometimes it’s a less formal conversation. This one was more of a conversation.

Q: What did you talk about?

A: I wanted to talk about advising and student support. We talked about the freshman-year experience — how we can make that first year as supportive and as powerful as we can for students. We don’t have a huge number of first-generation students, but it’s a good-sized number. We should be looking after those students especially.

Q: What are some issues important to students?

A: I pointed these questions at them about what would make the Carthage experience the best it can be. The conversation went in all kinds of ways. We talked a lot about advising, which was great. We’re revamping our advising program. One of things we offer at Carthage is a lot of personal attention and small ratios between our students and faculty. We do advising well, but we can make it more powerful.

We talked about getting first-year students into some kind of group. Students belong to groups somewhat naturally if they’re musicians or in drama or athletes. But some students don’t have that natural group. It was interesting. They came up with a couple of ideas, like some sort of big brothers big sisters, where older students are paired up with freshman.

Q: How would you describe the state of the college?

A: The big context is that I believe that the structure, shape, size, character, location of Carthage is the ideal environment and undergraduate experience. This is an incredible place. In that context, what do you imagine the president’s goal to be? You try to maintain those advantages but to push the limit to make the experience even better.

Q: How do you achieve that?

A: The experience we are trying to make better is two pronged: We want to raise the academic expectations and achievements of our students all the time. Secondly, we want to make sure their residential and extra-curricular life is as rich as we can make it. In that general context, we probably did three or four things to move toward those objectives. We are the sixth highest-ranked college in America for short-term, international study abroad. That’s something we are very proud of. We want to keep that healthy and perhaps expand it so more students can take advantage of it.

Q: Anything else?

A: Inside this really healthy, fantastic liberal arts college, I wanted to be sure we were pushing students as hard as we could toward gaining real-world experience. What we’ve done is hired our first full-time director of internships. We’re finding and creating a database of internships for our students so they can get more of that real-world experience.

The most immediate manifestation of that agenda is that we’ve created a program called Carthage in Chicago. Now, for the first time in the fall, about 20 students will go to Chicago and live there for a full semester. Most of them will be engaged in an internship. They will take classes in the evening with a Carthage professor.

Imagine the possibility for social work and arts and government and nonprofits. We have just fantastic internships lined up. We have the governor’s office, the office of (Housing and Urban Development), the Cubs, business firms. It’s just fantastic.

Q: Any other ways to achieve those goals?

A: Carthage has always stuck by a very strong core-curricular experience. We believe in it, and we know it works. In this required core, what is it that we believe someone in the year 2020 will need to have as a basic set of skills to be considered a highly educated person? We are pushing that conversation forward. Are we heading in the right direction? It’s a really fun conversation — challenging but fun.

Q: Are students engaged in that conversation?

A: They are. They are very altruistic about it. It’s not shelfsish at all. Contrary to popular media, they didn’t just say, “I’m going to take whatever gets me a job.” That’s not what they want. We have these western heritage and global heritage and religion and English requirements. They all said, “Perfect.” You know what they came up with? “I think we should have a class on politics, economics, personal finance, the health of the planet.” They came up with really cool things.

Q: One alderman proposed bringing the streetcar up to Carthage as a way of connecting campus to downtown. Does the college or you personally have any feelings on this?

A: There are lots of ways to connect to downtown. There are probably as many as 100 students at any given time working in the schools, the YMCA, the Shalom Center, the Boys and Girls Club. We engage with the city in all kinds of services and processes all the time. The trolley itself, my understanding is it would be a very expensive and tricky proposition for the city. I think there are other ways to solve the same issue, frankly. We talked to the mayor really seriously, and we don’t have a direction yet, to some day have a physical presence for the college downtown. We’re just trying to find the right way to do it.


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